QP: Deflect to the economy

In the lead-up to the fall economic update, Bill Morneau was absent, instead in the lock-ups to do the media rounds there. Justin Trudeau was present, however, and that meant he got to take the fire that has been sent Morneau’s way for the past few days, but hopefully he wouldn’t just do as Morneau did and respond with pabulum. Andrew Scheer  led off, mini-lectern on desk, and raised about the concerns around diabetics being denied the disability tax credit, alleging that it was only to pay for out of control spending (as though the rounding error of dollars it would bring in would do that). Trudeau reminded him that they wanted to ensure that all Canadians have access to the credits that they are entitled to, and that they were rehiring nurses that the previous government fired in order to better process claims from the beginning. Scheer repeated in English, got the same question, and Scheer asked if raising taxes on vulnerable diabetics was fair. Trudeau reminded him what people voted for in the last election, and that the upcoming economic statement would demonstrate their success. Scheer lamented the cancellation of their assorted tax credits, and Trudeau reminded him that the by-election results in Lac Saint-Jean demonstrated who Canadians believe on the economic. Scheer switched to English to conspicuously read a Morneau Shepell question, but Trudeau listed all of their kept promises on the economy. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and railed about the Morneau Shepell/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory. Trudeau insisted that the accusation was false and that there was no conflict, as all the rules were followed. Caron listed previous resignations as proof that Morneau was in the wrong ethically, and Trudeau said that the opposition was torquing up accusations with no basis. Alexandre Boulerice asked the same again, got the same answer, and then some blanket condemnation. Trudeau retorted with the Lac-Saint Jean results.

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QP: Bill Morneau faces the conspiracy theories

Minutes before QP was about to start, Bill Morneau announced that he was immediately moving his shares into a blind trust and would sell them off as soon as feasible, and admitted that he may have been a bit naive around the issue. As Conservative MPs filed into the Chamber, party comms staffers pulled them aside to feed them the required lines about how they would react to this news, and there was likely some hasty rewriting of scripts to ensure that they continued to maximize their outrage. Meanwhile, neither the PM nor Andrew Scheer were present, but Bill Morneau was, meaning he would be the target of all of that maximized outrage. Pierre Poilievre led off, intimating a vast conspiracy of numbered accounts that Morneau controlled, and Bill Morneau stood up to give his contrite admission that he could do more, and that he has divested himself of those shares and would keep his Ethics screens in place. Poilievre accused Morneau of being a hypocrite attacking small businesses. Morneau stated that they were working to ensure tax fairness, and that he planned to go beyond the Ethics Commissioner’s recommendations. Poilievre wondered how many times he had to recuse himself (at the press conference, Morneau said twice), and I’m not sure that he reiterated this answer when he repeated his pledge to do better. Alain Rayes was up next to demand in French when he told the PM of his conflicts, and Morneau reminded him that our system has these questions go through the Ethics Commissioner, whom he worked with to ensure there were no conflicts. Rayes asked again, with additional concern trolling about the mandate letters, and Morneau repeated in English this time the same response. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, accusing Morneau of misleading everyone on his shares. Morneau reminded him that he followed the Commissioner’s guidelines, and when both Caron and Nathan Cullen raised the Morneau Shepell/C-27 conspiracy theory, got much the same answer, and Cullen sanctimoniously repeated Caron’s first question, but Morneau let the message track drop, and accused Cullen of sowing distrust by misrepresenting facts.

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QP: Having confidence in the Ethics Commissioner

While Bill Morneau was off in New Brunswick to talk tax changes, Justin Trudeau was present for the first time this week, so it was guaranteed to be a gong show. After a moment of silence, Andrew Scheer, led off, mini-lectern on desk, lamenting that Morneau still “controlled” millions of dollars of his own wealth (which I’m not sure is an accurate portrayal of the situation). Trudeau reminded him that Morneau had followed the Ethics Commissioner’s advice, and had additionally just sent her a letter to see if there was anything he could do to go above and beyond her request. After another round of the same in French, Scheer read a portion of Morneau’s mandate letter and demanded to know when Trudeau knew that he was in a conflict of interest. Trudeau reiterated his previous response, calling it the kind of integrity that Canadians expect. Scheer accused Morneau of attacking small businesses while protecting his own wealth. Trudeau returned to questions of tax fairness, and when Scheer pressed, Trudeau produced a copy of the Liberal campaign platform and read that it was a promise made then that they kept. Guy Caron was up for the NDP, and he too pressed on Morneau’s shares, and Trudeau reiterated that Morneau worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Caron proffered the latest conspiracy theory that Morneau tabled Bill C-27 for the sole benefit of his old company, and Trudeau reiterated the Commissioner talking points. Nathan Cullen reiterated the claims in English, and Trudeau tripped up in referring to the Commissioner as the “Conflict of Ethics Commissioner,” to great uproar. Cullen tried again, and got the same answer — including the same slip-up.

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QP: Selling shares, ad nauseam

While the PM was in Toronto and Bill Morneau in Montreal, it was promising to be an insufferable day in Question Period. Andrew Scheer led off, accusing Morneau of evading Canadian taxes while labelling small businesses as tax cheats (not true), and Bardish Chagger got to stand up to read that Morneau followed the advice of the Ethics Commissioner and that they trust her. Scheer tried again, and Chagger read that they are making changes to their proposals based on what Canadians told them, and hey, lower small business taxes! Scheer switched to English to worry that Morneau didn’t place his shares into a blind trust, and Chagger read another trite statement. They went another round, Chagger trying to play up small business week, and then another round again. Guy Caron was up next, leading for the NDP, raising the supposed conflicts of interest that Morneau was involved in — per the letter that Nathan Cullen sent to the Ethics Commissioner — and Chagger reminded him that they cleared everything with the Commissioner and after another round of the same in French, Cullen got up to reiterate and tried to get Duclos to respond based on pension legislation that could, theoretically, benefit Morneau’s family company, but Chagger gave her stock response. When Cullen chastised her for responding instead of Duclos, the response didn’t change.

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Roundup: The good news rollouts

The Liberals’ planned rollout of all kinds of “good news” announcements for Small Business Week – reductions in the small business tax rate by 2019, and changes to their planned amendments to Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) rules to crack down on those who use them to avoid paying taxes – were very nearly overshadowed by a Globe and Mail article that cried out that Bill Morneau hadn’t put his shares into a blind trust after all. As it turns out, this was largely a non-story – Morneau followed the advice of the Ethics Commissioner, who felt that because of his particular share structure that he wouldn’t need a blind trust but an ethics screen instead – though there are some added complications around it (see Glen McGregor’s tweets). This after the “revelation” about Morneau’s French villa – not that he had forgotten to disclose it, because he had already – just that he didn’t disclose the particular ownership structure, which is a French corporate structure not uncommon with the ownership of non-commercial real estate, known as a Société Civile Immobilière. Again, a non-story that the opposition (and certain media outlets) pounced upon, trying to make a bigger deal out of them than was merited.

And then there was the Prime Minister’s tax cut announcement at that Stouffville restaurant, and the somewhat bizarre behaviour by Trudeau in the Q&A period after where he tried to answer questions directed at Morneau (no doubt trying to keep control of the message and not let it get railroaded by the non-stories about his villa and shares, but it came off as smarmy). And back in Ottawa, his backbench critics seemed mollified by the morning’s announcements, so we’ll see if that holds in the days ahead. (Not to be outdone by all of the Liberal press shenanigans, Andrew Scheer walked out on a press conference when asked about his former campaign manager’s association with Rebel Media.)

Meanwhile, neither Chantal Hébert nor Andrew Coyne are impressed with the theatrics of this government’s attempt to change the channel on the pummelling they’ve received.

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QP: Discounts and French villas

Hours after the mandatory Monday morning Liberal caucus meeting and the presser by Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau, and Bardish Chagger on small business tax cuts, QP got underway, with the opposition smelling blood in the water. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and read a demand in French for clarity on employee discounts as tax benefits. Diane Lebouthillier stood up to say that the document from CRA did not reflect the government’s position, and they would be reviewed. Scheer asked again in English, making a bigger issue out of this being a tax grab, and a Lebouthillier repeated her response in English — a rarity for her (which she has been working on). When Scheer asked yet again, Lebouthillier reiterated her response for a third time, but back again in French. Alain Rayes took another stab at the very same question in French, got the same answer, and then when Rayes tried to insinuate that she didn’t know what was going on in her department, Lebouthillier stuck to her points. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he raised the non-stories of Bill Morneau’s villa in France, and his company shares not being put into a blind trust (never mind that he followed the Ethics Commissioner’s instructions on the ethics screen instead). François-Philippe Champagne stood up to praise the small business tax cuts instead, and on a second question of the same, Champagne reminded him that he followed the guidance of the Ethics Commissioner. Nathan Cullen was up next, and wondered rhetorically about Liberal promise-keeping as damage control. Champagne praised the small business tax cuts instead, given that there wasn’t really a question there. Cullen raised the villa and the lack of blind trust, and Champagne reiterated that Morneau followed the Commissioner’s guidelines.

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QP: Energy East and Barbados

After the Energy East cancellation announcement this morning, you just knew that this would be the fodder for increasingly hysterical denunciations during QP today. Justin Trudeau was present, but Andrew Scheer was not, so it remained to be seen how this would play out.

Lisa Raitt led off instead, mini-lectern on desk, blaming the government for killing Energy East with their ideology. Justin Trudeau responded that it was a business decision, that the project was proposed when oil was $90/barrel and it’s now half that, but that his government had already approved three other pipelines. Raitt accused the government of playing to the interests of countries like Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau shrugged off that suggestion. Raitt then accused him of taking Atlantic Canada for granted with this cancellation. Trudeau countered that they had an Atlantic growth strategy and that it was the previous government that ignored them. Gérard Deltell then took over the condemnation of the loss of Energy East in French, and Trudeau reiterated that conditions have changed, also in French. Deltell then said that Trudeau was responsible for conditions changing, as though Trudeau controls the world price of oil, and Trudeau instead responded about the ways that they have been doing what the market has been asking for, including carbon pricing. Guy Caron was up next, pointing to the recent PBO report on fiscal sustainability, and demanded that healthcare be adequately funded for the provinces. Trudeau touted the investments that they made in mental health and home care. In English, Caron demanded a national strategy for seniors, to which Trudeau listed all of the measures that they have taken. Caron then changed topics to the Phoenix pay system, demanding a refund for it. Trudeau noted that they were working with the public service and the unions to fix the situation, and then there was another round of the same in French.

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QP: Snide asides and Harder drama

Another sweltering day, but all of the party leaders were present today, so it promised to be a better day for exchanges. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, reading his standard alarmist questions about the proposed tax changes and how they will devastate “local businesses.” Justin Trudeau responded with his usual points about how the system currently incentivises the wealthy to use corporations to avoid taxes. Scheer tried to use the framing device that that this was a revenue generator, but Trudeau didn’t give him a dollar figure. Scheer quipped that the Liberals were so incompetent that they couldn’t even raise taxes properly, and then threw out the straw men about the PM’s family fortunes. Trudeau responded that the report Scheer mentioned and noted that it ignored the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit. Scheer retorted about Trudeau’s nannies, and returned to the point about the changes as revenue generator to deal with his spending problem. Trudeau responded that they raised taxes on the wealthiest and the Conservatives voted against it. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and raised the new ministerial directive that would allow use of information possibly obtained by torture under limited circumstances. Trudeau reminded him that torture is prohibited and abhorrent, and it was why the strengthened ministerial directive made that more clear. Mulcair asked again in English, got the same answer, before he moved onto the delays in appointing new officers of Parliament, insinuating that the government is looking for lapdogs. Trudeau reminded him that they put in a new process that better reflects diversity, and then they went another round of the same in English, Trudeau getting in a few digs about the opposition not opening up their fundraising books along the way.

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QP: Tightly scripted tax concerns

On a sweltering Monday, Justin Trudeau was off in Toronto meeting business leaders, leaving the rest of us in Ottawa to suffer through the 40 degree humidex. Andrew Scheer led off with his now standard plaintive wail about how the proposed tax changes would kill “local businesses.” Bill Morneau reminded him that they were looking to restore fairness to the tax system, and after another stilted round of the same, Scheer read his script that since the PM wouldn’t answer, he would try the finance minister instead. In a word, pathetic. Alain Rayes was up next to reiterate the questions in French, and Morneau offered his very same points in French for another two rounds. Tracey Ramsey left for the NDP, complaining that the Americans haven’t brought forward any demands, particularly with the auto sector. Chrystia Freeland wanted people in the sector to know that they were looking out for their interests, and that autos were top-of-mind. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next and asked about the same in French, and she got much the same answer in French. Brosseau then moved onto the usual concerns about Supply Management, and Freeland assured her, once again, that they would protect it. Ramsey then repeated that exact same question in English, and Freeland repeated her previous answer.

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QP: Morneau gets scrappy

Thursday, and the benches were starting to empty out in advance of the weekend, and Elizabeth May was the only leader present. Alain Rayes led off, and as expected, he railed about the destruction of the economy by the proposed tax changes. Bill Morneau got up and calmly deployed his well-worn talking points about how the system currently advantages the wealthy and the government was looking to make things fairer for the middle class. Rayes and after him Pierre Poilievre brought up a super credible CFIB survey to decry the changes, and Bill Morneau cautioned him not to engage in scare tactics. When Poilievre tried to rail about the hypothetical 73 percent tax rate, Morneau suggested that his critic was misleading the House, and he got cautioned to withdraw the suggestion. Morneau did, and said instead that his critic was wrong and knew he was wrong, and when Poilievre tried to make this about an issue about Morneau-Shepell, Morneau retreated to his usual talking points. Hélène Laverdière led off for the NDP, wondering just what concrete action the PM announced at the UN General Assembly, to which Marc Garneau assured her that Canada was active on the world stage. Laverdière asked in English about our lack of peacekeeping commitments, to which Garneau reminded her they made the commitment, but were taking the time to consider where to deploy them. Romeo Saganash decried the lack of action on drinking water advisories, to which Jane Philpott assured him that they were dealing with the socio-economic issues around long-term problems. Saganash demanded support for his private member’s bill, and Philpott assured him they were working on First Nations child welfare.

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