Roundup: Not all omnibus bills are abusive

As if we needed another excuse for the opposition to blow their collective gaskets, the Liberal budget implementation bill clocks in at around 300 pages, and touches on several different Acts. In other words, it’s an omnibus bill.

“Oh!” They cry. “You promised you wouldn’t use them.”

Err, they promised not to abuse them, and in fact were careful in their language so as to not promise that they would never be used, because anyone who knows a thing or two about the legislative process knows that sometimes omnibus bills are necessary, particularly when it comes to housekeeping bills that clean up language across several acts, for example. What separates a proper omnibus bills from abusive ones are the fact that they are around a common theme, and can be studied by a single committee. This is where the Harper bills failed the test – while they claimed that they were under a single theme (i.e. implementing programmes mentioned in the budget), they touched on all manner of subjects that were not all under the purview of the finance committee, and this is really the key. When they put in sections that rewrote the entire environmental assessment legislation – under the dubious rubric of doing it for the sake of stimulating resource projects and thereby the economy, this was not something that the finance committee could necessarily study, and certainly not when the hundreds of pages and tight time-allocated timelines meant no time to do proper study of the various and sundry provisions. That is abusive.

From everything I’ve seen of this new budget implementation bill, it certainly looks like everything is all related to fiscal matters and would be under the purview of the finance committee to study. Yes, it’s 300 pages, which shouldn’t be the determining factor, and this is more about the opposition torqueing the issue in order to make it look like the government was breaking a promise when in fact they’re not included the kitchen sink into the bills in order to bully them through with as little scrutiny as possible.

What disturbs me more is the fact that like prorogation, “omnibus” is becoming a dirty word because the previous government took it upon themselves to abuse the practice, while my media colleagues haven’t done enough to disabuse the notion that just because a practice has been abused that it’s not actually illegitimate in and of itself. Prorogation is a routine practice for breaking up a legislative session and hitting the reset button in terms of plans and priorities, while omnibus bills have their uses (as we’ve already established). Just because Stephen Harper abused them to his own ends – which is party didn’t seem to be railing about as they are with this current omnibus bill – it doesn’t mean they’re all bad. This shouldn’t be rocket science, and yet, civic illiteracy is rapidly determining the narrative.

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QP: Proto-PMQs, take two

Question Period was late today, due to Malala Yousafzai’s address to parliament, and was the only item on the Order Paper for the day. Meanwhile, not all leaders bothered to show up either. Rona Ambrose led off, mini-lectern on desk, lamenting new taxes and the plan to increase user fees in the budget bill. Justin Trudeau insisted that they were proud of their choices and the ways they are helping the middle class. Ambrose spun the question as taxing time-off, and Trudeau responded by praising their decision to offer free passes to national parks this year. Ambrose spun it about camping — as those fees are going up — but Trudeau reiterated his response. Ambrose then asked whether the government planned to pass her bill on sexual assault training for judges, and Trudeau noted his support for survivors, but he also respects Parliament and the work of committees, and he looked forward to those discussions. Ambrose pressed, and Trudeau noted that it was important that they appointed more women to the bench, which they were doing. Alexandre Boulerice led off for the Liberals, railing about the omnibus nature of the budget implementation bill. Trudeau insisted that it was not an abuse of omnibus legislation, all items were included in the budget. Nathan Cullen repeated the question in English, got much the same response, then Cullen railed about the provisions around the PBO. Trudeau noted that it would make him a full Officer of Parliament with greater independence. Boulerice repeated it in French, and got much the same answer.

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QP: Bombardier bonus brouhaha

Starting off the last two-week stretch before the Easter Break, there remained a number of empty desks in the Commons, but all leaders were in attendance, so there was that. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about the possibility of radicalized workers at the Montreal airport. Justin Trudeau assured her that they were working diligently to assure her that they were taking security seriously. Ambrose switched to English to demand those workers be fired (which I’m not sure is his call), and Trudeau reminded her that they were supporting law enforcement agencies who were keeping us safe. Ambrose then switched to the compensation of Bombardier executives, and Trudeau acknowledged that the government gave a loan, but he was pleased to see they were reconsidering that decision. Ambrose switched to English to ask again, and got much the same response. For her final question, Ambrose railed about the loss of tax credits in the light of those Bombardier bonuses, and Trudeau latched onto the transit tax credit portion of the question and noted it was the only thing the previous government did for transit and his government was doing more. Thomas Mulcair was up next, returning to the Bombardier bonuses, to which Trudeau stressed that they made a loan, and again reiterated that he was happy they were changing course on those bonuses. Mulcair switched to French to rail about the lack of job guarantees, and Trudeau insisted that the loan would protect jobs. Mulcair switched to the issue of emissions targets, and Trudeau insisted they were committing their promise to reduce them. Mulcair went for a second round in French, noting that Environment Canada has said that they wouldn’t be able to meet the Harper targets, while Trudeau retorted that the analysis was based on the previous government’s actions, not those of his government.

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Roundup: Once again, the problem is not PMQs

Apparently the topic hasn’t been exhausted, so here we go with round thirty-seven (or thereabouts). We start with Aaron Wherry comparing what happened in Westminster last Wednesday, where Prime Minister Theresa May was on her feet in the Commons for some three-and-a-half hours as she went directly from PMQs to announcing the Brexit plans, to taking questions on it, in a way that the rules in our own House of Commons doesn’t allow. And bully for Wherry that he acknowledged that such a thing couldn’t happen here under our present Standing Orders, but doesn’t quite get to the crux of the issue that our parliamentary culture is so diminished and bastardised when it comes to speaking and debate that even if we changed the rules to allow for such things, that it likely wouldn’t help. He does, however, acknowledge that Trudeau could start making changes around taking all questions one day a week, or announcing more policy in the Commons, if he really wanted to, without having to change the rules.

Chantal Hébert, meanwhile, notes that Trudeau has not really made himself at home in the Commons, starting with doing the bare minimum as an opposition leader, to not really engaging meaningfully when he does show up now, he and his ministers answering in bland pabulum delivered with a smile. From there, she wonders if this disinterest has manifested itself into a kind of tone-deafness as they try to push the proposed changes to the Standing Orders in as poor a manner as they tried to handle the electoral reform debate.

The Globe and Mail’s unsigned editorial on the proposed changes, however, is thin gruel when it comes to engaging on the issue, buying into these notions that the proposed changes are all about crushing the rights of the opposition, not quite articulating the actual role of parliament, while also not grasping what “programming motions” actually are, while propagating this notion that QP only counts if the PM is there, as though the rest of the Cabinet is unworthy of media attention (which really says more about their own perceptions than it does the PM if you ask me). But I’ve said my piece on this again and again, so I’ll let Wherry field this one, because he hits the nail on the head exactly with why this pervasive opinion is part of the problem.

In other words, Globe and Mail, you’re part of the problem, so stop pointing fingers. As for the UK’s practice of ministerial questions, there’s this:

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Roundup: Candour versus transparency

The government announced yesterday that their proposed changes to the Access to Information Act won’t be coming as quickly as promised because they “wanted to get it right.” Now far be it for me to be completely cynical about this in asserting that they never intended to fulfil this promise, because I’m not entirely sure that’s the case, but I will also say that any Conservative crowing about how terrible the Liberals are for this delay *cough*Pierre Lemieux*cough* needs to give their head a shake because the Liberal have already made changes that far exceed what the Conservative did on this file. This all having been said, Howard Anglin makes some interesting points about this, and whether it’s desirable for them to go ahead with some of these changes.

As much as my journalistic sensibilities want greater transparency, I also do feel a great deal of sympathy for the point about candour. Having too many things in the open has had an effect on the operation of parliament and times where parties could quietly meet and come to a decision with little fuss has turned into a great deal of political theatre instead (which is one reason why I’m wary of opening up the Board of Internal Economy too much). We want functional institutions, and that does require candour, and not all desires to keep that candour and ability to speak openly from being public is more than just a “culture of secrecy” – there is a deal of self-preservation involved. While it would be nice if we could wave a magic wand and the line by which this tension is resolved would be clearly demarcated lines, but that’s not going to happen. This is going to be muddled through the hard way.

Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt writes about that culture of secrecy that exists within the capital – an even within Cabinet jealously guarding information – and how it’s an ongoing fight to keep from letting that culture keep going unchallenged.

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Roundup: Worst instincts for second-choice votes

As the Trumpocalypse serves up another “totally not just Muslims” travel ban south of the border, immigration references in the Conservative leadership race are certainly starting to pick up steam. Maxime Bernier started dropping not-so-coded references to “radical proponents of multiculturalism” who want to “forcibly change” the cultural character of the country (no, seriously), while Kellie Leitch offers up some of the questions her “values test” would include. Because you know, it’s totally not like people aren’t going to lie about the obvious answers or anything. Meanwhile, Deepak Obhrai says that statements like Leitch’s is creating an environment that could get immigrants killed, in case you worried that things aren’t getting dramatic. Oh, and to top it off, Andrew Scheer has a “survey” about terrorism that he wants people to weigh in on, and it’s about as well thought-out as you can expect.

While John Ibbitson writes about how the Conservative leadership candidates’ anti-immigrant rhetoric is a path to oblivion for the party, I would also add this Twitter thread from Emmett Macfarlane, which offers up a reminder about how our immigration system in this country actually works, because facts should matter in these kinds of debates.

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Roundup: A mystifying new delay

It yet another attempt to throw a spanner into the workings of the legislative process trying to bring genetic privacy legislation to fruition in this country, the government has decided to hold yet more consultations while they simultaneously are attempting to gut the bill at report stage, despite the objections of the Senate (which passed the bill originally) and the Commons justice committee, which studied the bill, heard from witnesses, and gave it an all-clear.

Jody Wilson-Raybould is suddenly brandishing letters from three provinces who have “concerns” about the constitutionality of the bill, despite the fact that they never objected in the years – and I will stress years – that this bill has been wending its way through parliament, both in the previous parliament and the current one. Seven provinces indicated support, and there are legal and constitutional scholars that have testified that the mechanisms in the bill are perfectly sound and within federal jurisdiction. None of this should be in dispute, but for as much as the government professes to care about this issue, the fact that they are quick to try and gut the bill and leave it up for a patchwork of provincial laws for the insurance component of genetic discrimination – which is a very big issue – it’s mystifying. I have heard grumblings that the only kinds of bills that they favour are their own, which I get, but at the same time, this is a piece of legislation that has already withstood a great deal of scrutiny and is something that is critically needed, as we are the only western country that doesn’t have these kinds of protections. With any luck, the Liberal backbenchers are going to push back on the attempts to gut the bill and it can move ahead, but right now, the constant delay is lacking coherence.

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QP: Queen’s Park and conspiracy theories

While Justin Trudeau was off in Strasbourg, the rest of the Commons was filtering in, ready for the grand inquest of the nation. Rona Ambrose led off, asking what half-dozen things that the government had in mind that they said could be fixed about NAFTA. Bill Morneau responded by giving some vague generalities, and said that they would talk NAFTA when it comes up. Ambrose worried that the US was cutting taxes and red tape, but Morneau assured her that our economy was still very competitive. Ambrose railed about “Kathleen Wynne’s failed policies” and carbon taxes, to which Catherine McKenna listed companies creating sustainable jobs. Denis Lebel was up next, and worried about how the dairy sector would be impacted by NAFTA renegotiations, to which Lawrence MacAulay assured him that they supported supply management. Lebel switched to English to demand if the government still supported supply management, and MacAulay assured him once again that yes, of course they did. Thomas Mulcair was up next, raising the refugee claimants crossing the border. Ahmed Hussen assured him that there was no material change on the ground. Mulcair switched to French to claim that there were smugglers near the border, and this time Marc Garneau responded in French that they were working with authorities to address the situation. Mulcair then changed topics to accusations that the Liberals were accepting larger than legal donations, at which point Karina Gould reminded him that all parties have instances of overages and all parties pay them back. Mulcair persisted, insisting that the Liberals broke the law, and Bardish Chagger got up to remind him that any questions asked by the Ethics Commissioner would be answered.

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Roundup: O’Leary’s debate debut

Saturday night was another Conservative leadership “debate,” and again I use the term loosely because there was very little debating going on. Yes, this particular event did offer more chances for rebuttal, but given that it was staged and structured like the most boring academic conference ever (all it was missing was a line-up at the floor mic for people to give fifteen minute speeches in the guise of asking questions to the panel), we still didn’t get a lot of candidates challenging one another. Not that it didn’t happen – it did, but most of the candidates spent their time taking shots at either Kevin O’Leary (particularly deriding him as not being a Conservative), and Maxime Bernier (most especially around his ideas about equalisation, which, to be fair, are a bit daft).

Going after Bernier may not seem like the think you would expect, but he has been leading the race in terms of fundraising, which is not an insignificant thing. One does have to wonder, however, if there are enough self-described libertarians in the Conservative Party to give him the edge he needed. Bernier, incidentally, says he was being attacked because his opponents are afraid of his position on equalisation. And to be fair, he’s probably right, but not for the reason he thinks, but rather because it has the potential to severely damage the party in the more “have not” provinces of the country, most especially in Atlantic Canada, where they already have zero seats.

As for O’Leary, this was his first real event on the campaign, and he didn’t exactly sparkle, but he did stand out from his competitors a few times, both when he refused to criticise the country’s justice system, pointing to his experience abroad, and in the kinds of shots he took at the current government, which were of a more brash tone than other candidates were taking. He also played his ethnic cards, saying he would consider it a personal failure if Lebanese Canadians didn’t all take out party memberships and declaring that he “owns the Irish vote.” Okay then. Will his brashness that help him? Maybe, considering how very milquetoast most of his competition has been, and the crowd who laps up this populist demagoguery seems to love people who “tell it like it is.” O’Leary, meanwhile, shrugged off the attacks and kept his cool, and didn’t take the bait and made a point of directing his attacks to Trudeau (and premiers Wynne and MacNeil) instead of his fellow candidates.

And the rest? Lisa Raitt had her best night ever, possibly bolstered by the fact that it was a bit of a hometown crowd for her, and she seems to be making her working-class roots that much more of her narrative, but I’m still having a hard time seeing what kind of direction she proposes to lead the party in other than “I’m everything Trudeau is not.” Also, props for bringing up that Globe and Mail piece on “unfounded” sexual assault rates and challenging the government to do something about it. Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux were laughable, Chris Alexander seemed to be doing a lot of “me too” to the points of other candidates – most especially Raitt – but had nothing really new to say. Andrew Scheer made a point of being parochial, Michael Chong remains the grown-up at the table which probably dooms his campaign, and for as middle-of-the-road as he is, everyone was quoting Erin O’Toole’s big line of the night saying “We don’t beat the celebrity-in-chief with another celebrity-in-chief.” The problem is that nobody quoted the second half of his statement where he brought up Robert Stanfield as the model to follow. Remember Stanfield? Who never beat the celebrity PM of his day (being Pierre Elliott Trudeau) and who never became prime minister? Yeah, not sure that was the wisest analogy. Also, O’Toole kept making Silence of the Lambs references, but completely wrong ones. He thought he was being funny by calling all 32 Atlantic Canadian Liberal MPs “lambs” who were “silent,” when Silence of the Lambs is about a cannibal and a serial killer. Not sure that was appropriate. Oh, and about eight or nine candidates need to drop out by oh, yesterday, because at this point, they’re going to start doing more damage than good.

Meanwhile, Peter MacKay says that Leitch’s immigration policy is going to damage the party, while Michelle Rempel lists the things she’s looking for in making a decision about a leadership candidate (and spoiler: Kevin O’Leary wouldn’t make the cut).

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Roundup: Tragedy to pull MPs together

The aftermath of the Ste-Foy mosque shooting was not atypical for when things go horribly in this country. MPs and political leaders of all stripes band together and make a show of solidarity. There are solemn speeches, and a moment of silence, and for as much as everyone decries the level of partisanship that permeates the hallowed halls of our democratic institutions, they all do put on a united front, that this is our country and we won’t allow it to succumb to violence and darkness based on the actions of a lone few.

As for the facts of the incident, what we know is that the suspect is a 27-year-old white male whose social media history has a lot of far-right connections. He was charged with six counts of first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder, and there may yet be terrorism-related charges once the RCMP and the Quebec police forces complete their investigations. Talk of a second shooter or suspect turned out to be a witness on the scene who called 911 and was trying to help the wounded when he fled at the sight of police guns.

And then comes the aftermath. In a scrum following QP, Ralph Goodale offered assurances of police vigilance and noted that he wasn’t increasing the terror threat level from its current reading of “medium,” for what that’s worth. There is also speculation that this will be added impetus for the Commons to pass that private members’ motion on a study of Islamophobia in Canada – something some Conservatives like Kellie Leitch are opposed to, calling it “special status” for Muslims. And then there was the White House, cravenly using the incident to justify their “Muslim ban,” even though the suspect is an alleged white supremacist.

In commentary, John Ivison notes that moments like those today were when the Commons is at its best. Chantal Hébert noted that Trudeau has been silent about Trump’s “Muslim ban” while this has been going on. Deepak Obhrai, however, made the explicit link between the two. Michael Chong has also been vocal in drawing links between this incident and the rise in demagoguery, which he wants more politicians to stop engaging in. Robyn Urback looks at how the first twelve hours after the shooting were a giant exercise in confirmation bias as people struggled to fit the facts with their personal narratives.

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