They might as well not have bothered. Harper invited the media in to watch his caucus speech, and gave a bland non-statement about how he was very upset (said in a monotone), “Yay Accountability Act!” and hey, the Senate needs to be reformed – err, except that absolutely nothing about his “reform” plans would do anything about this situation. And so, Harper said nothing about Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, Wright, or the $90,000 cheque, and because he took no questions, some reporters started shouting them out before they were herded out. And then he got on a plane for Peru, which was planned at least a month in advance, but don’t let that stop Mulcair or the conspiracy theorists from trying to claim that he engineered the Clusterduff explosions to go off just as the trip was planned – as though there were enough competence in the PMO to pull that one off. John Ivison ripped Harper over the failure of the speech, and points to the unhappiness on the backbench that these events transpired and Harper appears to be taking it out on them, rather than looking at the events that transpired in the Centre. Michael Den Tandt writes about how this was a train wreck, and that it broke faith with Harper’s base.
It was a move that should have happened last week, but instead it was announced at eight-thirty Sunday morning – Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, resigned over the whole writing-a-$90,000-cheque-to-Mike-Duffy thing. And then comes the waves of lament and apologists, crying that Wright was a good man who was doing his bit for public service (even though a job in the PMO is not public service – it is the opposite, in fact), though nobody seems to be asking themselves any of the critical questions about the actual wrongdoing. Taking Wright’s place will be Ray Novak, Harper’s principle secretary and a loyalist from his days in the Alliance Party, so one can expect a much more partisan tone returning to the PMO, which had softened under Wright. Not that Wright’s departure actually answers any of the questions about what actually happened between Wright and Duffy, which is kind of a big deal – as John Geddes, Paul Wells and Michael Den Tandt all write. Not that Harper will be answering questions – he’s off to Peru this week, and because each embattled Senator has resigned from their respective caucus, and Wright is also gone, the government line can be “everyone involved has now resigned, let’s just move on.” And thus becomes the government’s damage control strategy as the last few weeks of the sitting roll along before the summer recess. Oh, and the caucus is becoming restive too as this level of mismanagement starts to damage the brand of the “party of the Accountability Act.” Apparently there’s to be an emergency caucus meeting Tuesday morning before Harper flies out, and one can scarcely imagine the words that will be exchanged behind closed doors as these angry MPs line up at the mic.
Not that it’s a big surprise, but Senator Patrick Brazeau has vowed to fight the order that he repay those living expense in the wake of that Senate audit. While he does have a point that he was cooperative and that he met all four residency requirements, unlike the other two Senators, but that doesn’t change the fact that he spent a mere ten percent of the time. Government leader in the Senate has threatened that if Senator Brazeau and Harb don’t repay their expenses – with interest – immediately, the Senate will garnish their wages, which they can do. It’s also not clear with which court they can try to challenge these audit results and the orders that the Senate itself will be voting to enforce, seeing as Parliament is actually the highest court in the land. Meanwhile, Charlie Angus wants the legal opinion that LeBreton solicited regarding Senator Mike Duffy’s eligibility to sit in the Senate based on his residency – which told LeBreton that everything was fine – made public. (As an aside, one does wonder just how many legal opinions on the Commons side are made public.) LeBreton replied that Duffy owns property and maintains a residence in the province he represents, so case closed. Ah, but perhaps not, as it was revealed last night that that there appears to have been a deal struck between Harper’s chief of staff to help Duffy with his repayment two days before he announced it, and while the PM’s spokesperson has said on the record that no taxpayer funds were used, that likely means party funds. I suppose the party may consider it fair compensation after Duffy did all of that fundraising for them, but yeah, this is totally not helping his case any more than Brazeau and Harb’s fight is helping their own. But seriously, the rest of you – the behaviour of three individual Senators is not actually indicative of the institution as a whole, and shouldn’t undo the good work that the other hundred Senators are actually doing, within the rules. The Senate’s strength as an institution is stronger than the damage caused by a couple of bad apples, and people need to be reminded of that.
The people of Labrador have spoken, and by a rather large margin have decided that Liberal Yvonne Jones should represent them in the House of Commons, rather than forgiving Peter Penashue and giving him another chance. The wisdom on the ground is that this was entirely a local race and had almost nothing to do with the national scene, Justin Trudeau’s leadership and whatnot. Penashue said he accomplished more in two years than any other MP anywhere, which is the kind of hyperbole we’ve come to expect from the guy who apparently did ALL THE THINGS for Labrador, and hence this defeat will be Labrador’s loss. The Conservative Party also issued a graceless statement which nevertheless tried to turn it into some kind of indictment of Trudeau’s leadership, claiming they lost twenty points since his leadership win (though no one has seemed to find any polls which had them over seventy percent), and claiming that majority governments don’t normally win by-elections (which is also not exactly true, considering how many they’ve won to date). Jones’ win means this is the first time that the Liberals have increased their seat count at the ballot box in over a decade (the only other time they’ve increased their count, of course, being when Lise St-Denis defected from the NDP).
The RCMP has confirmed that they are looking into those Senate audits to see if criminal charges are warranted, which Liberal Senate leader James Cowan is encouraged about, as he wants to ensure that due process is being followed. Cowan also noted on CTV’s Question Period that one particular sentence was missing from Senator Mike Duffy’s audit – that the Internal Economy committee said that the guidelines were perfectly clear and that the language was “unambiguous” in Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau’s reports, but somehow not in Duffy’s. In other words, it looks like Senator Tkachuk – who heads the Internal Economy committee – is protecting Duffy, as in two cases they said the very same forms and guidelines were clear and unambiguous. Curious indeed.
In the fallout from those Senate audits, the Conservatives have taken to calling Senator Duffy “a leader” for proactively paying back his expenses – even though it appears that he was tipped off that the finding was likely to go against him. But it also needs to be pointed out that the audits also showed that Duffy was not cooperative with Deloitte, as the other two Senators in question were. So there you have it, folks – “leadership.” Wow. Meanwhile, the opposition parties are calling for the RCMP to take a look over those expense claims, which the RCMP are reportedly set to do. Amid this, the government spent QP yesterday blaming the Liberals in the Senate for stonewalling the attempts to reform the spending rules – to which Senator Dennis Dawson later explained that they were being asked to debate audits and proposed rule changes they hadn’t yet seen yet, even though it seemed that certain Senators on the government side had already seen them in advance. Dawson gave the assurance that when the Senate is back – next week Parliament is not sitting – they will debate the audits and rule changes, as they will have had time to study them. (And it does make the government look dickish for trying to paint them as obstructionist).
The audits on Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Harb came out yesterday and found against all three, and while Duffy had pre-emptively repaid all of his expenses, Harb was ordered to pay some $51,482 and Brazeau some $48,744 (both figures include interest). No word on Brazeau’s reaction but Harb is not going down quietly. While he did resign from the Liberal caucus, he has also retained a very prominent lawyer to represent him as he challenges the findings. Because part of the audit also found that there was ambiguity in the rules, and those ambiguities are were Harb really fell into. There was also news that Senator Duffy had improperly charged per diems while he was in Florida on vacation – but he blamed that on a temporary assistant while his usual one was on maternity leave, and that he repaid those expenses immediately upon finding out the error. Meanwhile, the Liberal Senate leader, James Cowan, has said he does want to see if these results can be turned over to the RCMP, the Senate has also adopted new rules that spells the end of the “honour system” that the Senate previously operated under. The Senators that I’ve spoken to have no problem with this, but this isn’t over yet. Susan Delacourt muses about the public reaction to misspending rather than egregious behaviour like these three senators’ entitlements, lying to the House or contempt of parliament, and what kind of signal that sends.
With the March For Life having left the lawn outside the Hill, and Mark Warawa having won his little victory by making a statement on female “gendercide” in the House, Question Period got started with Thomas Mulcair reading a question on whether the government would back the NDP’s opposition day motion on the improperly reported $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funds. Harper got up and calmly reminded him that the Auditor General himself said the money was not misspent, and they will follow through on improving their reporting on the future. Mulcair then turned to the issue of the Senate audits and made a number of scurrilous accusations about the character of the Other Place. Harper said that the external auditors found ambiguities in the rules but that the Senate expected better of its members and they would be repaying the money owed. For his final question, Mulcair asked about a woman who was denied benefits while she received treatment for breast cancer while on maternity leave. Harper said that they recently changed the rules in order to ensure that these instances wouldn’t happen again. For the Liberals, Dominic LeBlanc asked about the government’s wasteful spending on ads and media monitoring instead of youth summer jobs. Diane Finley rose to take that question, and rejected the premise, and touted the launch of the Canada Summer Jobs programme. Ralph Goodale was up next, asking the same in English — and got the very same response. For his final question, Goodale asked about the demise of the long-form census, noting that some small towns were wiped out because of insufficient data. Christian Paradis responded with the red herring about a larger sample size ignoring the actual statistical invalidity of much of the data.
It’s time for census National Household Survey data! So many things to talk about – starting with the reminder that the quality of this data is not as good as that of other years thanks to the fact that it isn’t as methodologically sound and full of sample bias, they’re now going to charge for the data that used to be free, and a few other facts about how it was collected. Here’s a look at the top line numbers. A lot of the data in this release was about religious demographics – more people without religion (now the second-highest group in the country), more Muslims as they are the fastest-growing religious group, and fewer people who listed “Jedi.” There was also a lot of data on Aboriginals, who were one of the fastest growing segments of the population, but they are also losing touch with their native languages, and more of them are growing up in foster care. Our immigrant population has surged, and we now have the highest percentage in the G8. Some small towns in the Conservative heartland were pretty much wiped out of the reporting because people simply did not reply. Economist Stephen Gordon is less than impressed by the quality of the data, and questions who will find it usable.
Wednesday, caucus day, and the benches were mostly full. Thomas Mulcair started off by reading a pair of questions about the improperly reported $3.1 billion in anti-terror funds, and showed just how with it he is by making an Arrested Development reference, asking if the money was in the banana stand. Harper ignored it and once again assured him that the Auditor General said that the money was not misspent. Mulcair then turned to the issue of Treasury Board taking an active hand in the collective bargaining of Crown Corporations. Harper reminded him that the government backstops these Crown Corporations, and with some of them in financial difficulty, they had an obligation to ensure that taxpayer’s money was being treated responsibly. For his final question, Mulcair brought up the demise of the mandatory long-form census, as the National Household Survey data was released today. Harper responded with congratulations to Statistics Canada for the data release and praise for how high quality the data was. Justin Trudeau was then up, and after paying mention to the long-form census, he turned to the question of those Economic Action Plan™ ads, and how each spot they run during the playoffs, it costs the same as 32 student summer jobs. Harper first repeated his congratulations to Statistics Canada, before he moved onto the necessity of informing Canadians of how well the economy is doing by way of those ads.