Senate QP: Brison talks out the clock

Senate Question Period resumed this week, after a hiatus of several weeks, and the special guest star this week is Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board and temporary minister of democratic institutions. Senator Larry Smith led off, and he worried about marijuana regulations not being pre-published in the Canada Gazette. Brison said that Treasury Board’s work from a regulatory perspective was to work with Health Canada to ensure that the framework was in place by the time that the legislation comes into force. He assured them that there would be no corners cut, before launching into the worn talking points about the point of the legislation. Smith tried to puzzle out the timelines around regulations being published, and he wanted the rationale being made public in terms of why the regulations were not pre-published. Brison reiterated that they were trying to ensure that the regulatory framework was in place prior to the law effect. Continue reading

Roundup: The big Mali announcement

The formal announcement was made yesterday – six helicopters (two medical evac, four armed escorts) and approximately 250 personnel are headed to Mali as part of UN peace operations, and while this initial deployment covers off for German and Dutch forces that are pulling out, time there will be spent evaluating other ways that Canada can help build capacity in the country, which will involve training troops from other countries. While there have been some 162 peacekeeper deaths so far in Mali, all but four of those are from less advanced militaries than Canada’s, and the four Western countries’ deaths were related to a helicopter accident and not hostile actions. Chrystia Freeland did a great interview that helps lay out more of the details as to why Mali and why it’s taken so long.

Opposition reaction has been swift, and a bit curious. The Conservatives are demanding a debate and a vote on the deployment (reminder: a vote is wholly inappropriate because it launders the accountability that the government should be held to regarding the mission), while the NDP keep pointing out that this will not fulfil all of the government’s peacekeeping promises (not that they have claimed that it would), while demanding more details. Former senator Roméo Dallaire says that this is a good deployment, and reiterates that Canadians training troop-contributing nations and mentoring those forces will help to modernize peacekeeping.

In terms of hot takes, John Ivison sticks to the point that this is a political move by the government designed to help them get their UN Security Council seat as opposed to having anything to do with national security – err, except that peacekeeping isn’t supposed to be about national security. That’s kind of the point.

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Roundup: 20 years of Vriend

There was a particular milestone that has personal significance to me yesterday, which was the twentieth anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Vriend v Alberta, where sexual orientation was official “read into” the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it comes to protection from discrimination. Why it has particular significance for me was because this happened shortly after I came out, and in many ways, it opened my eyes to the cynicism of politics.

This was shortly after I completed my time as a page in the Alberta legislature, and I had become familiar with the MLAs who worked there. As a page, you have so many friendly interactions with them, as they ask about how you’re doing in school, and they sneak candy to you from the stash at their desks, and generally made you feel like a welcome part of the functioning of the chamber. But as the decision was rendered, the newspapers were full of statements from these very same MLAs whom I had come to like and respect that were full of vitriolic homophobia that it was very much like a betrayal of everything I had come to experience about them during my time as a page. Ralph Klein, who was the premier at the time, was also publicly mulling the use of the Notwithstanding Clause to opt out of the Court’s decision, but in the end, opted to respect it, and thus proving that so much of the trials and the foot-dragging by the provincial government was merely about the performance of having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the present, and being “forced” to accept that gays and lesbians had rights. In other words, nobody – especially Klein, who was described by many as a liberal who adopted the Progressive Conservative mantle – had the political courage to stand up for what was right because they were afraid of the province’s Bible belt (which continues to be a thorn in the side of many to this day, with the battles of Gay-Straight Alliances in the province, and the “acceptability” in the former Wildrose party of the “Lake of Fire” comments by one of their MLAs, which eventually forced then-leader Danielle Smith to walk out, sinking the party’s fortunes).

So yes, this had a very formative impact on my political sensibilities, before I even considered journalism to be my career path. It forged much of my cynicism about electoral politics, and about the kinds of performative jackassery that is considered normal in the execution of political duties, and it especially gave me a real sense of the profiles in political courage that we see time and again, every time there’s a tough decision that MPs will defer to the Supreme Court, every single time, most recently with the decision to return the tougher decisions around medical assistance in dying back to the courts after the government refused to accept expert recommendations in their legislation. The pattern remains the same, even if the moral goalposts have shifted ever so slightly. So here’s to twenty years of Vriend, and to my human rights as a Canadian.

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Roundup: Jagmeet Singh’s past catches up with him

Yesterday was a bit of a day for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. After the Globe and Mail published a piece that showed him at a 2015 rally of Sikh separatists in San Francisco under a banner featuring the armed extremists leader of the group that prompted the raid on the Golden Temple in Punjab, Singh put out a statement saying that he was there as a “human rights activist” and that he condemns terrorism – but was vague in just whom he was denouncing, which raised yet more questions.

Since then, more information came to light by the National Post which showed Singh at a 2016 panel devoted to Sikh sovereignty along with a particular leader who advocated violence, and another organizer later said that he appreciated Singh not denouncing the architect of the Air India bombing when he was on Power & Politics, essentially feeding the conspiracy theories that said architect was set up. And since even then, Ujjal Dosanjh has come out with video where Singh has denounced him as an opponent of Khalistani separatists. So, it looks like Singh could be in for a difficult time ahead as more questions get asked, and we’ll see if his comms team remains as cagey as they have been so far.

Paul Wells notes that Singh’s half-answers and the lengths to which he’ll go to give clear answers demonstrates that he is, after all, a lawyer. Martin Patriquin notes that Singh will have a hard time saying that he can support Sikh separatists with regard to Khalistan while opposing Quebec separatists in Canada.

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Roundup: Reading the constitution and a map

The constitutional lunacy taking place in Alberta shows no signs of abating, especially now that Jason Kenney has taken his seat in the legislature. Already they have debated a motion to back the province’s fight for pipeline access in BC, but the demands they’re making that Justin Trudeau invoke Section 92(10)(c) of the Constitution are wrong and bogus. Why? That section applies to projects that are of the national interest but are only within a single province’s boundaries – which this pipeline is not. So here’s Andrew Leach to pour some necessary scorn onto the whole thing, while Carissima Mathen, a constitutional law professor, backs him up.

Meanwhile, Kenney is playing an utterly disingenuous game of semantics with his objection to the province’s carbon tax, insisting that it didn’t give them the “social licence” to get their pipelines approved. But to suggest that was the only value of such a tax is to be deliberately misleading. The real purpose of a carbon price is to provide a market signal for industry to reduce their emissions, by providing them a financial incentive for them to do so. It’s proven the most efficient way to reduce emissions in the most cost-effective manner possible, and while correlation may not be causation, it has bene pointed out that those jurisdictions in the country that have implemented carbon pricing have roaring economies, while those resisting one (such as Saskatchewan) don’t. Whether there is a correlation or not, provinces like BC have shown that the carbon tax allows them to lower other taxes which are generally less efficient taxes regardless. As for social licence, it’s part of the overall balancing act to show that there is a sufficient plan to achieve reductions as part of transitioning to a low-carbon future, but I’m not sure that anyone suggested that it would magically end all protests (and if they did, they were fools for doing so). But for Kenney to claim that this was the promise is utter nonsense.

Like the bogus calls to invoke Section 92(10)(c), it’s all about putting forward a plausible-sounding argument in the hopes that the public doesn’t bother to actually read it to see that it’s actually bullshit. But that is apparently how political debate works these days – disingenuous points that don’t actually resemble reality, or lies constructed to look plausible and hoping that nobody calls you on it, and if they do, well, they’re just apologists or carrying water for your opponents. This isn’t constructive or helpful, and it just feeds the politics of anger and resentment, which in turn poisons the discourse. They all know better, but keep doing it because it’s so addictive, but never mind that the house is burning down around them.

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Roundup: Ouellet’s magnanimity

The complete illogic of how the Bloc Québécois’ leadership woes continue to unfold continues to amaze. Over the weekend, the party executive emerged from a meeting to affirm their support for Marine Ouellet, but they extended the magnanimous gesture to not tear up the Bloc memberships of those seven MPs who walked out. This, of course, should surprise no one because badly our system has become corrupted by membership-driven leadership contests is that those same members who elected that leader will also help to install his or her friends into the party executive, which centralizes power for that leader. Witness Patrick Brown having Rick Dykstra installed as PC party president, or Justin Trudeau and his friend Anna Gainey. This is why the kind of rot in the PC party in Ontario happens – because the checks and balances within the party have eroded as it transforms itself into a cult of the leader. One a further note about Ouellet, Martin Patriquin notes that as Bloc fortunes continue to wane, she becomes a perfect scapegoat for the party’s demise.

As for Patrick Brown, the news of the weekend was how the party started making plans to deal with revelations of his dating history as it came out, particularly vengeful ex-girlfriends and staffers, which should have been alarm bells right then and there. But this is what happens when you try to deal with the leader that a membership-driven process delivers and who has a “democratic mandate,” whereas if caucus chose from among its ranks, they would know the kinds of open secrets about a candidate and could be steered away from choosing a leader with such skeletons on display, and furthermore, could easily deal with a leader whose vices and other personal problems came to light with swift action. This is yet another reason why caucus selection matters, if we can get past the populist impulses of the current system.

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Roundup: Chickpea politics

One never thought that pulses – and chickpeas in particular – would be the cause of a supposed major political crisis in this country, and yet here we are. The problem is that the supposed problem is almost entirely fictional. News that India raised their tariffs on chickpea imports to some sixty percent was treated by the Conservatives as a direct response to the Jaspel Atwal incident and the supposition by certain senior officials in Canada that some rogue Indian factions arranged for him to be there in order to embarrass Trudeau as a way of demonstrating that the Canadian government is soft on Khalistani extremists. Except that’s not it at all – India raised their tariffs on all of their imports, and Canada barely exports any of those particular chickpeas to India. Australia is taking a bigger hit that Canada is on these tariffs, so if that’s somehow Trudeau’s fault, I’m open to hearing it.

Of course, there is a broader discussion that is being completely ignored with by most of the Canadian media, who are joining the Conservatives in trying to wedge this news into the pre-determined narrative. Indeed, Canadian Press wire copy went out that uncritically repeated that the Conservatives linked the tariff hike to the India visit without any actual fact-checking, or checking the situation on the ground in India. That situation being that there is a worldwide glut of pulse crops that has depressed prices, and the Indian government, in advance of an election, is trying to shore up their support by bringing in these tariffs to protect farmers. At the same time, there is a rash of suicides by Indian farmers in the country, which is no doubt causing India’s government some distress. “But Trudeau said he’d raise the tariff problem and he failed,” cry the critics. Sure, he raised it with Modi, but their discussions were apparently more about an ongoing fumigation issue than tariffs. And while the tariff issue may have come up, I’m not sure that Trudeau has the magical ability to solve the expansion of supply over demand or to fix India’s domestic agricultural issues, but tell me again how this is all about the Canadian pundits’ perceptions of that India trip.

Speaking of Atwal, MP Randeep Sarai spoke to his local newspaper to say that he didn’t know who Atwal was when his name was forwarded to him along with several others who were in the country and asked for an invitation – but he still takes responsibility for it, and volunteered to resign as the party’s Pacific caucus chair. He also says that he doesn’t know who Atwal is because he was a child at the time that Atwal committed his crimes, and his staffers are all younger than he is, which is a reflection of the generational change happening in Canadian politics.

On a related note, Supriya Dwivedi calls out the Canadian media’s amnesia when it comes to the history of Indian relations with Canada, especially as it relates to Sikh separatists, and for their complete lack of awareness of some of the Hindu nationalist politics being practiced in India by Modi’s government.

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Roundup: The obtuse Atwal angles

Because the Jaspel Atwal story refuses to go away, due to equal parts of inept messaging by the government and obtuseness on the parts of both the opposition and much of the media, it seems like we should dig into a few more aspects of it. If you haven’t yet, read John Ivison’s column that threads the needle on just what the senior bureaucrats were warning about with regard to the possibility of “rogue elements” in India’s government, and the invitation that MP Randeep Sarai extended to Atwal while Atwal was already in the country. If more people read this, we would have far fewer of the questions we’re hearing about how both “versions” of the incident can be true. And hey, people familiar with both Indian politics and security services are adding that this is more than plausible.

In the meantime, opposition parties are trying to use their parliamentary tools to continue to make hay of this. Ralph Goodale got hauled before the national security committee yesterday, and he was unable to give very many answers – completely understandably – and suggested that MPs use the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians to discuss classified issues like this. It didn’t stop the opposition from trying to call the National Security Advisor to committee, but that was blocked. But as Stephanie Carvin points out below, MPs are not great at this kind of thing, and risk doing even more damage (and We The Media aren’t helping).

In case you were wondering why the Conservatives dropped their planned Supply Day motion to try and wedge the government over support for a united India as a pretext to bash the Atwal issue some more, they faced an outcry of Sikhs in Canada and backed down (but are insisting that the motion is still on the Order Paper and can be debated on a future Supply Day).

In the meantime, India raised their tariffs on imports of pulses, and suddenly every single Canadian pundit joined the Conservatives in blaming it on Trudeau’s India trip and the Atwal accusations. Not one of them noted that India is having a bit of a domestic crisis with its farmers, and there is a global glut of pulse crops, which is depressing prices (for which India is trying to boost domestic production). But why look for facts when you can try to wedge it into a narrative you’ve already decided on? Cripes.

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Roundup: Beyak’s website battle

Unaffiliated Senator Lynn Beyak is preparing to go to war over her website on Monday. A motion had been moved in the Senate by Independent Senator Kim Pate to have Beyak’s website removed from Senate servers because of the letters that she posted on there, some of which have been deemed racist. Beyak is going to argue that if the motion passes, her privileges will be violated as it will impede her ability to do her job because she can’t inform her constituents about her work or to “address the concerns and opinions of all Canadians.”

For starters, I think Pate’s attempt to remove Beyak’s site is a bit of a stretch, given that Beyak isn’t posting anything that rises to the level of criminal hate speech (despite what her critics may say). The Senate places a great deal of value on free speech, most especially for its members, so it will be very difficult for them to make the case that Beyak should be denied it because she holds some objectionable views. Gods know that there have been plenty of abhorrent views expressed by other senators in the past about other minorities (thinking in particular about one senator’s views about the LGBT community), and she was not censured by the Chamber in any way. While there are different players in the Senate currently and this is the “era of reconciliation,” I still think that there is an uphill battle to take down Beyak’s site.

The other thing is that it would take very little effort for Beyak to port her website onto a different server, and just have a link from her Senate bio page, as many other senators have done, where there is simply a disclaimer next to it saying that it’s not an official Senate site. In other words, Pate’s measures are pretty much symbolic only, which may be fine on the surface, but won’t actually addess the real issues with Beyak’s views, or her promotion of views that are objectionable. Is this a battle worth having? I guess we’ll see.

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Roundup: A return to “bold” policy

The federal NDP had their biannual policy convention over the weekend, and Jagmeet Singh’s leadership was “reaffirmed” when some 90 percent of delegates voted not to have a leadership review. So they’ll keep giving him a chance despite his intransigence in not running for a seat, apparently. And while they got a new party executive, and talked about how they need to do better when it comes to dealing with the harassment allegations in their own ranks that went ignored (particularly around Peter Stoffer), they also decided it was time to return to “bold” policy ideas after a fairly timid electoral platform the last time around. Not so bold, mind you, as to embrace the Leap Manifesto, which went unspoken during the convention despite rumours that it would rear its head once again, but rather, they went for things like universal pharmacare, dental care, and free tuition – you know, things that are the ambit of the provinces. Oh, and re-opening the constitution, as though that’s not going to be any small hurdle. (The free tuition debate, meanwhile, took over Economist Twitter over the weekend because the NDP’s adherents have a hard time understanding how a universal programme actually disproportionately benefits the wealthy rather than applying targeted benefits that would benefit those who are less well-off).

Chantal Hébert, meanwhile, finds the same core message of the NDP unchanged despite the changing slogans. There is some disagreement about that.

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