Roundup: Harder seeks sympathy

I have to wonder if Government Leader in the Senate – err, “Government Representative” – Senator Peter Harder is starting to get a bit nervous about the viability of his proposal to reform the Senate rules, as he has started reaching out to sympathetic voices in order to give him some attention on the pages of the newspaper. We’ve seen two such examples in recent days, with a wholly problematic column from John Ibbitson over the weekend in the Globe and Mail, and now some unwarranted praise from Harder’s old friend from their mutual days in the Mulroney government, retired senator Hugh Segal. While Ibbitson’s column was a complete head-scratcher if you know the first thing about the Senate – they don’t need to “prove their value” because they do so constantly (hell, the very first bill of this parliament they needed to send back because the Commons didn’t do their jobs properly and sent over a bill missing a crucial financial schedule, but hey, they passed it in 20 minutes with zero scrutiny). And it was full of praise for the process of Bill C-14 (assisted dying), which is Harder’s go-to example of how things “should” work, which is a problem. And Segal’s offering was pretty much a wholesale endorsement of Harder’s pleading for a “business committee” to do the job he’s apparently unable to do through simple negotiation, so that’s not a real surprise either. But as I’ve written before, the Senate has managed to get bills passed in a relatively timely manner for 150 years without a “Business committee” because its leadership knew how to negotiate with one another, and just because Harder is apparently not up to that task, doesn’t mean we should change the rules to accommodate him.

Meanwhile, there is some definite shenanigans being played by the Conservatives in the Senate in their quest to have an inquiry into the Bombardier loan, and their crying foul when it wasn’t immediately adopted, and wouldn’t you know it, they had a press release ready to go. Conservative Senator Leo Housakos was called out about this over the weekend by Independent Senator Francis Lankin, and while Housakos continues on his quest to try and “prove” that the new appointees are all just Trudeau lackeys in all-but-name, Housakos’ motion may find its match in Senator André Pratte, who wants to expand it to examine other loans so as not to play politics over Bombardier. No doubt we’ll see some added fireworks on this as over the week as the Senate continues its debate.

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Roundup: Expulsion isn’t rocket science

All day, we’ve been told that Senate clerks are “scouring the constitution” to find a “loophole” that will allow them to expel Senator Don Meredith, and even when they get former law clerks on television who’ve said clearly that yes, the Senate can do this, they still try to go “a ha, but they never did with…” name a scandalous former Senator, and in those cases, they resigned before the Senate had a chance to expel them. Suffice to say, a whole lot of reporters are being deliberately obtuse in order to create a false sense of drama around this.

The simple fact of the matter is that Parliament is self-governing, and it has the powers it needs to expel members if need be. Those are parliamentary privileges, and they have been exercised in the past in the Commons, as James Bowden’s research has shown, and those privileges would indeed extend to the Senate. It’s not sexy or rocket science, but people need to calm down and let the process work itself out.

Adam Dodek says that the Senate needs to move quickly on dealing with Meredith if they hope to regain the public trust. And that may be the case, but we also don’t want to be too hasty, given the ham-fisted and poor manner in which the suspensions of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were handled, and the truth of the matter is that the Senate is on March break. The ethics committee is coming back a week early to deal with the matter, so they are moving quickly but they can’t simply act rashly and in the heat of the moment, which I think will be the danger in order to keep from invoking the ire of an impatient public, egged on by a media demanding that the story move ahead quickly before people lose interest.

Meanwhile we’re also seeing a lot of second-guessing about the role that Meredith played within the Independent Senators Group, and how he was described as having a “leadership position” within it. Indeed, Meredith was elected to one of four “coordinating positions” within the nascent quasi-caucus, in its early days after the first round of independent appointments when the group was still getting on its feet and Meredith had more legislative experience than most of the members of the group. That being said, he had very little actual standing within the group and was certainly not viewed as any kind of actual leader by anyone I’ve spoken to. I have sympathy for their position that he was innocent until proven guilty and that it took the Senate Ethics Officer two years to reach her conclusions, but on the other hand, we could still see this train on the tracks. It’s too bad the ISG didn’t insulate themselves a little better from this, but in all, I don’t think the damage looks as bad from out here.

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Roundup: About that two percent

Part of the preoccupying discussion over the weekend has been comments that Donald Trump made regarding the two percent of GDP spending target as a NATO obligation, and his threats to be less responsive to the alliance unless countries pony up to that level. Never mind that it’s not an actual obligation (Article 5 – the notion that an attack on one member country is an attack on all – is the actual core of the alliance), it’s become a fixation, and that could be a problem for Canada, no matter the fact that we actually show up and do the heavy lifting. To translate heavy lifting, it means that we haven’t been afraid of doing the dirty work, and getting involved in the actual fighting, as with Afghanistan, in part because we have a system of government that allows the government of the day to authorise it without bogging it down in legislative votes or in coalition negotiations where the reluctance to put troops into harm’s way means that most NATO countries wind up deploying troops with very restrictive caveats as to what they can and can’t do, and deploying them to areas where they are less likely to see active combat. (This, incidentally, is generally another caution about PR governments, but I’m sure there are those who would say that this is a feature and not a bug. Those people would be overly idealistic). That heavy lifting should count for something beyond just spending levels.

Paul Wells walks us through some of the history of the two percent target, and why it’s a poor measure of results, as well as some theorizing about why Donald Trump is fixating on that target as much as he is. Likewise, NATO scholar Stephen Saideman engages in some two percent myth-busting here. And Philippe Lagassé offers some additional thoughts about those spending targets and what could be a better measure.

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Roundup: M-103’s ongoing morass

Some of the nonsense around M-103 and the Conservatives’ competing supply day motion that “all lives matters” the Islamophobia debate, continues to churn, with the Peel Regional Police announcing that they have added patrols and additional protection to MP Iqra Khalid following the revelation of the level of threats and harassment that she’s received over tabling the motion – basically proving her own point about the problem of Islamophobia that needs to be addressed before we have a repeat of the Quebec City shooting. But adding to the morass is when one of her Liberal colleagues, Chandra Arya, said that what happened with the Quebec City shooting was a “direct result” of the kind of dog whistle politics that the Conservatives and the Parti Québécois have been engaging in, with talks of niqab bans and barbaric cultural practices tip lines. That, obviously, has yet more people up in arms over the whole debate – a debate which prompted a “protest” outside of a Toronto mosque yesterday where people demonstrated that they were totally concerned about the vague language of “Islamophobia” and were really concerned with free speech rights, as they held up signs calling for Muslims to be banned from Canada – once again, proving the whole point of M-103.

Susan Delacourt contrasts the Conservatives’ two faces, cooperative on trade, but feeding demagoguery when it suits their needs. Paul Wells notes the Liberals’ ability to force Conservatives to deal with dilemmas like the one of M-103. Adam Radwanski chronicles the party’s collapsing big tent in the face of the rise in populist demagoguery. Andrew MacDougall warns the Conservatives about the dangers of peddling cynicism instead of building trust. Andrew Coyne writes about the importance of free speech and the problems with government-sponsored chills on it – which M-103 is not, by the way.

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Roundup: MyDemocracy survey says…

The results of the survey got published yesterday, and it’s full of some fairly contradictory results about people generally being reasonably satisfied with our system (or at least not wildly dissatisfied), preferring constituency connections and accountability (but also co-operation, which makes accountability difficult), while also wanting more diversity of views (unless it lets in radicals and extremists). Also, no mandatory voting, online voting, or lowering the voting age. (Full report here). So yeah. And already you’ve got Nathan Cullen sore that it doesn’t say “Canadians want PR” because that’s not what it was asking. Anyway, Philippe Lagassé is best positioned to weigh in on it, so here we go:

Reading through the methodology and the reasoning behind the questions was fairly illuminating and something the detractors of the survey should probably want to actually do before they scroll ahead to where they go “Why doesn’t it say that Canadians really want proportional representation? Stupid biased survey” because we know that’s what they want to hear.

Of course, if you ask me, this should provide enough justification for them to smother this whole thing in the cradle and wash their hands of it, saying it turns out that Canadians aren’t too concerned with reform and hey, it turns out it’s way more complex than we thought so yeah, bad promise, we’ll do better next time, and then move onto some actual topics of importance than just trying to appease a few sore losers.

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Roundup: The ricochet into Canada

I had idly wondered how long the Trump victory in the United States would take to start showing ricochets in Canada, and apparently it was minutes, as in the middle of the night, Kellie Leitch’s campaign was already putting out fundraising emails drawing comparisons, particularly around their mutual bashing of “elites.” Because Leitch, you see, apparently isn’t an elite, never mind the fact that she’s a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon in Muskoka, a university professor, and former cabinet minister whose was the protégé of the finance minister. No sir, nothing elite about that, because she had to compete with the “biggest old boys’ club” out there, being surgeons, so there. Um, okay. (Incidentally, Leitch previously didn’t want to be compared to Trump, which she kept vacillating over during last night’s leadership debate). And that elite-bashing was quickly picked up by bother other leadership candidates, and others in the party like Tony Clement (who apparently also doesn’t think he’s an elite, despite all evidence to the contrary).

Michael Chong, however, rejected Leitch’s move as being antithetical to the “big tent” Conservative movement that the party is trying to become. Chris Alexander also sounded a cautious note, for what it’s worth, but Lisa Raitt’s tone is less decisive.

Michelle Rempel, however, seems cognisant enough about the trap of demagoguery when it comes to dealing with difficult issues and cautions against importing that ethos to Canada. Rempel also relayed some of her experiences of what she saw during her recent visit to the States, and the alarming levels of discontent among the populace.

Meanwhile, here’s Justin Trudeau’s statement on working together with a Trump presidency. Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand, wants Trudeau to call out Trump. And over in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is taking on that message of public anger about the “governing elite” and trying to make hay of it, so no, this kind of rhetoric is not endemic to the right.

In terms of fallout, we hear from prominent Canadian women like Kim Campbell, Elizabeth May and Michelle Rempel. Shannon Proudfoot writes about how brutally appropriate the end of the campaign ended up being. Bob Fife notes how the Trudeau PMO has had to scramble to adjust to this new reality. Robyn Urback looks at how the Democrats bungled the election, while the Guardian features a column about how liberals helped Trump’s victory. Anne Kingston writes about Trump winning his war against the media. Paul Wells writes about next steps for Trudeau, while Chantal Hébert wonders how much of Trudeau’s agenda is affected by this change, particularly in areas like climate change, or foreign policy (per John Geddes). Both Paul McLeod and Susan Delacourt saw similarities in the way Trump and Trudeau ran their campaigns. Here’s a look at how pundits and pollsters got things wrong, and Andrew Coyne writes a particularly poignant piece about how Trump’s ability to throw out the rules has vindicated some of the worst elements and impulses, and worries what this signals going forward.

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Roundup: CETA got signed

Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland went to Brussels over the weekend to sign the Canada-EU trade deal (known as CETA), but this was the real signing, as opposed to the several signings staged by the Harper government at much earlier iterations of the process, which they wanted to use to show how pro-trade they were, and how much work they were doing on the trade file. And yes, they did get the ball rolling on CETA, as well as the TPP, and a number of trade deals with a bunch of small countries with tiny economies that do very little trade with Canada, and loudly proclaimed the number (as opposed to the worth of those signed deals). So there’s that. At the signing ceremony, Trudeau also downplayed the delays and praised the democratic way in which it all happened, essentially saying that it’s not a bad thing to raise questions and to have them answered, which is fairly gracious of him (and fits with the overall character of his government to date in acknowledging the challenge function of parliament and the media – though he may want to let his Senate leader, Peter Harder, know, as Harder rather arrogantly doesn’t believe that the Senate needs an official opposition).

Of course, now comes the hard part of implementation, which will doubtlessly have numerous stumbling blocks along the way, and we’ll likely need several reminders about why the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism isn’t actually an attack on sovereignty, and how the improvements that Freeland negotiated to the system are a net positive and will likely form a model for other such systems going forward. We’ll hear yet more cries from the NDP and other left-leaning critics about those concerns, but the deal is moving ahead.

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Roundup: Chagger vs Bergen

The big news yesterday was Rona Ambrose shuffling up her shadow cabinet after the summer of leadership announcements, and naming Candice Bergen as the new Opposition House Leader in the place of Andrew Scheer. What is of particular interest is that you have two fairly inexperienced people in the role in both the government and the official opposition, which could make for some very interesting times going forward.

To refresh, the role of the House Leader is to basically determine the agenda of the Commons (deputy leaders fill this role in the Senate), when it comes to determining what items will be up for debate on what days, the scheduling of Supply Days for opposition parties, and basically doing the procedural management. Why the fact that two relatively inexperienced MPs will be doing this is interesting is because we’ll see what kinds of ways that they prioritise things. (Bergen does have experience as a parliamentary secretary and minister of state, but little in the way of procedural experience as far as I’ve been able to determine). What everyone will be paying attention to in particular, however is tone. The fact that for the first time in history, it’s two women in the role is going to have people waiting to see just how that affects tone (as Rosemary Barton gave as her item to watch in this week’s At Issue), because we have been fed a number of gender essentialist narratives that women do things differently and without as much of the partisan acrimony – not that I necessarily believe it, given that Bergen herself is a pretty die-hard partisan. The added spoke in this wheel is the NDP’s House Leader, Peter Julian, whom I have it on good authority is unreasonable to work with at the best of times. When the tension between the House Leaders boiled over into Motion 6 in the spring (and the subsequent The Elbowing that broke that camel’s back), I have little doubt that it had a lot to do with Dominic LeBlanc losing his patience with both Scheer and Julian (who totally insisted that they weren’t even being obstructionist, which I find a bit dubious). So will they be able to work together to push through what promises to be an extremely busy legislative agenda? Or will Bardish Chagger need to start resorting to procedural tactics to ensure that bills can get passed without endless Second Reading debates that the opposition refuses to let collapse so that they can get to committee (which was constant in the previous parliament when the NDP were official opposition). I’m not going to make any predictions, but it is something that I am very curious to watch as the era of “openness and cooperation” rolls along.

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Roundup: No, the LG can’t threaten the premier

Sometimes you see a terrible column, and sometimes there’s such a piece of hot garbage that you need to don a hazmat suit just to approach it and get hosed off afterward like you just came out of a leaking nuclear reactor. The Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard delivered one of those yesterday.

That’s right – this columnist thinks that the lieutenant governor should threaten Kathleen Wynne to shape up or she’ll dismiss her, because 167 years of Responsible Government was just a failed experiment. One lesbian first minister in this province and we’ve decided that it was too much – time to hand power back to the queen and be done with it.

You see! Voters can’t be trusted! Obviously we’d be better off under absolute monarchy again because they won’t let such terrible governments to let themselves get elected and then implement the agendas that they were elected on. It’s like the fanboys in the First Order who remember the good old days of the Galactic Empire and preferred it to the messy democracy of the New Republic.

It’s called confidence. Whichever leader in the legislature or Parliament that can command the confidence of the chamber gets to advise the LG/GG/queen on how to exercise the powers of state. Not a difficult concept.

It is utterly galling that a columnist can be so utterly ignorant of basic civics that this is the kind of utter bilge that they spew onto newsprint. We do have a problem with basic civic literacy in this country, and when you have columnists like this spreading complete nonsense out of some sense of partisanship, it gives a warped impression to people who read this and makes them believe that it’s actually normal and expected that the GG or the LG can boss around a government that you don’t like. No. Absolutely not.

So let me reiterate that Blizzard’s column is utter hot garbage. If the Sun had any shame, they’d pull it and apologise profusely for putting it out there, and Blizzard would be sent to a remedial civics course, but I doubt that’s going to happen because she’s just passionate about how bad Wynne is, or some bullshit excuse like that. So in the meantime, I’ll just leave this here:

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Roundup: Nuance versus brand damage

As the Conservatives head to Halifax for their caucus retreat, the Kellie Leitch/Canadian Values question is threatening to expose some of the caucus rifts – particularly as Leitch feels a bit put out that Rona Ambrose decided to distance herself and the party from Leitch’s proposal, and Leitch has been musing openly about filing a formal complaint with the party that Ambrose has essentially involved herself in the leadership campaign in this way. There are a couple of things that I would note from all of this – one is that we place way too much emphasis on caucus solidarity on all things in this country, and blow any disagreement between party members out of all sense of proportion, usually with some variation of “Is [insert party leader here] losing control of their caucus?!” It’s hyperbolic and it’s nonsense, and it enforces the perceived need for everyone to always be in lock-step, which is terrible for democracy. The other thing I would note is that this is that Ambrose was scrambling to prevent damaging the Conservative brand, and Leitch’s inability to grasp nuance is apparently also a sign that she isn’t able to grasp the magnitude of this floodgate that she’s opened. The fact that she keeps insisting that this isn’t what it clearly is – directed toward certain Muslim communities (remember kids, a dog-whistle is a coded message, while this one is right out there in the open) – while saying that it’s about trying to find a “unified Canadian identity” and not about identity politics (no seriously, she said this – you can check the video), continues to highlight that she is completely and utterly tone deaf. Ambrose is being left to pick up the pieces of Leitch crashing around like the proverbial bull in the china shop, because Leitch is too tone deaf to see what she’s doing to the party brand. So sure, there are rifts in the caucus being formed as a result. While we shouldn’t try to pretend that parties need to be uniform in all things, Leitch should also realise that some rifts are bad for the brand you’re trying to build and probably shouldn’t be papered over.

And while we’re on the subject of Leitch, John McCallum calls her anti-Canadian values screening proposal “Orwellian.”

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