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.

Continue reading

QP: Back to helicopter questions

With the PM back from France, and business in the chamber was already hijacked by procedural shenanigans. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying that the PM had misled the House by saying that he had no choice by to take the private helicopter during his vacation to the Aga Khan’s island, to which Justin Trudeau deflected with his standard response that it was a personal vacation and he was happy to answer questions from the Ethics Commissioner. When Ambrose pressed, Trudeau added that he followed the RCMP’s advice regarding travel, but added nothing more, even on a third question, demanding clarification on the RCMP addition to the answer. Ambrose moved onto the question of Syria, demanding that sanctions be restored to Russia in a first step to remove Bashar Assad. Trudeau insisted that they were working broadly with the international community. When Ambrose pressed, Trudeau reminded her that the foreign minister was meeting with G7 counterparts on this very issue. Nathan Cullen and Karine Trudel returned to the helicopter issue, and Trudeau reiterated his same answer, in both official languages. Trudel then turned to the issue of court delays, and Trudeau responded with the same talking points that the justice minister gave yesterday, about working with a new process. Alistair MacGregor then demanded immediate marijuana decriminalization, and Trudeau reminded him that decriminalization does nothing to prevent it from getting into the hands of kids, or keeping profits out of the hands of the black market.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

QP: Justice delay bafflegab

With the PM still in France, most of the other leaders didn’t bother showing up either today, which places more doubt in their howling insistence that the QP is so important that the PM should be there daily. But I digress… Denis Lebel led off, asking about an accused murderer released based on the Jordan decision fallout. Jody Wilson-Raybould insisted that they had taken steps to ensure that there was a transparent, merit-based process, and more judges would be appointed soon. Lebel moved onto softwood lumber and the lack of progress — never mind that there is no trade representative appointed in the States — and François-Philippe Champagne insisted that they were working the provinces and working to engage the Americans. Lebel pivoted to the question of Syria and doing something about Assad, and Champagne said that Assad must be held accountable for his war crimes and Canada was committed to humanitarian assistance, refugee resettlement, and ensuring a peaceful Syria. Candice Bergen picked it up in English, accused the government of shifting positions, and wondered how hey planned to institute regime change. Champagne repeated his response in English, never quite answering the regime change question. Bergen then moved onto the Standing Orders, demanding any changes be made by consensus. Chagger gave a bland response about the necessity to have a serious conversation. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and wondered how many court cases had been thrown out because of delays. Wilson-Raybould reiterated her plan to appoint new judges, but didn’t answer the question. Mulcair asked why the delays in French, and Wilson-Raybould said that she was meeting with provinces to discuss the issues of delays in order to find a coordinated approach to tackling them. Mulcair moved onto problems with the military justice system, and Navdeep Bains responded that they were planning to work on ensuring reforms to that system. Mulcair sniped that Bains answered, then moved onto veterans’ pensions, and Ralph Goodale asserted that they would have an announcement later this year.

Continue reading

QP: Howling denunciations

With the budget lock-up going on down the street, procedural warfare taking place at committee, and news from the attacks on Westminster filtering through, there was a lot to distract from QP. Rona Ambrose led off, asking about the Westminster attack, and Trudeau offered both condemnation for the attacker, and condolences for the victims. Ambrose then moved onto the topic of immigration policy and those who follow the rules. Trudeau said that they are ensuring that all Canadian laws are being followed and police and border agencies have the resources they need. Ambrose then moved onto the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and Trudeau said that they were pleased to put forward a broad discussion paper, with a number of platitudes. Ambrose pressed on changes to Question Period, and Trudeau insisted he was pleased to answer questions but he was open to improvements. Ambrose wondered how Trudeau would respond if Stephen Harper proposed showing up in QP just once a week — never mind that once a week was Harper’s average. Trudeau hit back that Harper would never put forward a paper or have a discussion about it. Mulcair was up next and asked the same thing, and Trudeau instead admonished the opposition for their heckling with all of the school children in the gallery. Mulcair went another round, and got much the same admonishment. Mulcair then turned to a question about what should happen if a minister should break the Conflict of Interest Act, and Trudeau said that they follow the rules. Mulcair accused Trudeau of taking illegal gifts and breaking the law, and railed about how little Trudeau repaid for his vacation. Trudeau noted that they put a policy into place for reimbursement, and that the RCMP makes determinations about his safety.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Roundup: Stop coveting the CBO

Given the insanity taking place within the Trumpocalypse with the current debate over reforming their health insurance legislation, the Congressional Budget Office’s figures have been at the centre of the debate. Chris Selley penned a column yesterday to praise this island of sanity with the maelstrom, and wonders what a better funded Parliamentary Budget Officer could do in Canada.

To this, I must say nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Nope.

Why? Because we are already lousy with unaccountable officers of parliament who are usurping the role that MPs are supposed to be playing. As it stands, MPs have already started been fobbing their homework off onto the PBO, and then hiding behind his independent analysis and then using it as their cudgel. It is driven by the impulse that they don’t think they can win the debate on the issues, so they would rather have those officers win it for them, and the PBO is certainly no exception.

But independent officers are not infallible. That F-35 cost figures that Selley cites? While Kevin Page’s figures proved to be in the ballpark, his methodology was haphazard and any defence analyst you asked would tell you as much. And we’ve seen how the Auditor General’s report on the Senate was deeply flawed that both former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie and the lawyer that the Senate hired to review the report could scarcely believe it. And of course We The Media eat it up as well, because it’s “independent” and therefore believable, even when it may not actually be right, and the constant deference to these agents is actually harming democracy.

Yes, we have problems with government giving figures that are useable, and the previous government was masterful at changing the accounting rules constantly to keep everyone, PBO included, from trying to figure them out. That’s a problem, but it’s not one that we should expect the PBO to solve. Rather, MPs from all parties should be demanding clear figures, and should use their powers to compel disclosure, whether it’s on committees or Order Paper questions. The problem is that not enough MPs bother to do it, in part because they don’t actually know that their primary job is to hold the government (meaning Cabinet) to account. And simply excusing their ignorance and appointing an independent officer to do it for them doesn’t fix the problem – it exacerbates it.

Also, quit looking at Washington and thinking that we can import their institutions and practices into our system. I know the CBO was the thought when the PBO was created, but our systems are different, and you can’t just graft a similar model on. Stop trying. We have our own system and processes that we should be focusing on improving, and that starts with educating ourselves about our own processes.

Continue reading

Roundup: Carrying Russia’s water

The big story that had a number of people salivating yesterday was the screaming headline in the Globe and Mail that Chrystia Freeland knew her grandfather was the editor of a Nazi newspaper, which Freeland’s own uncle had researched, and to whom Freeland had contributed assistance to. VICE printed their own version of the story, making it clear that Russian officials have been shopping this story around for a while – remember that Freeland is persona non grata in Russia and target of sanctions – and added a tonne of context to the circumstances that Freeland’s grandfather would have found himself in, most of which was absent from the Globe piece because, well, it’s less sensational that way. And then cue some of the bellyaching that Freeland’s office wasn’t very forthcoming about some of this information when asked, the accusations that this somehow undermines her credibility, and whether or not this should be properly characterised as a smear when most of the facts are, in broad strokes, true (though again, context mitigates a lot of this).

The Russian connection, however, is what is of most concern to observers. Professor Stephen Saideman for one is cranky that the Globe very much seems to be compromising its editorial standards and is now carrying Russia’s water for the sensationalism and the sake of clicks. Terry Glavin is even more outraged because of the ways in which this plays into Russian hands, and any belief that we’re immune to the kinds of machinations they’ve exhibited in destabilizing the American electoral process (and now administration) and what they’re up to with far-right parties in Europe should be cause for concern. And to that end, Scott Gilmore says that we can’t expect to be immune from these kinds of Russian attacks. So should we be concerned? By all appearances, yes. And maybe we should remember that context is important to stories, and not the sensationalism, because that’s where the populist outrage starts to build, causing us bigger headaches in the long run.

Continue reading

QP: Women ask the questions

It being International Women’s Day, one expected that all questions posed would be by women MPs. Rona Ambrose led off, trolling for support for her bill on training judges in sexual assault law (which, incidentally, I wrote about for this week’s Law Times, and the legal community was pretty clear that they felt this wasn’t the right way to go and this bill could impact on judicial independence). Justin Trudeau spoke about the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault, but would not commit to supporting it. After another round of the same, Ambrose wanted support for Wynn’s Law on bail applications, to which Trudeau said that the justice minister spoke to Constable Wynn’s window but would not commit to supporting it. Ambrose asked about a bill on human trafficking and why it eliminated back-to-back sentencing provisions, but Trudeau responded in his condemnation of those crimes but not in backing down on the provisions in the bill given their commitment to the Charter. Ambrose asked about helping women come forward to report sexual assault, and Trudeau noted that this was a concern and they have a ways to go. Shiela Malcolmson led off, heralding Iceland’s work on pay equity legislation, to which Trudeau said they were working on legislation. Brigitte Sansoucy asked another pay equity question in French, and got much the same answer. Sansoucy moved onto tax evasion and demands to end amnesty deals, and Trudeau noted that they were working on ending tax evasion by investing in the CRA’s capacity to do so. Tracey Ramsey asked the same again in English, and got the same answer.

Continue reading

QP: KPMG and conspiracy theories

With the benches mostly full, the Chamber was ready to begin the grand inquest of the nation. After a moment of silence for an RCMP officer who lost his life in a car accident in Quebec, Rona Ambrose led off, asking whether the PM had answered questions from the Ethics Commissioner on his Christmas holiday. Trudeau simply stated that he was happy to answer the Commissioner’s questions. Ambrose pressed on the accountability angle, and Trudeau expounded upon the responsibility to Canadians and openness and transparency, but that was all. Ambrose pivoted to the lack of judicial appointments affecting the criminal justice system, for which Trudeau noted the appointments have been made, and noted the new process that was ensuring that more women, visible minorities and Indigenous get appointed. Ed Fast was up next, back from recovering from a stroke, and he demanded the government’s figures on the costs of carbon pricing. Trudeau welcomed him back but chided him for not understanding the new economy. Fast brought up hydro rates in Ontario, but Trudeau was unmoved, taking shots at the previous government’s record. Thomas Mulcair was up next, demanding action on tax havens, and wondered when the budget was. Trudeau noted the commitment to tax fairness, by didn’t give the date. Mulcair railed about KPMG and different rules for the rich, and Trudeau reminded him that they were engaged on the file. Mulcair demanded criminal charges, and Trudeau again reminded him that the file was still being investigated. Mulcair worried about CRA-funded advertorials, for which Trudeau reminded him that they employ a broad range of ways to communicate to Canadians.

Continue reading