QP: Talking to elites

While Justin Trudeau was in London, meeting with Her Majesty the Queen and prime minister Theresa May, Andrew Scheer was in fact present today, in the wake of the salacious news that Maxime Bernier had pulled his book that was critical of his leader. Scheer, mini-lectern on desk, led off by reading some concern about investor confidence in the energy sector, and he claimed that the previous government got Northern Gateway “built.” Jim Carr stood up and stated that it was news to him that Northern Gateway got built, and didn’t in fact get its permits revoked by the Federal Court of Appeal. Scheer then got up rue that Trudeau was in Europe with elites, talking down on the energy sector, and Carr reminded him that just days ago he was here talking up the sector and the Trans Mountain expansion. Scheer insisted that Trudeau told his European audience that he was disappointed that he couldn’t phase out the oil sector tomorrow, but Carr rebutted with his line about how incredulous it was that Scheer took to the microphones on Sunday to decry Trudeau’s announcement after the meeting with the two premiers before Trudeau even made it. Alain Rayes got up to decry Trudeau’s lack of leadership in French, to which Marc Garneau stood up to lay out the support the government had given. Rayes wondered how much of taxpayers’ money would be spent on the project, but Garneau merely reiterated that they considered the project to be in the national interest. Guy Caron was up for the NDP, noted that the Health Committee’s study on universal pharmacare would be tabled later, and demanded action on it. Ginette Petitpas Taylor thanked the committee for their work, and she would consider its finding. Caron demanded immediate action in French, and Petitpas Taylor noted the commitments in the budget toward national (but not universal) pharmacare. Charlie Angus was up next, and demanded to know if the government felt their Section 35 obligations were met with Kinder Morgan, and Carr reminded him of the Supreme Court decision around Northern Gateway around consultations, so they went and consulted further for Trans Mountain. Angus pressed, terming it a “Liberal pipeline,” and Carr reiterated his line about the fact that there may not be unanimity, but there are many Indigenous communities who are in support.

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Roundup: Let’s not punt it to the Supreme Court

As the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion drama continues to chug along, we saw that Bill Morneau had a meeting with Rachel Notley and while nothing specific was announced, it was stated that something is on the way in fairly short order. Add to that, Jim Carr was doing the media rounds saying that the pipeline will get built, and it’s a question of how, which is an important clue. And then came Jagmeet Singh, who decided that his contribution to this is to insist that this all get referred to the Supreme Court of Canada in a joint federal/provincial/First Nations reference. Because showing political leadership apparently means fobbing off the tough questions to the Supreme Court. He also suffers from the delusion that the Court could act swiftly on this, ignoring that it would take six months to even pull a reference together (seriously – the Court wouldn’t hear it until the fall at the earliest). And then his environment critic went on Power & Politicsand said that even if the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the federal government and that the project could go ahead, they’d still oppose it because obviously it would be a wrong decision. Yeah. Okay.

As Carissima Mathen explains in this segment of The House, the Supreme Court doesn’t like to be used for political purposes, reference questions are generally of general application, and even referring the question of jurisdiction to them would imply that there is doubt that the federal government has it, which settled case law clearly demonstrates that they do. (Likewise, going Jason Kenney’s route and invoking Section 92(10)(c) implies that there is doubt that these pipelines are federal jurisdiction when we know that they are, hence why it’s not only a redundant course of action, but it creates damaging precedent). And that’s why Morneau was pretty explicit when he shot down Singh’s proposal yesterday – they know they have jurisdiction, so it would make no sense to refer it to the SCC. On a related note, the BC NDP have changed their rhetoric around using every tool in the toolbox to oppose the pipeline and are now pledging to use all tools to protect their coastline and environment, likely because they got a legal opinion that said that they have no jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Ditchburn notes that Indigenous protests against the pipeline aren’t a side plot – and she’s right, but it’s also separate from the jurisdiction issue, and should be treated as separate. (I also suspect that the government will argue that approval was given before they legislated implementation of UNDRIP, and that they did additional consultation and created the Indigenous-lead monitoring committee, so that should satisfy Section 35). Chantal Hébert sees few options that the federal government could use that would still maintain provincial peace. David Moscrop wants everyone to cool their jets because this isn’t actually a crisis, but rather how democracy and federalism actually work. Jen Gerson looks at how this failure would be the signal of a bigger market failure in Canada, and open us up to creating an institutionalized culture of kickbacks and corruption when it comes to major projects.

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Roundup: Emergency Cabinet stalling

After yesterday’s emergency Cabinet meeting, you might think that ministers would have something to say. They did – they stated that they remained 100 percent behind the construction of the pipeline, and then Jim Carr fled to catch a plane, and all other ministers similarly fled, with Bill Morneau dropping a few more hints before he had a later media availability in Toronto, where he said that they would be meeting with Rachel Notley today in order to further discuss options. Of course, why they couldn’t just say this at the time is part of the frustrating way in which this government chooses to communicate (though I keep reminding myself, and occasionally others, is that if this were the Harper years, we wouldn’t know there was a meeting, reporters would have been barred from the third floor where it happened, and ministers would flee down the back stairs so as to avoid media).

Notley, meanwhile, says that her government is prepared to buy the pipeline outright if Kinder Morgan pulls out (and there is speculation that if Kinder Morgan fails to get the pipeline built, they could launch a NAFTA challenge against the government). John Horgan says that Notley’s threats to legislate the cut of oil to BC, forcing them to raise gasoline prices, would be “provocative” – something he says as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. And to add another wrench into things, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde finally broke his silence on the Trans Mountain issue, asserting that UNDRIP principles mean they need First Nations consent.

But amidst all of this, we get back to some basic problems, in that thus far, BC hasn’t actually done anything yet, so there’s nothing that the federal government can actually do other than make a bunch of symbolic statements. Demands that this be taken to the Supreme Court are left with the basic problems of just what we’re asking them to weigh in on – federal jurisdiction is settled law, and until BC actually comes up with their novel plans to skirt the constitution, we have no actual question for the Court to decide on (when it eventually does – it wouldn’t hear the reference until the fall at the earliest, and then likely take up to six more months to render their decision). I’m hard-pressed to call that a panacea to the problem, or to give Kinder Morgan the comfort they’re seeking.

Good reads:

  • The Commons Public Safety committee will meet for sixty minutes at noon on Monday to hear from National Security Advisor Daniel Jean.
  • The Mexican ambassador says that while wages in Mexico are increasing, they won’t rise to the levels demanded by some NAFTA players immediately.
  • The big omnibus crime bill contains a clause that would allow police to submit court testimony in writing instead of in person, meaning defence can’t cross examine.
  • VADM Mark Norman had his first court appearance, and it’ll be a high bar for the Crown to prove breach of trust. Here is a guide to the cast of characters in this saga.
  • The government still doesn’t have a timeline for eliminating the gay blood donor ban (but they are compiling research for a move to a better risk-based system).
  • Tired of waiting for the government to fulfil its promise to repeal mandatory minimum sentences, Senator Kim Pate plans to table a bill to do just that.
  • A book by former Dion advisor Jocelyn Coulon insists that there was a frosty relationship between Trudeau and Dion, stemming Dion rebuffing Trudeau in 2006.
  • The Ethics Commissioner might open an investigation into Raj Grewal’s invitation on the India trip (but nobody has said how his private interests were furthered).
  • Stephen Harper tweeted congratulations to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who is anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim. John Geddes delves deeper here.
  • In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Maxime Bernier expresses some sour grapes and says that Andrew Scheer won thanks to “fake Conservatives.”
  • Kady O’Malley’s Process Nerd column takes on the issue of those illicit political donations by Conrad Black.
  • Susan Delacourt looks at Canadians’ growing distrust in Facebook.
  • Martin Patriquin notes the Liberal inability to own their pithy phrases when they backfire, preferring instead to shift to less sentimental talking points.
  • My column calls out the insistence that there are “simple questions” or simple answers to the Trans Mountain issue.

Odds and ends:

An academic examination of Justin Trudeau’s Instagram feed shows not a single selfie among the image he’s crafted.

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Roundup: Justice bill under fire

The big news over the long weekend was the Liberals’ major criminal justice reform bill, which was tabled at the end of last week. It’s a big bill because it’s a big topic, but also because the government decided to fold in two previous bills that have been languishing on the Order Paper so that they can all get passed at once. One of those bills has clauses that have been overtaken by a previous bill that again, languishes on the Order Paper. And yet, despite this major reform push, one of the biggest problems facing the justice system, mandatory minimum sentences, which are clogging the courts, remain intact because this bill doesn’t address them, and the minister is shrugging in terms of saying the debate is still ongoing with provinces and courts over those. Among changes in this bill are severely limiting preliminary inquiries, which could mean that a number of cases go to trial where they wouldn’t have otherwise given that the point of a preliminary inquiry was to determine whether there was enough evidence to secure a conviction. Another change is to eliminate peremptory challenges in jury selection, something which has gained a lot of attention in the past couple of months after the Gerald Stanley trial in Saskatchewan had an all-white jury.

None of this is without controversy, and defence lawyers are raising the alarm. Lawyers like Michael Spratt say the changes will not speed up trials, and will actually eliminate some procedural fairness from the system. The elimination of peremptory challenges is far more contentious, with some defence lawyers saying it won’t fix anything while another says it could eliminate the current abuses. One law professor calls it a good first step, but lists other recommendations to increase access to justice in remote communities and improve jury selection.

On a related note, it looks like Saskatchewan hasn’t been selecting juries in a way that complies with their own provincial laws. While this may not be enough to cause an appeal in the Stanley trial, which has put much of the focus on the issue of peremptory challenges, it does raise questions about jury selection laws in this country that are part of these reforms.

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QP: Inventing a conflict from whole cloth

With the Easter long weekend upon us, it was Friday-on-a-Thursday in the House of Commons, and Question Period was no exception — only slightly better attended than a regular Thursday. Candice Bergen led off with a disingenuous framing of the Raj Grewal non-story, and Bardish Chagger noted that everything was cleared with the Ethics Commissioner, and that Grewal’s guest at the event registered through the Canada-India Business Council. Bergen demanded to know who in the PMO authorised the invitation, and Chagger reiterated her response. Alain Rayes was up next, and demanded the prime minister to sign off on a human trafficking bill from the previous parliament, to which Marco Mendicino noted that there was a newer, better bill on the Order Paper (but didn’t mention that it has sat there for months). On a second go-around, Mendicino retorted with a reminder that the previous government cut police and national security agencies. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, and raised the fact that Stephen Bronfman and a government board appointee were at a Liberal fundraiser last night, to which Andy Fillmore reminded him that they have made fundraisers more transparent. Charlie Angus carried on with the same topic in a more churlish tone, got the same answer, and on a second go-around, François-Philippe Champagne praised the appointment to their Invest Canada agency. Brosseau got back up to list allegations of harassment at Air Canada, to which Roger Cuzner reminded them that Bill C-65 will cover all federally regulated industries.

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Roundup: No, committee studies shouldn’t guide government

And lo, from Toronto’s den of hipsterdom, comes the plaintive wail that a government ignoring the work of committees is a betrayal of democracy. No, seriously – this is the complaint of VICE’s parliamentary columnist (who does not reside in Ottawa, or ever darken the halls of Parliament Hill, but whatever). Brown cites the centralization of power in the PMO and the growing power of branding as the forces that eclipse these poor committees, but it’s possibly the laziest gods damned complaint you can imagine.

So, for Brown’s edification, here are a few points that he overlooked in his ignorance of how things actually work in Ottawa:

  1. The role of Commons committees is not to be driving government policy, as Brown seems to think. The role of Parliament is to hold government to account, and committees are the workhorses of doing that, particularly when it comes to scrutinizing legislation. Senate committees, it should be noted, do a much more robust job of looking at areas of concern and coming up with policy recommendations, but that’s because the Senate is Parliament’s built-in think-tank, and it operates on a less partisan basis than Commons committees, who often approach their committee work with the lens of validating their party’s pre-existing positions.
  2. Not all committees are created equal. He may cite the work of a few of the “high profile” committees, writing on “sexier” topics like pharmacare, but because those are higher-profile committees, you’re seeing more studies that are bound to attract attention but have little substance to offer. If he wants to get a better sense of really effective committees that do really good work, he should look at ones like Public Accounts, who do the real work that Parliament is supposed to be doing, which, again, is holding government to account.
  3. Committees coming up with reports that the government does not then follow is hardly a sign of PMO centralization – if he wants an example of that, it was how committees operated in the Harper era, where they were all branch plants of minsters’ offices, with parliamentary secretaries directing the government MPs to do their bidding, and having ministerial staffers providing direction throughout. Oh, and the minister would often direct the committee to study topics that were of convenience (while he or she went ahead and legislated before waiting for the committee report). The way committees are operating currently is a vastly different environment than it was just a few years ago. But he might know that if he was actually here and paid attention to these things.

You’ll excuse me if I have little time for facile analysis like this. Whinging about PMO centralization without looking at the complicity of MPs themselves in the problem is to miss the point. And to miss the whole point of Parliament in a column like this makes it clear that nobody should be paying attention to the musings of its author.

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Roundup: A firmer timeline for cannabis

The Senate came to a negotiated decision around the marijuana legalization bill timeline yesterday, and there is a bit of good news, and a bit of bad news if you’re waiting for its passage. On the one hand, the new timeline has the benefit of an end date – that it aims for third reading vote by June 7th, but that also moves a vote on second reading until March 22nd, and from then on, it will go to five different committees instead of just three. It does, however, mean that the government’s timeline of July is now out of the water, because even if it passes in June (because there is the possibility of amendments, but there should be enough time to deal with those), there will still be an eight-to-twelve week lag time between royal assent and when the stores can open their doors given production and distribution timelines, and the likes. So, it likely means no legal weed over the summer, if you’re so inclined.

A couple of additional notes: I keep hearing this concern trolling that keeping the legal age below 25 is terrible because youth shouldn’t smoke it because of brain development and so on. The problem with setting the legal age too high is that it remains the forbidden fruit for those youth, which encourages use, but it also ignores the reams of data that we have on what happens when drinking ages are set too high, especially in states where it’s 21 instead of 18 or 19. What happens if you have young adults who binge drink to the point of alcohol poisoning because there is no way to build a culture of moderation – not to mention, it will continue to be an active driver for the black market if young adults can still get it that way. At least by setting it to the provincial drinking age, you have a better chance of reaching them through education programs (which will hopefully be better than the current “don’t do drugs” scare tactics that governments repeatedly try and fail at) than simple prohibition. In other words, I hope that senators (and in particular Conservative ones) don’t make this a hill to die on.
The other note is that in the lead up to this negotiated timetable, Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” Senator Peter Harder took the CBC to proclaim his concerns with the pace of the bill, and lamenting that it had been in the Senate since November – err, except it was really only there for a couple of weeks before the Christmas break, during which time the Senate was busy dealing with a glut of other bills from the Commons, and that they rose a week before they planned to, and this is only the third week back after the break, during which it has received several second reading speeches. He was utterly disingenuous about how much time it had been in the Senate to date, and I suspect that this is all part of his play to continue casting the partisan gamesmanship (or threats thereof) by the Conservatives in order to push through his reforms to the chamber that would delegitimise structured opposition, which is a very big deal, and one that Senators shouldn’t let him sneak by them by playing up concerns over this particular bill’s progress.

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Roundup: Demanding Trudeau take a stand…on a press release

We’re barely a couple of days into the “trade war” between BC and Alberta, and already the rhetoric has cranked the ridiculousness up to eleven. While Trudeau has tried to calm nerves and insist that he and his officials are speaking to the premiers involved and their officials, you have Andrew Scheer going before the microphones to demand that the PM cancel his trip to the United States to deal with this escalating crisis (err, thus far a press release has been issued by BC – that’s it), and Jagmeet Singh is lamenting that Trudeau isn’t showing enough leadership. One remains curious about what kind of “leadership” Trudeau should be showing on this, given that he has declared that the pipeline will get built because it’s in the national interest (and even went so far as to deploy anonymous senior government sources to assure the media that yes, they won’t allow any province to impinge on federal jurisdiction). And you know that if Trudeau did actually cancel his US trip that the Conservatives would pillory him for not taking NAFTA renegotiations seriously enough. It was also pointed out yesterday that when Christy Clark tried to impose conditions on pipelines, the previous government pretty much let her go ahead with it with very few complaints, so their insistence that Trudeau escalate this to what one presumes to be the use of federal disallowance powers is curious in the extreme.

Meanwhile, the pundits are weighing in. Chantal Hébert notes that Trudeau lacks any kind of constitutional mechanism to force a timeout between the premiers. Andrew Leach reminds us that the only reason Alberta got the approval for the pipelines was because they did the hard work of getting a credible environmental regime in place beforehand. Jen Gerson argues that Trudeau’s job is to avoid these kinds of interprovincial disputes, and that Notley’s real goal with the wine blockade is to pressure Trudeau. Colby Cosh says that the wine blockade was a predictable turn of events given Notley’s flirting with craft beer protectionism already.


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QP: Fabrications and absences

While the PM was away in Scarborough to announce the government’s housing strategy — and to campaign for his candidate in the by-election there — Andrew Scheer introduced his party’s newest MP to the Chamber before things got underway, and fortunately Dane Lloyd didn’t try to struggle as he came in. Scheer led off, demanding that the PM condemn the “egregious crackdown on free speech” at Laurier University. With the PM away, Kirsty Duncan offered assurances that they want to assure freedom of speech and the protection of Charter rights. Scheer lamented that the PM just couldn’t denounce it — being cute because he knows he can’t refer to the PM being absent — and then he launched into a tired question about Bill Morneau’s asssets. Morneau got up and first wished the Speaker a Happy Birthday — and after the Chamber stood up for a quick rendition of the appropriate song, Morneau reminded the chamber that he worked with the Ethics Commissioner. Scheer then turned to worry about tax changes and the supposed “attacks” on local businesses, and Morneau gave him assurances that they had listened to Canadians. Alain Rayes got up next to make a pair of demands in French for all of Morneau’s assets, and he deflected by noting that the opposition didn’t want to recognize the good work of the government in strengthening the economy. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP and started off with mentioning the Auditor General’s concerns about CRA’s call centre, but started throwing all manner of accusations at the wall, so Diane Lebouthillier assured him that working for Canadians was highlighted in her mandate letter. Alexandre Boulerice gave much the same in French, and Lebouthillier again got up to assure him that they were going after tax havens, and they didn’t circulate misinformation, unlike the other side. Boulerice railed at the laundry list of apparent sins, and Lebouthillier reminded him that the previous government cut CRA but they were reinvesting. Caron went for one more round of the same, not that the response changed.

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Roundup: No maple death squads

A story that caught my eye yesterday was on the topic of foreign fighters who may return now that ISIS/Daesh has fallen. More particularly was the notion that the US, UK and France have all made it policy to try and target and kill their own home-grown fighters rather than risk them returning to their own countries. Canada, however, came out explicitly yesterday to state that we aren’t doing the same because we don’t engage in death squads. And yes, we’re taking the issue seriously, and our security forces are on alert, and so on. While it may be astonishing to hear, it’s also not unsurprising considering that this is a government that is committed to the Charter, and extrajudicial killings would seem to be a gross violation thereof.

The problem? Some of the responses.

While I have a great deal of respect for the good senator, I’m a bit troubled by the sentiments expressed because the implicit message is that governments should feel free to violate the Charter with impunity, with either extrajudicial killings, or processes that violate the Charter and our other international obligations against torture, as with the reference to Omar Khadr. And worse, the kinds of responses to that tweet are pretty disturbing in their own right.

Aside from the fact that any of these targeted killings would be outside of the rule of law, Stephanie Carvin also points out that this kind of policy would be a false certainty, particularly when it comes to verification. I would also add that it would seem to me that it keeps the focus elsewhere than on home soil, where radicalisation still happens to one extent or another, and I do think there is likely a sense that “Hey, we’ve killed them over there,” then we don’t think about how they were radicalised at home in the first place, and we don’t put in the time and resources toward solving that issue. Nevertheless, that our government follows the rule of law shouldn’t be a news story, but in this day and age, it would seem to be.

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