Apparently it’s important that we keep being exposed to Economic Action Plan™ advertisements ad nauseum because Canadians have confidence in the economy – or so says Stephen Harper. Which begs the question – do they have confidence in the economy because of the ads, or are the ads to showcase that they have confidence? At which point it all starts getting circular and resembling a tautology. Scott Brison, meanwhile, wants you to know that for every $95,000 the government spends to air one of these ads during the hockey playoffs, 32 students could get a summer position for that money. But – confidence!
Because it seems that the NDP haven’t had their fill of amateurish stunts yet, they have decided to try to haul the Speaker of the Senate and the Leader of the Government in the Senate to a Commons committee to discuss the Senate’s budget allocations. Apparently they think that the Senate isn’t actually a separate institution of Parliament, but just an arm of the government. Err, except that it isn’t. Here’s the thing that the NDP doesn’t seem to be grasping – aside from the basic constitutional position that the Senate holds within our system of government – and that’s the fact that two can play that game. While the Senate may not be able to initiate money bills, they can certainly amend them, or hold them up in committee indefinitely. And if the NDP wants to get cute and try to make the Senate put on a little dog and pony show for the committee in order to justify their spending, well, the Senate can do the very same thing, and question the basic budget allocation for the Commons and MPs expenses. While the NDP might bring up the few cases of improper residency expenses and travel claims that took to the media spotlight a couple of months ago, Senators could do the very same thing, and in fact, have a better case than the MPs would. You see, the Senate’s expenses are far more transparent than those of the Commons. Senators submit their travel claims to quarterly reports, have their expense claims posted publicly, and even their attendance is recorded and publicly available. That’s how all of this came to light in the media – because journalists checked it out. (Well, a certain Senator who shall remain nameless also leaked a number of things because of internecine warfare, but that’s another story). But MPs are not subject to the same levels of public scrutiny that Senators are, and if the NDP really want to down this route, then I don’t see why the Senate shouldn’t call Speaker Scheer and the various party leaders before the Senate’s national finance committee to justify their own expenditures. After all, they’re not public, and these are public funds that they’re expecting to spend, so it would be in the interest of sober second thought that these Senators very closely examine this spending and ensure that it’s in the public interest for the Commons to get these allocations. And it was only a couple of years ago that improper housing claims by a number of MPs were brought to light, and well, the Senate may need to ensure that this kind of thing isn’t going on again. You know, for the sake of the public. You see where I’m going with this? There’s a word that the NDP should learn – it’s “bicameralism.” They may not like it, but it exists for a very good reason, and they should educate themselves before they decide they want to get cute.
The government announced yesterday that it will unveil its “comprehensive” election rules reform bill on Thursday to deal with things like misleading robocalls, and possibly the utter dogs breakfast that are the rules around leadership race financing. That said, the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been consulted on said legislation, which you might think is a big deal (not that this government is big on consulting, as much as they might claim that they are). And before anyone says it, no, I don’t actually think that the Conservatives are trying to cover up activity in the last election done under their name. I’ve heard enough from the Conservatives that they are just as concerned about the issue as anyone else – despite some of their workers or volunteers feeling otherwise – and this will likely be a genuine attempt to crack down on the problem.
Drop everything. Forget about the budget, or Peter Penashue, or EI reforms, or anything. Why? Pandas. Yes, those pandas that we made a deal with China are arriving in Canada today for a five-year period. Pandas! Economic Action Pandas! Are you distracted yet? Pandas! And yes, Stephen Harper will be making a big photo op out of the event. But did he mention the pandas yet?
Elizabeth May and the Greens have decided not to run a candidate in the Labrador by-election in order to ensure a Liberal victory in the riding – as those 139 Green votes in the last election would have ensured a Liberal victory had those votes indeed gone to the Liberals. During the Liberal debate on Saturday, Joyce Murray claimed victory for this move, and claimed it as the model for the kinds of “cooperation” that could happen in the next election – but as someone pointed out, this is more like capitulation for the Greens, and it perpetuates the magical thinking that “cooperation” is even possible, let alone desirable. The NDP, meanwhile, had no plans to similarly stand down, and had a nomination meeting where Harry Borlase was chosen out of the hundred or so ballots cast to run whenever the writ drops.
It’s Budget Day, everyone! And in what looks to be an otherwise stay-the-course budget, it appears that the big shiny object is going to be…cheaper hockey equipment. Because that matters more than anything else, and Stephen Harper must solidify his credentials as the Hockeyest Prime Minister in the history of ever! Okay, so it’s actually lowering one specific tariff, but still. Meanwhile, Les Whittington gives the five myths of Conservatives budget making. Scott Brison finds a “leaked” copy of Flaherty’s budget speech.
MPs of all stripes – including a few Conservatives – were criticising Flaherty’s move in calling Manulife Financial to stave off a mortgage war. More surprisingly is that one of his own cabinet colleagues, Maxime Bernier, was publically critical. It remains to be seen if this will be treated as a case of “Mad Max” being a maverick, or if this is a breach of cabinet solidarity, Bernier not being a “team player,” and he’ll be bounced out of cabinet – yet again. Andrew Coyne finds the irony in Flaherty lecturing people about taking on too much debt considering how much he added to the national debt.
Being both Budget Day Eve and caucus day, the excitement was palpable. Thomas Mulcair led off QP by reading off a question about how Peter Penashue broke the law, and wondered what it said about the rest of the caucus. Harper rejected the characterisation, and touted ALL THE THINGS that Penashue did for Labrador. Mulcair then turned to the issue of Flaherty’s haranguing banks to not engage in a mortgage war when he wouldn’t regulate credit card rates. Harper insisted that mortgage rates were at the lowest rate in history, and Flaherty was trying to ensure market stability. Françoise Boivin was up next asking about the PBO’s latest report on crime legislation spending, but Rob Nicholson mostly deflected by bringing up Mulcair’s meeting with Gary Freeman while in the States. Bob Rae returned to the question of Penashue, to which Harper considered Rae’s characterisations to be negative campaigning. For his final question, Rae brought up the Competition Act with respect to Flaherty’s calls to the banks about mortgage rates, not that Harper’s answer about market stability changed.
It was the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa over Friday and Saturday, and in it, Preston Manning said some pretty interesting things about how conservatives should distance themselves from those who cross the line – like Mr. “Lake of Fire” from the Wildrose in Alberta, or Tom Flanagan and his child porn comments. And yes, this is a pretty big departure from the Reform Party of yore, as Chris Selley notes. Also at the conference was US libertarian hero Ron Paul, and Aaron Wherry writes about Paul, Jason Kenney, and the notion of ideological purity as put forward in a conference like the MNC.
In a rather surprising announcement at the end of the day yesterday, the government has named the Parliamentary Librarian as the interim Parliamentary Budget Officer until Kevin Page’s replacement can be found. That process is internal to the Library, and Page has expressed concerns that the makeup of the committee charged with the search is being kept secret, but I do get concerned when opposition parties want input into those processes, because it ultimately erodes the accountability for those appointments. Look at the questions surrounding Arthur Porter these days, and how Vic Toews skirts accountability by pointing out that the opposition leaders were consulted on his appointment. That’s why the prerogative power of appointment should rest with the Governor in Council – because it keeps the executive as the sole resting place of accountability. Meanwhile, the job criteria for the next PBO have been posted, and they include qualities like “discreet” and “consensus seeking” – perhaps not too surprising after the battles that Page had with the previous Parliamentary Librarian over his role.
With odes paid to Stompin’ Tom Connors, and with Ron Paul visiting in the gallery, QP got underway with Tom Mulcair reading off a question about the new reported problems with the F-35 fighters. Harper assured him that after the Auditor General’s report, they had put a new process in place for finding a new next-generation option. Mulcair then asked a somewhat bizarre question about the number of responses by women on behalf of the government — given that tomorrow is International Women’s Day — to which Harper assured him that they had more women in cabinet, their were more women MPs, and in the senior ranks of the public service. For his final question, Mulcair asked about the Correctional Investigator’s report on Aboriginals in prison. Harper responded that they wouldn’t presume to question the judiciary, but they were trying to take a balanced approach to deal with the issue. Jean Crowder carried on the same line of questions, but this time Rob Nicholson delivered a very similar response. Justin Trudeau led off for the Liberals today, and started off with a question about the suspected changes to EI training funds, and how centralising them in Ottawa would be of detriment. Harper assured him that they had consulted and were working with the provinces in order to address skills shortages in the country.
So, yesterday was…enlightening. If you call the “debate” on Senate abolition, using incorrect facts, intellectual dishonesty, and treating the constitution as a suggestion to be informed debate, that is. It boggles the mind that the NDP, who claims to champion decisions based on things like science, to turn around and use myth, folklore and figures pulled entirely out of context to back up an ideological and civically illiterate position. For example, they claim the Senate only sits an average of 56 days per year – never mind that the figure aggregates election years (of which we’ve had quite a few of late) with non-election years, and only counts days in which the Chamber itself sits. Never mind the fact that committees sit on days when the Chamber itself doesn’t, that Senate committees often sit longer than Commons committees, or the additional days of committee travel for studies that they undertake, and that the Senate sat 88 days last year – being a non-election year. But those are mere details that get in the way of a good quip. And then there were Thomas Mulcair’s interviews – while he avoided directly answering whether or not he would theoretically appoint NDP Senators were he to form a government in the future, he neglected to figure that in refusing to do so, he would be in violation of the Constitution. You see, it’s one of the duties spelled out that must be done – the GG shall appoint Senators, and that is always done on the advice of the Prime Minister. It’s not a may appoint – it’s a shall, an instruction or command. To refuse to appoint Senators is an abrogation of constitutional responsibilities, but hey, it’s not like wanton constitutional vandalism isn’t the whole backbone of the discussion in the first place. And then Mulcair skated around the question of how he would deal with regional representation if the Senate were to be abolished. He gave some vague response about discussing it with the provinces, neglecting that one of the founding principles of the Senate was to balance out the representation-by-population of the Commons so that smaller provinces wouldn’t be swamped. And if Mulcair thinks that simply tinkering with the Commons seat distribution formula to somehow protect the smaller provinces, well, he’s further overcomplicating the principle of rep-by-pop that the Chamber is founded on. But once again, let’s just let constitutional vandalism slide with some pithy slogans. It’s not like it’s important or anything.