QP: Scrapping over data mining

While Justin Trudeau was off to New Brunswick, and Andrew Scheer elsewhere, it was up to Erin O’Toole to lead off, reading a quote about the job of the opposition to ask questions, attributing it to the PM, and wondered why the government wouldn’t let Daniel Jean appear before committee. Ralph Goodale calmly responded that the crux of the motion was around the Atwal invitation, that it was rescinded. O’Toole insisted two more times that MPs had a right to hear the briefing, but Goodale defended Jean’s career and insisted there were no contradictions in the positions put forward. Pierre Paul-Hus tried again twice in French, and Goodale poked holes in the Conservative Supply Day motion in return. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and decried that only $15 million out of the $1 billion given to CRA to combat tax evasion. Lebouthillier reminded him that the investment was over five years, and it would be ramped up in order to take a strategic approach. Caron then railed that the CRA’s anti-avoidance committee met in secret, while Lebouthillier said that it was a committee of experts that meets as necessary. Peter Julian took over in French, and demanded taxation on web giants, to which Bill Morneau said that they were conducting studies to ensure that the system would work well. Julian changed to English to insist that studying the issue would mean doing nothing, but Morneau reiterated that they wanted to have a plan before acting.

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QP: Circling back to Atwal, yet again

A frigid Tuesday in Ottawa, and all of the leaders were present in Question Period, for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he immediately returned to the Atwal issue, wondering who was telling the truth about Atwal — him or the Indian government. Justin Trudeau stood up and said that he would always believe the advice of non-partisan public servants over anyone else. Scheer pressed, and Trudeau reminded him that Randeep Sarai took responsibility for proffering the invitation, but he trusted public service. Scheer tried again in French, and Trudeau repeated that same point about believing public servants. Scheer reverted to English, reset his preamble to provide a fresh media clip, and wondered if it was Chrystia Freeland who was telling the truth this time when she said it was an honest mistake. Trudeau reiterated the same point about believing public service. Scheer demanded an answer as to whether the “conspiracy theory” was baseless, and Trudeau reminded him that for ten years, the Harper government diminished and belittled the work of public servants, and the Conservatives hadn’t moved on from those habits. Guy Caron was up next, and worried about the Facebook data used by Cambridge Analytica. Trudeau noted that they take privacy seriously, and it’s why the Minister of Democratic Institutions was looking into electoral interference, and the Privacy Commissioner also indicated he was taking a look. Caron demanded that the issue of data protection be raised at the G7 meeting in June, and Trudeau assured him that they had already had these conversations and they would continue to do so. Hélène Laverdière raised the armoured vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau first pointed asked her to ask her caucus colleague from London Fanshaw if she wanted them to cancel that contract, but that they were taking the issue more seriously than the previous government did. Laverdière demanded to know if human rights were for sale, and Trudeau took up a script this time to insist that they respect human rights obligations.

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Roundup: Gaming the system a second time

So the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s nomination committee has allowed Patrick Brown to run for the leadership contest, despite the fact that he was kicked out of caucus (which also rescinded his nomination as a candidate in his riding), which is going to go super well for everyone involved, be it Brown claiming that he’s been vindicated from the allegations (he hasn’t), or the other candidates who are trying (and failing) to come up with new policy on the fly as they try to distance themselves from Brown’s campaign platform. But what gets me are all of the pundits saying “It’s up for the party members to decide,” which should provide nobody any comfort at all, because the reason the party is in the mess it’s in is because Brown knew how to game the system in order to win the leadership the first time. He has an effective ground game, and can mobilise enough of his “rented” members, likely in more effective distributions (given that this is a weighted, ranked ballot) than other, more urban-centric candidates can. He played the system once, and has all the means necessary to do it again. Saying that it’ll be up to the membership to decide is an invitation to further chaos. This is no longer a political party. It’s an empty vessel waiting for the right charismatic person to lead it to victory, which is a sad indictment. Also, does nobody else see it as a red flag that Brown’s on-again-off-again girlfriend is 16 years his junior and used to be his intern? Dating the intern should be a red flag, should it not? Especially when one of his accusers is a former staffer.

Meanwhile, here’s David Reevely previews the party’s civil war, while Andrew Coyne imagines Brown’s pitch to members as his running as the “unity candidate” in a party split because of him.

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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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QP: Gathering angry media clips

Two competing dynamics played out in the Commons today — because Parliament is not sitting tomorrow out of courtesy for the NDP’s policy convention, it was Friday on a Thursday, only slightly better attended, but there weren’t any leaders (save Elizabeth May) present. It was also a Conservative Supply Day, where the motion demanded an apology to veterans for the alleged “insult” by the prime minister during that Edmonton town hall regarding his response to why the court action against the Equitas group was still ongoing. Candice Bergen led off, reading concerns about veterans and demanding action from the prime minister. Dominic LeBlanc got up to answer, saying that they do support veterans and have put in place a pension-for-life option as well as other investments. Bergen concern trolled that the government voted down a veterans-themed private member’s bill yesterday, and LeBlanc listed the sins of the previous government when it came to respecting veterans. Alain Rayes took over in French, quoting the prime minister’s election promise, not that LeBlanc was having any of it. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc raised the spectre of Julian Fantino when it came to how the Conservatives had respect. Rayes listed examples of the government’s profligacy except for veterans, but LeBlanc called out his contradiction before reiterating their respect. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, reading questions on the same topic in English, and LeBlanc gave a less punchy response about how much they have done to date. Brosseau switched to French to read about the documents provided to the PBO around the tax gap, and Marie-Claude Bibeau got up to insist that they would study the tax gap, unlike the previous government. Pierre-Luc Dusseault heaped some condemnation on new tax treaties, and Bibeau read points about international information exchanges to fighting tax evasion. Peter Julian got up to rail about tax havens that are funding cannabis operations, but Bibeau reiterated the points about combatting tax evasion. Continue reading

QP: Not taking yes for an answer

While Justin Trudeau was present today, Andrew Scheer once again was not. That left Lisa Raitt to lead off, mini-lectern on desk, and she worried about the Trans Mountain pipeline and wanted a plan to ensure that it would begin construction this spring. Trudeau listed the actions they’ve taken on legislation and processes, said that he was meeting with premiers, and asserted that the pipeline would be built. Raitt dismissed this as platitudes and stated that Canada was not open for business, and Trudeau reminded her that the previous government’s leadership never got any projects built. Raitt asserted that the government botched Energy East, and demanded more action. Trudeau reminded her that he pitched Keystone XL to American Democrats while he was in opposition while the current opposition just talks down Canada. Alain Rayes picked up this line of questioning in French, and Trudeau repeated his first response about providing certainty and asserting it would get built. Rayes tried again, and Trudeau simply asserted that they would get the pipeline built. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he concerned trolled about CRA not being accountable to parliament. Trudeau praised the actions they took strengthening the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that they supported his work. Caron tried again in English, noting the two new tax treaties signed, to which Trudeau reminded him that they put $1 billion into the CRA to go after tax evasion. Peter Julian picked it up in French, demanding immediate action on stock option taxation and tax havens which contrasted with poverty and inequality, and Trudeau took it as an opportunity to praise their social housing investments. Julian tried again in English, and this time Trudeau praised the work of the government to reduce drug prices.

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QP: Trudeau has a ready response

While the Commons was already preoccupied with the Supply Day motion demanding that the prime minister repay the costs associated with his vacation two Christmases ago, you would think that maybe, just maybe, that the opposition would lead off with something else. But no. Andrew Scheer, predictably, led off with the vacation issue and demands for repayment yet again, for the eleventieth day, and Justin Trudeau repeated his well-worn points that he accepted responsibility and would follow the advice of the Commissioner going forward. Scheer tried again, with some added snark, and Trudeau reiterated his response. Scheer then demanded to know what part of the opposition day motion the PM disagreed with, and Trudeau turned to his high road talking point about how the Commissioner ensures that the issues go above partisan talking points and mud-slinging. Scheer called out Trudeau’s attempt to break the fourth wall, and they went another round of the same. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concern trolling as to why Netflix is exempt from sales tax. Trudeau picked up on Caron’s points and said that he was right — web giants should pay more, but sales tax would simply mean that Canadians pay more. Caron switched to French to ask the same, and Trudeau reiterated that the NDP were simply demanding that taxpayers pay more. Charlie Angus was up next, and tried to spin a conspiracy theory that the Liberals were letting KPMG off the hook because they were apparently getting payoffs of some variety. Trudeau reminded him that they put a billion dollars into the CRA to go after tax evasion. Angus raised the case of Stephen Bronfman, asserting that he somehow “got off” (from some unspecified charges) and then pivoted to wounded veterans, and Trudeau gave a rousing defence of their treatment of veterans and blasting the Conservatives.

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QP: Letting the veteran issue slip by

A frigid Monday in the nation’s capital, and all of the various party leaders were in attendance. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and in French, he demanded that the PM repay his expenses for his Bahamas vacation. Justin Trudeau reminded him that he took responsibility and would ensure going forward would clear future trips and clarify his relationship with the Aga Khan. Scheer tried again, and Trudeau reiterated recommendations from the Commissioner and that he would adhere to them. Scheer switched to English to try and bring the high dudgeon for the very same demand. Trudeau went to the high road, and reminded the viewers at home that the Ethics Commissioner is above partisanship and he was happy to all of her recommendations. Scheer repeated his demand, and got the same response, tut-tutting about mudslinging. Scheer insisted that only a Liberal would consider an “objective finding” by the Commissioner to be mudslinging, but it didn’t change Trudeau’s response. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and in French, he railed about a mining company that got government loans and then avoided taxes. Trudeau, taking to prepared notes for a change, indicated that the loan came from an arm’s-length Crown Corporation, which was not under their control, and if there was tax-shifting, they condemned those actions. Peter Julian repeated it in English, and Trudeau reiterated the tax-shifting portion of his answer more forcefully in English. Julian then railed about web giants not paying Canadian taxes, and Trudeau said they promised not to raise taxes on the middle class. Caron took a stab at the same question in French, noting that these companies control online advertising and media, but Trudeau noted that they recognise that the online world is changing which is why they went to Netflix to get more help for content creators. Continue reading

Roundup: Reheated economic policy

Andrew Scheer came out with his first economic policy plank yesterday, and it was pretty much a tepid reheated policy of the Harper era that plans to be packed into a private members’ bill at some point this parliament. The idea is a “tax credit” for parental EI benefits – because Harper-era Conservatives loved nothing more than tax credits, and tax credits are the loophole in private members’ bills that let them spend money without actually spending money, because the rationale is that they’re reducing income rather than raising revenue, but if I had my druthers, I would see that loophole closed because a tax expenditure impacts the treasury just as much as an actual spending programme does. Add to that, tax credits are generally not tracked by the Department of Finance, so their ongoing impact is not reported to Parliament, nor is their effectiveness really tracked either – and yes, there is an Auditor General’s report from a couple of years ago that states this very problem with them.

And add to that, this announcement is yet another sop to the suburban family voter that the Conservatives want to try to recapture from the Liberals. Of course, like most of the plans of the Harper era, the tax credit structure doesn’t actually help a lot of the families who need it, and the benefits tend to go towards those who make more money in the first place, which one suspects is why the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit was seen as a more advantageous plan to that same voting demographic that Scheer wants to target. And don’t take my word for it – here’s Kevin Milligan and Jennifer Robson to walk you through why this isn’t a well though-out plan from an economic or policy standpoint.

https://twitter.com/JenniferRobson8/status/959084313588391937

https://twitter.com/JenniferRobson8/status/959084319087054848

https://twitter.com/JenniferRobson8/status/959084325210697728

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QP: Emerging from the fog of repayment demands

Thursday, and with the PM off to Edmonton, and Andrew Scheer giving his first major economic policy plank in a nearby hotel, it was a bit odd that Scheer didn’t bother to show up since he was in town. Alain Rayes led off, reading some heroic praise about how the Conservatives insisted the prime minister be investigated for his vacation, and demanded repayment for it. Once again. Bardish Chagger dutifully stood up to read the approved talking points about the PM taking responsibility and making changes going forward. Rayes tried again, got the same answer, and on his third attempt, Rayes tried in vain to link it to previous repayments, and Chagger reiterated her points a third time. Candice Bergen got up to try the same again in English, and with added indignation, and Chagger added praise for the PM’s town hall in her talking points. Bergen tried another tortured analogy with Trudeau saying that harassment codes apply to him so why not repayment, and while Chagger reiterated her previous points. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, noting how much other countries have recovered from the Panama Papers, while Diane Lebouthillier responded that they were investigating. Caron raised the bonuses that CRA executives were getting, but Lebouthillier stuck with stats on how combatting evasion. Ruth Ellen Brosseau stood up to sound the alarm about investment funds being involved with the Infrastructure Bank. Marc Garneau praised the fact that the Bank was now in operation and had a diverse board, and after another round of the same in French, Garneau responded in English about what a great optional tool the Bank could be for communities. Continue reading