Roundup: The authentic Andrew Scheer

It’s year-end interview time, and Andrew Scheer gave a couple yesterday that gave me a bit of pause. First was his interview in the National Post, where off the bat, he lays out this gem: “I am younger, I am modern and I have a different take on Conservative principles than my predecessors.” But does he lay out what that different take is? Nope. Scheer says that he can offer “authenticity” like a Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul, which is…curious. He’s spent the week talking about how middle class he is, unlike Justin Trudeau. This immediately elicited some reminders from Twitter – that the only job he held outside of politics was working at his friend’s insurance company for six months, that he got elected at 25 and has a $3 million pension by age 38; his political career includes being Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, each of which comes with an official residence and a driver. So he’s authentically middle class. Later, Scheer talked about how he’s spent the past six months “setting down markers” about the Conservative approach. Markers like putting everything in a disingenuous or outright mendacious frame and treating people like idiots? Okay, then.

Meanwhile, over on CTV’s Power Play (starts at 8:15), Scheer went on about how Conservatives do better when they present a positive approach (which I totally see with the aforementioned disingenuous and mendacious manner in which they go about their role), and then added this: “We are actually more caring than Liberals because we actually care about results, and they just like to send signals and show their good intentions and they don’t care about what actually benefits people.”

That’s…interesting. Because immediately preceding that was Scheer was outright virtue signalling about free speech on university campuses (which, I will add, is an issue that the alt-right has weaponized, and Scheer is playing directly into it). And if you look at the Conservative record over the past decade, it’s replete with sending signals that didn’t actually benefit people, whether it was tough-on-crime legislation that was either unconstitutional or created backlogs in the court system (as mandatory minimum sentences did), or gutting environmental laws (which only ended up in litigation and didn’t get any further projects approved), or their actions in making cuts to show that they had a paper surplus (which led to the massive gong show that is Shared Services Canada and the Phoenix pay system fiasco, not to mention the loss of capacity in a number of other departments). All of it was the very signalling that they criticize the Liberals for. So you’ll forgive me if I find Scheer’s particular assertions to be a bit unconvincing.

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Roundup: The Order Paper is not a race

The House of Commons has risen for the season, but still has a number of bills on the Order Paper slowly working their way through the process. And as usually happens at this time of year, there are the big comparisons about how many bills this government has passed as compared to the Conservatives by this point. But those kinds of raw numbers analyses are invariable always flawed because legislation is never a numbers game, but is qualitative, as is the parliamentary context in which this legislating happens.

Part of the difference is in the set-up. Harper had five years of minority governments to get legislation in the wings that he couldn’t pass then, but could push through with a majority. He went from having a Senate that he didn’t control and was hostile to his agenda to one where he had made enough appointments (who were all under the impression that they could be whipped by the PMO) that it made the passage of those bills much swifter. And they also made liberal use of time allocation measures to ensure that bills passed expeditiously. Trudeau has not had those advantages, most especially when it comes to the composition of the Senate, especially since his moves to make it more independent means that bills take far longer than they used to, and are much more likely to be amended – which Trudeau is open to where Harper was not – further slowing down that process, particularly when those amendments are difficult for the government to swallow, meaning that they have taken months to either agree to them or to come up with a sufficient response to see them voted down. And then there are the weeks that were lost when the opposition filibustered the agenda in order to express their displeasure with the initial composition of the electoral reform committee, the first attempt to speed through legislation, and the government’s proposal paper to “modernize” the operations of the Commons. All of those disruptions set back legislation a great deal.

This having been said, Trudeau seems to remain enamoured with UK-style programming motions, which he may try to introduce again in the future (possibly leading to yet more filibustering), because it’s a tool that will help him get his agenda through faster. So it’s not like he’s unaware that he’s not setting any records, but at the same time, parliament isn’t supposed to be about clearing the Order Paper as fast as possible. Making these kinds of facile comparisons gives rise to that impression, however, which we should discourage.

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Roundup: An historic apology

As promised, Justin Trudeau delivered a long-awaited apology for those LGBT Canadians who had been persecuted and hounded out of jobs in the civil service, military and police forces as a result of government policies, and to go along with this apology will be some compensation. (The speech and video are posted here). As well, a bill was tabled that will expunge the records of anyone caught up in these processes, but as Ralph Goodale explained on Power Play, the bill requires an application as opposed to the government doing a blanket action, and won’t cover some of the other charges such as being a found-in during a bathhouse raid. That could set up for an interesting future legal challenge, for the record.

So who does this apology affect? Some examples heard yesterday include Diane Doiron, who spoke to Chatelaine about her experiences, or former sailor Simon Thwaites, who was on Power Play.

While some may dismiss the rash of apologies from the Trudeau government as “virtue signalling” or being soft, history shows that official apologies tend to come more from conservative sources than liberal ones. Aaron Wherry, meanwhile, notes that while the Conservatives did participate in yesterday’s apology, they have been making a lot of political hay of late trying to show themselves in opposition to those who would “denigrate” the history of Canada, or who constantly find fault with it rather than praising it uncritically. And yes, it is an interesting little dichotomy.

Those who say that the apology doesn’t go far enough, pointing to the ongoing blood donation ban facing gay men who have had sex in the past year (note: this is a change from the previous lifetime ban) still hasn’t been lifted as promised, the government did put in research dollars to ensure that the proper scientific evidence is there to lift it permanently. While critics say that this remains discriminatory, I remind you that previous governments had to pay dearly for the tainted blood scandals of the past, which is doubtlessly why the current government wants to ensure that all of their bases are covered and untouchable legally in the event that any future lawsuits from this change in policy ensue.

Regarding those Conservative absences during the apology:

During the apology speeches in the Commons, I and several others noted that there were a number of conspicuous Conservative absences – some 15-plus vacant desks, all clustered in the centre of their ranks, which looked pretty obvious from above (and this matters when you’ve got the galleries full of people who have come to hear the apology). I remarked on this over Twitter, and it created a firestorm, especially when I highlighted the vacant area on the seating chart. Some of these absences are legitimate – some MPs were away on committee business, and I got flack from some of them for that afterward, feeling that it was a cheap shot, and if that’s the case, then I do apologize. It wasn’t intended to be, but it was pointing out that the giant hole in their ranks was conspicuous, especially as this was not the case during QP, which immediately preceded said apology. I will also note that none of the Conservative staffers who monitor my Twitter feed (and I know that they do, because they constantly chirp at me by claiming I’m too partisan in my QP-tweeting), offered up a correction or explanation until hours later, which I would have gladly retweeted if provided one. They did not. I can only work with what I can see in front of me at the time, and if some of those MPs who were there during QP went to fill the camera shots on the front benches, that’s still a poor excuse for leaving a giant hole in the middle of their ranks that the full galleries can plainly see.

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QP: Conspiracy vs pabulum

There was no Justin Trudeau today, as he was busy with “private engagements” (which later turned out to be visiting the new Stanley Cup monument on Sparks Street), nor Andrew Scheer. Before QP got started, there was a moment of silence for the third anniversary of the Parliament Hill shooting and the deaths of Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo. Moment over, Pierre Poilievre led off, railing that the government was taking away the disability tax credits for diabetics. Diane Lebouthillier read a statement in English that stated that her husband had died from diabetes, and that nothing had changed and that CRA was hiring nurses to help with the application process as well as improve data collection to ensure there were no problems going forward. Poilievre then turned to the Morneau Shepell/Bill C-27 conspiracy theory, demanding to know if Morneau got written permission from the Ethics Commissioner to table the bill. Morneau said that while the opposition was focused on his finance, he was working for the nation. After another round of the same, Gérard Deltell repeated the diabetes question in French, got the same answer from Lebouthillier, and then repeated the C-27 question in French — and got the same response from Morneau in French. Guy Caron was up next, leading for the NDP, and after trying to infantalise Morneau, he demanded to know where his higher ethical standards were. Morneau reiterated that he was focusing on Canadian families and touted the growth rate, and Caron demanded an acknowledgment of wrongdoing in English. Morneau’s answer didn’t change. (Mmm, pabulum). Alexandre Boulerice was up next, reiterating the C-27 conspiracy theory, and Morneau offered more pabulum in response. Boulerice reiterated in French, and got some francophone pabulum.

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Roundup: The needless drama over the Status of Women chair

The news yesterday that the Liberals on the Commons standing committee on the status of women walked out rather than vote on the Conservatives’ choice for chair, Rachael Harder, certainly had a bit of drama to it, but underneath that surface-level bit of excitement, so much of this story defies sense.

For starters, it makes no sense that the Conservatives would name their chosen critic for the portfolio to be the committee chair. Why? Because a committee chair is supposed to be a somewhat more neutral figure who presides over the meetings in order to maintain decorum, decide on questions of order and procedure, and only vote in the event of breaking a tie. These are qualities that a critic should be dealing with. No, a critic should be doing the work of leading the questions of witnesses and doing the work of holding the government to account. That is not the chair’s job. Furthermore, if Andrew Scheer is going to insist on calling his critics “shadow ministers,” then perhaps he should actually treat them as such which means not having them on committees at all – and yes, the semantic difference is important. If you want to implement a shadow ministerial system then start behaving like that’s what they are. Otherwise, changing their nomenclature is nothing more than a twee affectation that he shouldn’t get so uppity about (and he has been).

Meanwhile, for the rest of the day, the Conservatives tried to spin this as a distraction from the tax change proposals that they are otherwise getting hammered on when they put her up for the position of chair knowing full well that this would be an issue. The NDP were out on Monday afternoon in the Foyer decrying this possibility and they went ahead with it. They created their own distraction and then tried to spin it as the Liberals using it as such. The Liberals didn’t create this drama, so you can’t accuse them of creating something from nothing.

The Conservatives have three members on the committee – Harder, Karen Vecchio, and Martin Shields, and if it makes no sense to put the critic in the role of chair, then why not put Vecchio forward? Is it because she isn’t looked kindly upon by Campaign Life Coalition? I would have thought her more than capable of the role otherwise, which is why this mystifies me unless this is something that the Conservatives were looking to try and force a confrontation of some variety by putting forward a critic and then candidate for Chair that would deliberately offend the sensibilities of the other parties – something that you shouldn’t be doing in a committee setting because committees, as the lifeblood of parliament, are supposed to be less partisan and more collegial.

This is just one more example of how the current iteration of the Conservative party doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Since Scheer took over the leadership, there seems to have been a sudden loss of know-how amongst the party’s senior staffers and they’re making all manner of really dumb tactical mistakes. You also have to wonder how much of this is also because the party had spent their nine years in power trying to burn down many of the norms of our parliamentary system and treating the institutions with utter disdain, and now that they’re back in opposition, they have simply lost the capacity to engage with them properly, leading to these kinds of mindless choices that just shoot themselves in the foot. It’s not promising for a party that is supposed to be considered a government in waiting.

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Roundup: A new ministerial directive

The government came out with their updated Ministerial Directive on safeguards against using information obtained through torture, tightening the language, but still keeping some ability to act on such information in very limited circumstances, much to the chagrin of the NDP and several civil society groups. After all, the NDP have been howling about this in Question Period for months now, and now that it’s finally happened, and it’s not what they’re calling for, I’m sure that we’ll be in for weeks and weeks of this yet again in QP. That being said, some national security experts are saying that the government pretty much got it right given the complexity of the situation, so I’ll leave you with Stephanie Carvin to explain it all.

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Roundup: No, the Senate can’t fire Lynn Beyak

After another week of sustained outrage about Senator Lynn Beyak, with mounting calls for her resignation, and the exasperated commentary of those Indigenous groups that have tried to educate her as to the reality of the situation that Beyak has seen fit to comment upon, we’ve also started to see articles speculating on ways that the Senate can be rid of her. Those suggestions would be a grievous mistake.

We can all agree that what Beyak has said is odious in the extreme. But the performative outrage that she should be expelled from the Senate does cross a line because as much as we all disagree with Beyak, she hasn’t broken any laws or violated any ethics rules. She may have views that are on their face racist (though she probably doesn’t see them that way – the Conservative senators that I’ve spoken to pretty much consider her a clueless Pollyanna figure who nevertheless has deeply held Christian beliefs that inform her particularly selective world view), but those views are neither illegal nor contrary to the rules of the Senate. And we should be wary of trying to regulate Senators’ speech, because that is a gross violation of parliamentary privilege. We also can’t ignore that Beyak gives voice to an ignorant segment of the population, and when she raises these views publicly, she has given rise to a debate that such a segment of the population isn’t usually exposed to. Simply demanding her removal for it is hugely problematic for all manner of reasons.

Now, the Conservative caucus has taken the steps to minimize her role as much as possible – she is off all committees, and thus marginalized from having any position of influence. Why she remains in caucus is likely because they want to maintain their plurality in the chamber for as long as possible, and with ten current vacancies (and a couple more pending), that will likely change in the coming weeks, but for now, they are looking to maintain their numbers, and Beyak’s remaining in caucus does that for them, however they’ve sidelined her. And once the Independent Senators Group forms the plurality, the Conservatives’ impetus to keep her may change, but they may also hope that she can be redeemed, as it were, with more education (and perhaps a dose of humility). Maybe. Or, this could be an early sign of trying to phase her out, where there can still be some modicum of caucus control over her actions rather than simply turning her loose, which might actually embolden her (because then she’ll be a martyr for the cause). But let’s hope that this is the Senate’s version of phasing her out.

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QP: Happy clappy budget points

With most of the benches filled, MPs were settling in after a constituency week, but Rona Ambrose was absent for some unknown reason. Denis Lebel led off, immediately railing about deficit and family tax credits being imperilled in the budget. Justin Trudeau responded with his well-worn talking points about lowering taxes for the middle class while raising them on the one percent. Lebel switched to English, noted the American promises to lower smaller business taxes, and demanded that Trudeau follow suit. Trudeau noted that they were working to grow the middle class, and gave the same points about tax cuts. Lebel worried about airports being privatized, for which Trudeau told him to wait for Wednesday’s budget. Candice Bergen was up next, worried that the government was ramming bills through and worried that they wanted to bully through changes to QP so that he only has to show up one day per week. Trudeau avoided answering, and praised their programme to date. Bergen moved onto plans to change the Commons calendar to four days per week, but Trudeau noted that they were happy to open a discussion on making Fridays a full day instead of half days “like the Conservatives seem to want,” which was a clever bit of evasion. Thomas Mulcair was up next, railing that the government didn’t have a mandate to privatize airports. Trudeau explained that the Infrastructure Bank was a way of leveraging global investment, but more details would have to wait for Wednesday’s budget. Mulcair asked again in French, and Trudeau retreated to talking points about growing the middle class. Mulcair moved onto funding First Nations child welfare funding, and Trudeau gave his usual lines about the historic investments to start the long work of reconciliation. Mulcair then demanded that stock options tax loopholes be closed, but Trudeau again returned to his middle class talking points.

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Roundup: Worst instincts for second-choice votes

As the Trumpocalypse serves up another “totally not just Muslims” travel ban south of the border, immigration references in the Conservative leadership race are certainly starting to pick up steam. Maxime Bernier started dropping not-so-coded references to “radical proponents of multiculturalism” who want to “forcibly change” the cultural character of the country (no, seriously), while Kellie Leitch offers up some of the questions her “values test” would include. Because you know, it’s totally not like people aren’t going to lie about the obvious answers or anything. Meanwhile, Deepak Obhrai says that statements like Leitch’s is creating an environment that could get immigrants killed, in case you worried that things aren’t getting dramatic. Oh, and to top it off, Andrew Scheer has a “survey” about terrorism that he wants people to weigh in on, and it’s about as well thought-out as you can expect.

https://twitter.com/maximebernier/status/838578590954446848

While John Ibbitson writes about how the Conservative leadership candidates’ anti-immigrant rhetoric is a path to oblivion for the party, I would also add this Twitter thread from Emmett Macfarlane, which offers up a reminder about how our immigration system in this country actually works, because facts should matter in these kinds of debates.

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QP: Take it up with UNHCR

It being Monday with many desks across the Chamber vacant, Rona Ambrose was absent, despite the Prime Minister being in attendance. Denis Lebel led off, worrying about pension income splitting in the budget, and Justin Trudeau accused him of trying to sow fear, before listing off the many measures they put into place to help vulnerable seniors. Lebel worried about the fates of other tax credits, and Trudeau listed other investments the government has made to lead to good jobs and economic growth. Lebel then asked if small business taxes would be cut to create jobs, and Trudeau countered with the broad-based tax cuts and Canada Child Benefit cheques that put more money in people’s pockets. Candice Bergen was up next, and dredged up the helicopter ride to the Aga Khan’s island, and Trudeau succinctly told her that it was a personal family vacation and he was answering the Ethics Commissioner’s question. Bergen asked again, and got the very same answer. Thomas Mulcair was up next, worrying about the new executive order signed by Donald Trump regarding Muslim immigrants and refugees, and demanded to know if the government still considered the United Stated was a safe country for refugees. Trudeau deflected by talking about what Canadians expect of the government’s relations with the States. Mulcair raised the case of a Canadian woman turned back at the border, but Trudeau insisted that they were working with Americans to ensure that the border remained open for Canadians. Mulcair moved onto the issue of tax havens and the recent journalism investigations into KPMG, and Trudeau said that they expected people to pay their taxes and they invested money in the CRA to investigate. Mulcair pressed in English, and got much the same reply from Trudeau.

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