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.
As the NDP policy convention draws closer, Jim Flaherty sends out a scathing missive about the negative economic impact of their proposals. But this totally isn’t a way to distract everyone from the assault that Flaherty is under for things like the “iPod tax” debacle or anything, right? (Speaking of, the Finance department is doubling down on its insistence that there’s no tariff on MP3 players – despite the all evidence to the contrary). Economist Stephen Gordon takes issue with some of the NDP’s underlying misunderstanding of profit in the modern economy – which they are largely against in their constitutional preamble – and how profit benefits everyone, especially those who live on investment income, such as pensions. The party also looks set to release a “get to know Thomas Mulcair” video at the convention as part of the new charm offensive to head off Justin-mania that is about to sweep the nation.
The death of Baroness Thatcher was all over the political scene in Canada yesterday. Susan Delacourt writes about her legacy with respect to political marketing, which shaped campaigns of Stephen Harper, and she also spoke with Brian Mulroney about his recollections of Thatcher – including a famous blow-up in an airport over the issue of sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Anne Kingston writes about Thatcher’s complicated relationship with feminism. John Ivison, who lived through the Thatcher years in Scotland, finds himself a little surprised at the legacy she left behind in reforming Britain’s economy. Michael Den Tandt says that she was popular because of her principles – though he notes that on occasion, she was on the wrong side of an issue.
Today in the Warawa/MPs’ freedom of speech file, the motion was blocked again by the committee, which means that Warawa has the final appeal to the House itself if he so chooses. Meanwhile, other MPs, including Nathan Cullen gave their responses to Warawa’s privilege motion, and most of them resorted to hockey metaphors – because we have no other form of elegant discourse in this country, apparently. Oh, and it was a bit rich for Cullen to decry the partisan attack SO31s when his own party is increasingly doing the very same, and he once again asks the Speaker to rule rather than taking any kind of agency as a party for their own centralising behaviour. The Globe and Mail reports that caucus heard that Harper was explicit during Wednesday’s caucus meeting that he would use any and all means necessary to keep the abortion issue off the table as he has pledged to the electorate. Chris Hall looks at how this is an example of abortion politics masquerading as a free speech issue. Four Liberal leadership candidates respond to the question of what they would do with this situation – and no, Justin Trudeau was not one of the responders. And if you’re curious, PostMedia gives a breakdown of the current state of abortion laws and access in this country.
On the continuing Mark Warawa “muzzling” drama, the appeal to the Procedure and House Affairs subcommittee on private members’ business met in camera yesterday, and we should find out their decision this morning. Warawa himself does his best to appear loyal to the PM, and doesn’t want to place the blame for this all on him. Aaron Wherry takes note of the circular logic that the NDP seem to employ when it comes to this debate – how it’s bad that the government muzzles, and yet they should absolutely keep the abortion debate under a tight lid. Bruce Cheadle looks back at caucus divisions over the abortion issue among the past governments of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. Chantal Hébert sees the possible seeds of a leadership challenge being sown in this Warawa drama. Andrew Coyne (quite rightly) points to the bigger questions of our parliamentary democracy that are at stake by the heavy hand of the leaders’ offices.
A lawyer in the Department of Justice is taking his own department to Federal Court because of what he deems to be illegal instructions with drafting bills that could contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but without notifying Parliament. Think about all of the court challenges to those “tough on crime” mandatory minimum sentences, and how they’re being struck down. And for his efforts at transparency and accountability, he’s been suspended without pay. Because it’s not like this government is trying to politicise the civil service or anything – right?
Speaking of which, the Liberals want the Government Operations committee and the Clerk of the Privy Council to look into the issue of the M-4 Unit – err, Julian Fantino’s partisan letters on the CIDA website, even though CIDA staff insist it was all a mistake, that these letters were mixed in with a large volume of material they were uploading. Not that the Liberals are buying it.
iPolitics‘ Colin Horgan had a good talk with Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who breaks down some of the key concerns that his office has – that the political executive is now steamrolling budgets through without due diligence and telling MPs to trust them and check their work afterwards, when the Public Accounts come out, because the process is so convoluted. And he’s right – it is broken, but not only because the executive has gamed the system, but because MPs have decided to abdicate their responsibility to scrutinise the estimates because they have other priorities, like their eleventieth Private Members’ Bill that won’t see the light of day, or scoring political points in the scandal of the day, or pet hobby projects that yes, they may care about and may be important, but ultimately at the cost of their actual job of scrutiny. Add to that how they’re using their staff to shepherd through passports and immigration files rather than assisting them in the actual analysis work. Yes, the system needs to be fixed, but I will caution that the changes need to come from the ground up. Voters need to demand that their MPs do their due diligence, and MPs need to take that job seriously and not fob it off onto the PBO, as they have been doing, often under the rubric that his numbers can be trusted because he’s non-partial. Meanwhile, there is insufficient pushback – especially from the government backbenchers, who aren’t supposed to just parrot mindless slogans – and we wind up with a situation like we have today. At least Page is talking about the actual problem and laying the blame where it needs to be laid, rather than just pouting about the current government being mean (as so many others are doing).
The government has started attaching dollar figures to who much it costs to answer Order Paper questions – in this case, $1.2 million in a three-month period. Oh noes! Parliament costs money! And really, using this tactic of putting dollar figures on basic accountability is underhanded and violates the very premise of Parliament, which is to hold the government to account by means of controlling supply. To do that, Parliament needs facts and figures, quite simply. And making it seem like a costly imposition for Parliamentarians to exercise their most basic function is, in a word, despicable.
The federal and provincial finance minsters met at Meech Lake yesterday, and while they didn’t come to any consensus over boosting the CPP, they did agree to study it and come up with a report for their meeting in June.
Not that it’s any big surprise, but former assistant deputy minister of procurement at DND, Alan Williams, said the F-35 process as “corrupted” from the beginning, but the main question remains why the cabinet went along unquestioningly when the bureaucrats barrelled ahead with the sole-source contract. Meanwhile, the Americans are already looking at developing a “sixth generation” fighter jet by 2030.
Jim Flaherty will be delivering the fall economic update today – you know, while the House isn’t sitting. And he’ll be doing it in Fredericton. Which, as it so happens, is also not the House of Commons. Because, as this government’s history shows, they totally respect Parliament and what it stands for.
MPs are talking about how there will be a higher onus on Elections Canada during the next election to make sure that the kinds of errors creeping into the system – as demonstrated in the Etobicoke Centre case – don’t keep happening.
The Hill Times profiles parliamentarians who have military experience.
With Harper off in India, and a number of other MPs back in their riding for Veterans’ Week activities, the Commons was a pretty sparse place, albeit not quite Friday sparse. Undeterred, Thomas Mulcair read off his first question about the extension of the deadline for the Nexen decision, to which John Baird, in his capacity as back-up PM du jour, mentioned that there were consultations going on as part of the complex decision making. Mulcair was up next, and asked quite simply who Baird would be consulting – but the cadence of the question was off, like he was still reading it off of a script he hadn’t previously read (though it was one of the rare moments when he spoke off-the-cuff in QP while not red-faced in anger). Baird, however, returned to his usual talking points about the “net benefit” test, and so on. Peggy Nash was up next and asked a pair of questions, in English and in French, about how in this time of fiscal austerity, Harper could have deigned to fly his own armoured limousines over to India. Toews responded that this was a judgement call by the RCMP, and he respected their decision. Bob Rae was then up for the Liberals, and in a rather impassioned display, wondered just what exactly changed on Friday that the government, which had been sitting on those Ashley Smith videos for five years, decided they now wanted to allow the investigation to proceed. Three times he tried to get the government to say something, to admit that they had been publicly embarrassed by those videos and had no choice but to let the investigation proceed unimpeded – but Baird simply resorted to the talking points about how they needed to do a better job of keeping people with mental illness out of prisons.