With the PM still in France, most of the other leaders didn’t bother showing up either today, which places more doubt in their howling insistence that the QP is so important that the PM should be there daily. But I digress… Denis Lebel led off, asking about an accused murderer released based on the Jordan decision fallout. Jody Wilson-Raybould insisted that they had taken steps to ensure that there was a transparent, merit-based process, and more judges would be appointed soon. Lebel moved onto softwood lumber and the lack of progress — never mind that there is no trade representative appointed in the States — and François-Philippe Champagne insisted that they were working the provinces and working to engage the Americans. Lebel pivoted to the question of Syria and doing something about Assad, and Champagne said that Assad must be held accountable for his war crimes and Canada was committed to humanitarian assistance, refugee resettlement, and ensuring a peaceful Syria. Candice Bergen picked it up in English, accused the government of shifting positions, and wondered how hey planned to institute regime change. Champagne repeated his response in English, never quite answering the regime change question. Bergen then moved onto the Standing Orders, demanding any changes be made by consensus. Chagger gave a bland response about the necessity to have a serious conversation. Thomas Mulcair was up next, and wondered how many court cases had been thrown out because of delays. Wilson-Raybould reiterated her plan to appoint new judges, but didn’t answer the question. Mulcair asked why the delays in French, and Wilson-Raybould said that she was meeting with provinces to discuss the issues of delays in order to find a coordinated approach to tackling them. Mulcair moved onto problems with the military justice system, and Navdeep Bains responded that they were planning to work on ensuring reforms to that system. Mulcair sniped that Bains answered, then moved onto veterans’ pensions, and Ralph Goodale asserted that they would have an announcement later this year.
After delays from a number of votes in the Commons, Senate QP finally got underway, with special guest star Kent Hehr, minister of veterans affairs. Senator Larry Smith, the new Conservative leader, led off for his first time. Instead of asking the minister, however, he turned his questions to the Government Leader — err, “representative,” Senator Harder, for his remarks to CBC last week about “two classes of senators.” Harder assured him that it was not his intent to insinuate that all senators were not equal. He did not apologize, and Smith pressed the issue, and Harder talked about collaboration across the chamber but there was a different appointment process, and then gave a half-hearted apology for those who were offended by his words. Senator Plett got up to carry on the jabs at Harder, who kept insisting that he was trying to work collaboratively.
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) April 4, 2017
Harder does not apologize, and senators call for him to do so. Smith doesn't let this go. #SenQP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) April 4, 2017
Harder gives a qualified apology. Plett gets up next, apologizes to Hehr for not asking him a question, but goes after Harder again. #SenQP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) April 4, 2017
As a lame anti-M-103 protest was taking place on the steps of the Centre Block, and procedural warfare happening in committee, MPs filed into the Commons for the grand inquest of the nation, pre-budget edition. Rona Ambrose led off, lamenting that the PM was looking to engage in a once-a-week only QP. Trudeau insisted that he was happy to be here, and took a dig at the previous government by saying his front bench was strong and he was demonstrating government by cabinet. Ambrose pressed, laying into Trudeau’s admiration for Chinese dictatorship and his fascination with Fidel Castro, but Trudeau noted that it was just a discussion paper that included a U.K.-style PMQ idea. On a third go-around, Trudeau shifted his response to the great things his government was doing for the middle class. Ambrose moved onto the size of the deficit, and Trudeau was able to retreat to his well-worn points about their middle-class tax cut. Ambrose lamented the possibility of cancelled tax breaks, and Trudeau responded with praise for his tax cuts and the Canada Child Benefit. Thomas Mulcair was up next, demanding lower taxes for small businesses, and Trudeau gave his usual points about helping the middle class. Mulcair railed about privatization, and Trudeau noted that he campaigned on investing in infrastructure while Mulcair committed only to balancing the books. Mulcair demanded that the loophole for stock option taxes be loophole, and Trudeau retreated behind his points about lowering taxes for the middle class. For his final question, Mulcair asked why charges were abandoned in a gangsterism trial, but Trudeau only offered generalities about confidence in the justice system.
We want Cabinet government, execpt during QP.
— Philippe Lagassé (@pmlagasse) March 21, 2017
#QP is a bit chippier than usual today.
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) March 21, 2017
Given the insanity taking place within the Trumpocalypse with the current debate over reforming their health insurance legislation, the Congressional Budget Office’s figures have been at the centre of the debate. Chris Selley penned a column yesterday to praise this island of sanity with the maelstrom, and wonders what a better funded Parliamentary Budget Officer could do in Canada.
To this, I must say nope. Nope, nope, nope.
Why? Because we are already lousy with unaccountable officers of parliament who are usurping the role that MPs are supposed to be playing. As it stands, MPs have already started been fobbing their homework off onto the PBO, and then hiding behind his independent analysis and then using it as their cudgel. It is driven by the impulse that they don’t think they can win the debate on the issues, so they would rather have those officers win it for them, and the PBO is certainly no exception.
But independent officers are not infallible. That F-35 cost figures that Selley cites? While Kevin Page’s figures proved to be in the ballpark, his methodology was haphazard and any defence analyst you asked would tell you as much. And we’ve seen how the Auditor General’s report on the Senate was deeply flawed that both former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie and the lawyer that the Senate hired to review the report could scarcely believe it. And of course We The Media eat it up as well, because it’s “independent” and therefore believable, even when it may not actually be right, and the constant deference to these agents is actually harming democracy.
Yes, we have problems with government giving figures that are useable, and the previous government was masterful at changing the accounting rules constantly to keep everyone, PBO included, from trying to figure them out. That’s a problem, but it’s not one that we should expect the PBO to solve. Rather, MPs from all parties should be demanding clear figures, and should use their powers to compel disclosure, whether it’s on committees or Order Paper questions. The problem is that not enough MPs bother to do it, in part because they don’t actually know that their primary job is to hold the government (meaning Cabinet) to account. And simply excusing their ignorance and appointing an independent officer to do it for them doesn’t fix the problem – it exacerbates it.
Also, quit looking at Washington and thinking that we can import their institutions and practices into our system. I know the CBO was the thought when the PBO was created, but our systems are different, and you can’t just graft a similar model on. Stop trying. We have our own system and processes that we should be focusing on improving, and that starts with educating ourselves about our own processes.
It being International Women’s Day, one expected that all questions posed would be by women MPs. Rona Ambrose led off, trolling for support for her bill on training judges in sexual assault law (which, incidentally, I wrote about for this week’s Law Times, and the legal community was pretty clear that they felt this wasn’t the right way to go and this bill could impact on judicial independence). Justin Trudeau spoke about the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault, but would not commit to supporting it. After another round of the same, Ambrose wanted support for Wynn’s Law on bail applications, to which Trudeau said that the justice minister spoke to Constable Wynn’s window but would not commit to supporting it. Ambrose asked about a bill on human trafficking and why it eliminated back-to-back sentencing provisions, but Trudeau responded in his condemnation of those crimes but not in backing down on the provisions in the bill given their commitment to the Charter. Ambrose asked about helping women come forward to report sexual assault, and Trudeau noted that this was a concern and they have a ways to go. Shiela Malcolmson led off, heralding Iceland’s work on pay equity legislation, to which Trudeau said they were working on legislation. Brigitte Sansoucy asked another pay equity question in French, and got much the same answer. Sansoucy moved onto tax evasion and demands to end amnesty deals, and Trudeau noted that they were working on ending tax evasion by investing in the CRA’s capacity to do so. Tracey Ramsey asked the same again in English, and got the same answer.
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) March 8, 2017
While Justin Trudeau jetted off to Europe, other leaders were present for caucus day and most of the desks were full for QP. Rona Ambrose led off, worrying about the PM raising taxes while the Americans plan to lower them — a dubious premise at best. Bill Morneau responded by reminding her of tax cuts they made and the Canada Child Benefit to help families. Ambrose wanted an example of a fiscal policy changed with the dawn of the Trumpocalypse, and Morneau responded by talking about meetings they’ve had with American counterparts. Ambrose gave some vague concern about the deficit, to which Morneau noted the importance of making investments in the economy and the number of jobs created since. Ambrose decried the movement of the immigration case processing centre in Vegreville as an “attack on rural Canada,” to which Ahmed Hussen reiterated assurances that the relocation would allow for the creation of new jobs in the province. Ambrose noted that it would impact the entire town, but Hussen repeated his points. Thomas Mulcair was up next, decrying that the Liberals didn’t bring up Trump’s “hateful” policies on their trip and that they were doing nothing about things like people being turned away at the border, and Ralph Goodale stood up to assure the House that Mulcair was wrong, and that they were collecting data that could be used to deal with Homeland Security regarding these individual instances being reported at the border. When Mulcair asked again in French, Goodale retorted that repeating a falsehood didn’t make it true. Mulcair went back to English to raise that Muslim student turned away at the border but veered into ethics issues, and Chagger reminded him that the PM would answer all questions posed by the Ethics Commissioner. Mulcair wondered what their response would have been if Harper had been so accused, but Chagger didn’t change her answer.
Back from Washington, but only briefly before he heads off for Europe, Justin Trudeau was present for QP, but not all leaders were. Rona Ambrose led off, worried about the cancellation of tax credits hurting families. Trudeau responded by reminding her that they lowered taxes and were giving bigger child benefit cheques, tax free, to those who need it. Ambrose listed a bunch of taxes (of dubious veracity), and Trudeau reiterated his tax cuts to date. Ambrose raised the issue of a cancelled tax break for troops in Kuwait, to which listed the many sins of the past government when it came to the military. Ambrose reiterated the question, but Trudeau didn’t change his answer. Ambrose finished off demanding transparency for the true costs of the carbon tax — as though it were a federal thing — and Trudeau reminded her that it was revenue neutral federally. Jenny Kwan led off for the NDP, decrying the fact that Trudeau hasn’t condemned Trump’s racist policies. Trudeau didn’t take the bait, talking about jobs and trade, and when Hélène Laverdière tried again in French, Trudeau said that they need to be respectful in their disagreement, but the focus was on jobs and trade. Alexandre Boulerice worried that Trudeau made university students cynical over electoral reform, but Trudeau didn’t apologize, saying that he was acting responsibly and making voting easier. Nathan Cullen demanded an apology in English, and Trudeau reminded him of the other issues in the last election other than electoral reform.
The opposition is having fun with the 'will you cut tax expenditure X' line now…but budget will soon reveal the govt's choices. Patience. https://t.co/ywXEutrNe2
— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) February 14, 2017
..so, if the opposition takes those tax plans into #elxn43, we may see these "will you cut tax expenditure X" roles be reversed….
— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) February 14, 2017
The Conservatives apparently are in the midst of a sugar high, unable to keep quiet. #QP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) February 14, 2017
With Justin Trudeau and several ministers off to Nunavut for meetings, none of the other leaders (save Elizabeth May) decided to show up either. Denis Lebel led off for the Conservatives, demanding to know the strategy to create jobs while maintaining links with the Americans. Chrystia Freeland noted her trip and said they were building relationships. Lebel decried the deficit going “out of control” and wanted to know if the government would end pension income splitting. François-Philippe Champagne fielded this one, praising tax cuts that the Conservatives voted against. Lebel worried about other boutique tax credits, and Champagne stuck to generalities about working for the middle class. Candice Bergen decried the possibility that dental and health benefits would be taxed because the government voted against their cutely worded opposition motion, and Champagne reminded her that the first thing they did was cut taxes, and then there was another round of the same. Jenny Kwan railed about the safe third country agreement for asylum seekers, to which Ahmed Hussen reminded her that the agreement has no bearing on the current situation. Laverdière asked the same in French, raising those 22 claimants who crossed the border at Manitoba, and got much the same answer. Laverdière then asked about that Muslim family stopped at the border and denied entry into the States, and Ralph Goodale said that the local MP was on the case, and they were waiting for more information. Kwan asked the same again in English, and Goodale was more clear that he would follow up personally when presented with the facts.
Bergen is worried that the government can't be trusted because they voted against a cutely worded opposition motion. #QP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) February 9, 2017
For caucus day, the benches were mostly full, and we would see if the fire was back. Rona Ambrose led off, wondering about why the government was going ahead with a loan to Bombardier when they said it wasn’t necessary. Trudeau said that they had been discussion to see how they could help the industry with jobs and R&D, and to boost their global competitiveness. Ambrose wonders how it looked to other industries when they bailed out one business but not others hurt in the country. Trudeau noted the jobs he was creating through pipeline approvals in other parts of the country. Ambrose wanted to know how many jobs the loan to Bombardier would create, but Trudeau stuck to generalities. When Ambrose made a bald assertion about the loan, but without a question posed, Trudeau didn’t get up to offer a response. For her final question, Ambrose railed about the loan, and Trudeau kept up his happy, clappy talking points about high quality manufacturing jobs in the aerospace sector. Thomas Mulcair was up next, asking about refugee claimants crossing into Manitoba, and Trudeau noted his concern for the issue. Mulcair noted a Canadian Muslim family stopped and questioned at the US border, and wondered why Trudeau wasn’t standing up to defend them. Trudeau noted the 400,000 Canadians who cross the border every day and that a number of his ministers were engaged on the file, including defending their rights. Mulcair demanded to know what day he decided to kill electoral reform, and Trudeau noted that it was his signature on the mandate letter, not the minister’s. For his final question, Mulcair demanded an apology for misleading Canadians, and Trudeau parried with noting about other ways in which they were working to improve our democracy.
How did Trudeau hide behind Gould when he wrote and published her mandate letter? #QP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) February 8, 2017
At the risk of this becoming a media criticism blog, I have to take exception to the big Globe and Mail story that they were pushing all weekend, about how Justin Trudeau was not going to attend the Trump inauguration in January.
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) January 7, 2017
I. Can’t. Even.
Seriously. Canadian prime ministers never go to inaugurations. The protocol people in Washington make it pretty clear that they don’t want heads of government or heads of state to attend. This is not a scandal. Nor does it have anything to do with Trudeau’s decision to go on his little cross-country tour. The rest of the piece is fairly hysterical about the tour, and Trudeau not going to Davos, Switzerland either, and then meanders into the fact that the US ambassador was recalled on inauguration day.
Um, guys. This is routine. They are almost always recalled, and then it takes them months and months to get new ambassadors approved by the US Senate. Remember how it took Obama nine months to get Ambassador Jacobson here? And how we were worried that it meant that he was mad at us or something? And then it took another several months between Jacobson and Heyman? Yeah. This is not out of the ordinary. Yes, Heyman has been very popular, but did you honestly think that Trump would keep an Obama fundraiser in the post after he took office? And more to the point, would it kill our political reporters to have a sense of history and perspective in their stories, rather than trying to make everything some kind of proto-scandal? It’s not only wrong, but it’s dull. We can do better.