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

Roundup: Promising a new framework

The big news yesterday was Justin Trudeau delivering a major policy speech in the House of Commons about creating a new legal framework for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada that aims to fully implement the treaties that have not been properly enacted, and that will build toward self-governance by creating the capacity within individual First Nations and other Indigenous communities that will enable them to take up that governance space at their own pace. Trudeau insisted that this would not require constitutional change but would rather put some meat on the bones of Section 35 of the Constitution, and the existing treaties. And yes, criminal justice reform including how juries are selected was also part of the promise (and I’ve heard that we might see new legislation around that in March). Trudeau said that this announcement comes with a new round of consultations, but the aim was to have legislation tabled by the fall, with the framework fully implemented before the next election.

Reaction from Indigenous leaders is cautious so far, because there aren’t a lot of details – and there probably won’t be many until something gets tabled later in the year. The flipside of that, of course, is that there’s room and space for these leaders to give their input during the consultative process that is to come, seeing as Trudeau is promising to work together to develop this framework. There are other questions when it comes to lands and resources, which I’m not sure if this framework itself will cover or if the framework will guide how those issues are to be solved going forward, and that’s also likely going to depend on the cooperation of the provincial governments, but there does seem to be some momentum. That will also depend on Parliament moving this forward, and while the NDP seem to be onboard, the Conservative response to Trudeau’s speech warned about being too ambitious, which should probably be some kind of a warning signal. But it’s early days, and we’ll see how the next few months unfold.

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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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Roundup: Jury selection in the crosshairs

The fallout from the Gerald Stanley trial continued in Ottawa yesterday, where the family of Colten Boushie met with ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott about their frustrations with the justice system, and in particular the focus seemed to be on jury selection, and in particular the use of peremptory challenges in order to screen out any potential juror that looks Indigenous. In Question Period, justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that this was under consideration as part of their broader criminal justice review, but this is a project that seems to be travelling at a glacial pace (as so many things do in this government), and we have no idea when any report or formal recommendations by the government will actually be released in advance of legislative fixes. Boushie’s family are due to meet with Wilson-Raybould, Ralph Goodale and the prime minister at some point today, but I’m not holding my breath for any timelines on action on these issues. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the premier of Saskatchewan says that he’s open to discussions about more Indigenous representation on juries, but it doesn’t sound very concrete.

The attention that the Stanley verdict has given to the problems around Indigenous representation on juries have reminded us that this is a long-standing problem that has been on the radar for many years, such as with the report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci written for Ontario about the issue, complete with a number of recommendations. (That report spawned the Debwewin Committee, whose report is more than a year-and-a-half overdue by this point). The National Post last week had a look at the issues of stacked juries and biased media in cases like Stanley’s, and noted that there is a current study underway by an Ontario Superior Court justice looking into representation on juries with an eye to training judges in the future. Meanwhile, Senator Murray Sinclair says he will advocate for concrete changes such as limiting peremptory challenges, and provincial jury selection processes.

In terms of commentary, Colby Cosh tries to take a more dispassionate look at the jury system and wonders what we risk if we try to overturn it because we don’t like one decision out of hundreds. In a piece from 2016 that was reposted in light of recent events, Jonathan Kay wrote about his experience in a jury pool where, in a case involving a domestic homicide, the defence used their peremptory challenges to assemble an all-male, mostly visible minority jury.

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QP: Demands for disassociations

While Justin Trudeau was present today, post-trip to Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Andrew Scheer was not. This left Peter Kent to lead off, railing about the “peoplekind” remark and the fact that Trudeau’s principle secretary, Gerald Butts, called out people who crictised it as Nazis. (He didn’t really, but made reference to specific alt-right characters doing the criticizing). Trudeau noted that he didn’t hear a question in that statement, and sat back down. Kent got up to rail about real Nazis and demanded that the PM disassociate himself from Butts, but Trudeau stood up to talk about how they recognise the horrors of the holocaust and that they took that history seriously. Alain Rayes got up next, and railed about the lack of action on the Trans Mountain pipeline, and Trudeau noted that he had committed that the pipeline would get built. Shannon Stubbs returned to the “Nazi” issue, and while Trudeau first dissembled about town halls, on a supplemental, he told the opposition that they shouldn’t let Rebel Media quite their  questions for them, and suggested that they are the ones who should disassociate themselves. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concerned about anonymised data requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and Trudeau noted that they have concluded an agreement with the PBO to get them the information that they need. After a round of the same in French, Charlie Angus got up to demand action on cases like the death of Colten Boushie, Trudeau noted that their hearts went out to the family, and while they couldn’t comment on the specific case, they were working to address the inequities in the system. Angus demanded more action on Indigenous justice, and Trudeau listed areas that they need to fix, and noted that they were at work on it.

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QP: Litigating actual litigation

While the PM flew off to Chicago to begin his US tour, the rest of the benches in the House of Commons were full and ready for another scintillating day of bad litigation drama. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, but with the PM away, today he led off on the news story of a government fighting a sexual harassment lawsuit from a Canadian Forces member, but wedged in an Omar Khadr reference at the end, because of course he did. Harjit Sajjan said that they were committed to a harassment-free environment in the Forces, but couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case — despite the fact that earlier this morning, the PM stated that he would have the case looked into. Scheer tried again, but got the same response. Scheer amped up his dramatics for the third attempt, and tried to draw in the justice minister, but Sajjan got back up to reiterate his points, including pointing out how many people they have discharged for sexual misconduct. Lisa Raitt got up next, and repeated the question with full-on anger, but Sajjan reiterated the commitment to Operation Honour, and they went again for another round. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, demanding taxation for digital giants, and Mélanie Joly said that they wanted to ensure that there wasn’t a piecemeal approach to digital platforms over the long term. Caron tried again in English, noting that Trudeau would be meeting with Amazon on his trip. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was up next to read her condemnation of the government’s actions with that lawsuit, and Sajjan repeated his points. Brosseau read the question again in French, and got the same reply. Continue reading

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.

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