Roundup: Begun, this wine trade war has

The dispute between the NDP governments of Alberta and BC picked up intensity as Alberta decided to ban future purchases of BC wine within the province – without the consultation of groups like Restaurants Canada – and everyone is demanding that Justin Trudeau step in and do something. Anything. Never mind that Trudeau did just days ago tell audiences in Edmonton and Nanaimo that the pipeline was approved and that it was going to get built, and that it was part of the deal that came with stronger environmental laws.

There are a couple of problems in all of this. For one, there’s nothing for Trudeau to actually do at this point – BC hasn’t done anything yet besides put out a press release, and they actually can’t do anything. There’s nothing they’re actually doing at this point for Trudeau to step in and stop. It’s all just rhetoric at this point. And ultimately, this is all politicking, because Rachel Notley needs an enemy to fight against to show Jason Kenney’s would-be voters that she’s doing the job, and John Horgan is holding onto power only with the support of the three Green MLAs in his province, and he needs to keep them happy, so he’s making noises to do so. Add to that the federal Conservatives are amping up the rhetoric to try and “prove” that Trudeau isn’t really on the side of the industry, or that he’s secretly hoping that these delays will make Kinder Morgan think twice about the project like what supposedly happened with Energy East (never mind that what happened with Energy East had more to do with Keystone XL being put back on the table and being the better option for TransCanada to pursue), everyone is trying to score points. So, until there’s something that Trudeau can do, maybe everyone should hold their gods damned horses and not make the situation worse.

Incidentally, Jagmeet Singh has been dodging questions on this very issue, trying to play his own politics while other levels of NDP government battle it out. So there’s that.

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Roundup: Unexpected PBO problems

As it turns out, there is another problem with the legislation that turns the Parliamentary Budget Officer into a full-fledged independent officer of parliament rather than his current status as being part of the Library of Parliament – it just so happens that they need to request any information from ministers themselves and not from civil servants. And nobody flagged this issue during study of the bill when it was before Parliament. Oops.

The concern from the PBO is that this could automatically politicise the work, as though that wasn’t already happening. After all, the PBO has become the opposition’s favourite cudgel to bash the government with, and shield by which to hid behind in order to insist that the report comes from the “objective, non-partisan” PBO and therefore is sacrosanct. Not to mention, that the creation of the office has meant that MPs have one more person to fob their homework off onto rather than doing it for themselves. After all, math is hard, and they have better things to do. So will the change have any material effect? Hard to say, given that the bureaucracy has been reluctant to share all of the requested information to date, and a government that is happy with the PBO one day can quickly become a government that is unhappy with him the next, and they could start insisting that all information is cabinet confidence. But they can already do that with information being requested by way of the civil service, so perhaps that’s a moot point. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, there have been no efforts to rein in the scope of the PBO’s work, which could become a different sort of problem down the road. Ontario’s PBO-equivalent released a report yesterday that seemed to be a little outside of its mandate, leading to indications that perhaps there are problems brewing.

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Roundup: Boutique tax credits for everyone!

The very first Private Members’ Bill up on the docket to be debated is one that give me a real headache, and it’s one that should be disallowed from being voteable, all because of a wee little loophole in the rules. The bill, from Conservative MP Ted Falk, aims to increase the tax rebate which charities receive to match the same level that one gets for political donations. The problem? That this is really an expenditure, and private members’ bills are forbidden to spend money without a royal recommendation (though MPs have gone to increasingly ridiculous lengths in recent years to try and contort logic to pretend that those bills don’t spend money when in fact they do). The even bigger problem? That a loophole currently exists in the rules that makes it technically possible for these bills asking for a tax credit to bypass the spending rules because technically (and under the way that procedure is interpreted) the bill seeks to reduce tax paid, not increase or expend taxes. That’s not actually true, mind you – ask the Auditor General or any decent economist and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that tax credits are actually expenditures, and unfortunately there is precedent on Falk’s side, particularly with a certain PMB from Dan McTeague several parliaments ago where he got a tax deduction in under that technicality and it was deemed to be in order. The government repealed the measure in their next budget, but the bill got though when really it shouldn’t have. Unfortunately it opened the door to these kinds of bills that are looking to create new boutique tax credits, and that’s a problem. Our tax code is already thousands of pages, and far too complex. Boutique tax credits are actually terrible policy, but governments have decided that they’re good politics because they feel like they’re rewarding certain groups for certain behaviours, and damn the consequences. The Auditor General has sounded the alarm that these measures aren’t being properly tracked because they’re not deemed expenditures (even though they are), which means that they’re not being given proper parliamentary oversight to ensure that it’s money that’s being well spent – and he found many cases where it’s not. But as Falk is demonstrating, the floodgates are opening, and it won’t be long before the Order Paper is replete with these PMBs demanding new boutique tax credits for everything under the sun, to encourage all manner of behaviour that they deem a social good, under the rubric that they’re not spending any money and thus within the rules. It’s a loophole that Parliament needs to set upon itself to close for the sake of the tax code and parliament’s ability to hold these kinds of spending measures to account. Sadly, one suspects that in their self-interest, MPs won’t make the needed rule change and we can expect this situation to get worse with every passing parliamentary session.

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Roundup: Protectionism panic!

Panic! Burger King may be looking to buy Tim Horton’s in order to move their combined headquarters to Canada in order to take advantage of a lower tax rate! But let’s all be concerned about the loss of a national treasure – um, which has only just returned its headquarters to Canada after it spun off from American owners Wendy’s. The NDP were immediately out front, concern trolling about the loss of small town Tim Horton’s outlets and Canadian jobs when in fact the bigger story is that Burger King wants to move their headquarters here, meaning money in government coffers – while the practice of “tax inversion” (where a larger company buys a smaller one in a lower-tax jurisdiction and moves their joint headquarters to the lower tax jurisdiction) angers American Congressmen. Canadian Business wonders what’s in it for each partner of the takeover, while Jason Kirby wonders if the merger is trying to mask each other’s weaknesses. Here’s a look at the activist investor who was behind the previous move, and who is helping to drive the current one. Here’s a history of Tim Horton’s ownership, and a history of the less-than-optimal past partnership with Wendy’s. If you’re concerned about brand nationalism – which companies are still “Canadian” – it may be a dying trend in a globalized future, but here are five that are still ours. And Stephen Gordon leaves us with this:

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Roundup: Right vs privilege confusion

The government announced its intention to introduce new gun control legislation in the fall that will be “common sense,” designed to reduce red tape, but would include some new measures like mandatory safety courses and bans on firearms restrictions on those who have been convicted of domestic abuse. In particular, the government was motivated to ensure that those Swiss assault rifles are no longer prohibited, concocting a rather fanciful notion that owners of those weapons – which were reclassified as restricted – would somehow wind up in jail, though that has never happened with a gun reclassification before. Still, it was enough to rile up their gun enthusiast base. More troubling, however, was the fact that the minister referred to gun ownership as a “right,” which it most certainly is not in Canada. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that gun ownership in Canada is a privilege and not a right. When asked about this contradiction, the minister stated that “it’s a right that has responsibilities, it’s a privilege.” Which of course makes absolutely no sense at all because it’s one or the other, and the Supreme Court has already ruled.

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Roundup: A debate that won’t see the light of day

Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher is introducing two Private Member’s Bills on assisted suicide in order to get the debate on the agenda. The problem with this, of course, is that a) he would only have one slot for Private Member’s Business, so introducing two bills means one of them won’t see the light of day, and b) as Fletcher was a minister, his debate slot is at nearly the bottom of the list, as he only got it after he was dropped from cabinet, so it remains unlikely to see the light of day. Nevertheless, with the court challenges going on, it is a good reminder that Parliament should be debating these kinds of issues, but we all know that they are reluctant to, and try to fob off the hard work to the courts so that they can be seen to be dragged into doing something about it.

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Roundup: Preston Manning’s misdirected concerns

In a frankly bizarre op-ed, Preston Manning tries to accuse the Press Gallery for lacking proper ethics because the Parliamentary Press Gallery guidelines don’t have a section on ethical guidelines in their handbook – err, except that each member is subject to their own employer’s code of ethics. Also, the Press Gallery is not a monolith, but simply a means of organising ourselves in order to have proper access to do our jobs on the Hill. That Manning tries to somehow equate this to the Senate scandals and Mike Duffy’s role therein lacks any cohesive logic and makes one wonder how this passed the comment editor’s gaze at the Globe and Mail. Does he think that the Gallery could have somehow stopped him before he was appointed? That his constant lobbying for a Senate seat should have been dealt with – as though anyone took it seriously and not as a kind of sad and frankly pathetic long-running joke? Susan Delacourt gives Manning a respectful reply and cautions him that what he’s demanding of the media will mean more access by the government – something the current government is not a big fan of.

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QP: Backhanded allegations about Mulcair

With Harper off at Newmarket doing pre-budget consultations, but with the news cycle being consumed by the Conservatives on the Senate Internal Economy committee’s reluctance to call that senior partner from Deloitte before them to testify, it was likely to be a day full of non sequiturs delivered by Paul Calandra. Thomas Mulcair started off by asking why the government asked their senators to block the appearance of Michael Runia before them. Paul Calandra responded that they learned that the audit was done without interference. When Mulcair pressed, Calandra immediately turned to the “You sat on a bribe allegation for 17 years!” talking point. Mulcair changed topics, and asked about the report that CSE was conducting intelligence during the G20 in Toronto. Rob Nicholson reminded him that CSE doesn’t have the authorisation to spy on Canadians. When Mulcair asked if they did it anyway, Nicholson reminded him that they couldn’t even ask allies to spy on Canadians. Mulcair tried to tie this in with the ClusterDuff allegations, but Nicholson reminded him that CSE has judicial oversight. Joyce Murray led off for the Liberals, and asked about the suicide of two soldiers connected CFB Shilo and asked what action the minister was taking to address the issue. Nicholson offered the families his condolences and assured her that the Canadian Forces were investigating. Ralph Goodale was up next, and returned to the issue of Runia and Gerstein being blocked from testifying at committee, but Calandra tried to insist that the Liberals defended those three suspended senators. Goodale demanded to know why Gerstein remained chair of the Senate a banking committee, but Calandra continued to insist that the Liberals fought against holding those senators to account.

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Roundup: Everything’s coming up Vic Toews

Vic Toews is all over the news right now, and quite possibly all over Question Period later today. Yesterday morning Toews was on The West Block and basically said that the RCMP “communications protocol” was put into place so that he doesn’t get ambushed by opposition questions in the House after the parliamentarians who had those meetings bring up things they discussed. Aww, muffin! Access to information documents also show that Toews tried to limit the RCMP’s apology to the families of victims of serial killer Robert Pickton. The RCMP ended up rejecting said revisions, saying they came in too late, but it appears to be a case of overreach, and likely an attempt to forestall any attempts of legal action that an admission that the RCMP could have done more to stop Pickton is likely to generate.

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Roundup: Happy Budget Day, everybody!

It’s Budget Day, everyone! And in what looks to be an otherwise stay-the-course budget, it appears that the big shiny object is going to be…cheaper hockey equipment. Because that matters more than anything else, and Stephen Harper must solidify his credentials as the Hockeyest Prime Minister in the history of ever! Okay, so it’s actually lowering one specific tariff, but still. Meanwhile, Les Whittington gives the five myths of Conservatives budget making. Scott Brison finds a “leaked” copy of Flaherty’s budget speech.

MPs of all stripes – including a few Conservatives – were criticising Flaherty’s move in calling Manulife Financial to stave off a mortgage war. More surprisingly is that one of his own cabinet colleagues, Maxime Bernier, was publically critical. It remains to be seen if this will be treated as a case of “Mad Max” being a maverick, or if this is a breach of cabinet solidarity, Bernier not being a “team player,” and he’ll be bounced out of cabinet – yet again. Andrew Coyne finds the irony in Flaherty lecturing people about taking on too much debt considering how much he added to the national debt.

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