As you may have heard, Conservative MPs refused to let debate collapse on Mauril Bélanger’s national anthem bill yesterday, not allowing it to come up for a vote as had been hoped in order to fast-track the bill through the process owing to Bélanger’s condition. While this has been described as a “filibuster,” it’s not quite, but it was dickish behaviour, make no mistake – particularly the fact that all of the Conservative MPs were making the same points over and over again rather than offering any new criticism of the bill (with such novel excuses that it would be a slippery slope – references to God would be next in line, and woe be the age of political correctness, and so on). As a quick explanation, private members’ business cannot be filibustered because it is all automatically time allocated. Under the standing orders, each private members’ bill or motion gets two hours of debate – each hour separated by the precedence list of 30 items, meaning about six sitting weeks – before it goes to a vote. If bills pass the second reading vote, they go to committee for a couple of hours of study before they get another two hours of debate at report stage and third reading (again, separated by the precedence list of 30 items), and then they head to the Senate, where there is no time allocation and they will often get more scrutiny – particularly at committee – but government business taking priority means that they can sometimes languish there for months. In this particular case, there was a hope that debate could collapse and there would be no need for a second hour of debate, but they also requested that they could go straight into the second hour, but the Conservatives denied consent to do so. After all, they had planes to catch back to their ridings. If Bélanger’s health deteriorates further and he is forced to resign his seat – and he did come to the debate directly from the hospital – then it would be possible for another MP to take on the bill in his stead, but that tends to require unanimous consent, and if the Conservatives continue to want to be dickish about this, then they can deny it and the bill will die without its sponsor present. And because this is a private members’ bill, no other MP can launch a similar bill in this parliament, since there are rules around debating the same bill twice. The danger for those Conservatives, however, is that the Liberals can turn around and put it into a government bill and put it through the process that way, which gives them all manner of other tools to use to push it through – particularly on the Senate side. And while nobody is arguing that the bill should pass just because of Bélanger’s health, the argument is that it should have come to a vote so that it could pass or fail at second reading. While Conservatives argue that they have a right to talk out the clock, the fact that they kept repeating themselves is a sign that this was a dilatory tactic and designed to be dickish, which is what has enraged a number of Bélanger’s supporters. And really, it’s unnecessary because it looks like they’re bullying a dying man, and no good can come of it. We’ll see if anyone is willing to trade their upcoming slot in the Order of Precedence to move Bélanger’s second hour of debate up so the vote can be accelerated, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.
If there was any particular proof needed that things are indeed changing in the government, the way in which decisions are made is a pretty good place to start, as Susan Delacourt explores over in Policy Options. Gone are the days when all paths lead to the PMO, but rather individual ministers are empowered to make decisions, but at the same time, they are expected to consult with provincial and territorial counterparts. The civil service, having grown used to not being asked to draw up an array of options for shaping policy, is now a “fixer upper,” while the new dynamic makes it possible for anyone to contribute to policy discussions, meaning that the government can draw from a bigger pool of ideas. And the new buzzword of “deliverology” means that goals are being drawn up as tangible things that have knowable results, rather than just abstract dollar figures. (The “guru” of deliverology just met with cabinet at the Kananaskis retreat, where he said that the government has made good progress over the last six months). Commons committees are coming up with policy discussions of their own (not that they’re always going to be taken fully, as the assisted dying legislation shows). We have evidence that the Senate and their legislative agenda is being listened to, with examples like Senator Moore’s bill on restoring parliamentary authority over borrowing being adopted in the government’s budget, and Ralph Goodale talking about how they are considering his bill on CBSA oversight. So yes, it looks like the centre of power is less and less the PMO in this brave new world, which is probably not such a bad thing after all.
Pipelines will be the talk of the day, as the National Energy Board gave approval to Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline to the US late yesterday, and Candice Bergen wasted no time in putting out a press release demanding that the government approve it for the sake of jobs, and so on. Never mind that this pipeline doesn’t go to tidewater, so it won’t actually help Alberta get world price for its exports, but hey, it’s a pipeline and we are apparently in desperate need of them, except when we aren’t because they will encourage the further exploitation of oil and gas which won’t help us reach our climate goals, and all of that. But tidewater remains on everyone’s lips, as there is talk that the Northern Gateway pipeline may not be dead after all, and there is even talk that Enbridge is looking at alternate port facilities than the one that they proposed in their initial bid. There is a sense of a deadline, given that the conditional approval that the NEB gave Northern Gateway would expire by the end of this year, but it’s also hard to say that it was a real approval given the 200+ conditions that they attached to it, which may very well have been quite onerous – particularly any conditions that required First Nations buy-in when they are not keen to allow these pipelines over their territories, nor to have any terminus near the waterways that salmon depend upon for spawning, as that affects their local fisheries as well. That said, all of the agitation for Energy East will continue undaunted, no matter that it hasn’t even begun much of its environmental assessment process, nor the case for its “social licence” as Trudeau likes to call it – not that questions of process seem to matter to those who want it to happen yesterday.
Programming note: I really have nothing to offer on the situation in Paris, so I’ll leave that to those better suited to comment, which is better for all involved.
Look up there – it’s the Senate bat-signal, with news that we may have an idea what the new appointment process is likely to look like. According to the Citizen:
- An independent advisory body will be created that is composed of Canadians who are people of “stature” and who have public credibility. It will consider people who would be good senators and then refer the names to the prime minister, who keeps the ultimate authority (in accordance with the Constitution) to make the appointments.
- There will be a public input component to the process, so that Canadians have a way of recommending themselves, or others, as future senators.
- There will be a consultative role for the provinces, given that Trudeau wants the Senate to regain credibility as a representative of the regions.
If you said that this looks a fair bit like the vice-regal appointments committee, you’d be right, not that the article stated that anywhere. In fact, it went to great lengths to talk about what the House of Lords Appointments Commission in the UK, and meanders to the boneheaded suggestion by Greg Sorbara that we get members of the Order of Canada to choose senators. Also, nowhere in the piece does it seem to acknowledge that the new Canadian process could let these new senators chosen by an independent process choose which Senate caucus they want to sit in or remain independent, with a full understanding of the additional pressures that independent senators actually face. So while it’s good to get some more hints on what we’re likely to see, it might be great if we had reporters who could actually uses useful Canadian comparisons, and who actually understood how the Senate operates rather than engaging in more of the pointless speculation about the supposed chaos that we’re supposed to see in there in the brave new era.
The NATO Summit is underway in Wales, and Canada is contributing a modest $4 million to assist against Russian aggression – $1 million to helping Ukraine build up its command and control capacity, and the rest to be distributed among three NATO trusts to help strengthen capacities in the Baltic region. Aside from that, it remains unclear what kind of a role Canada will play in the region, and if we will contribute troops to a rapid response force in the area. As for the ISIS threat, the US and UK are discussing potential bombing campaigns, but we’ll see what comes from discussions, though word has it we may be offering military advisors to help Iraqis counter ISIS. The end of the Afghan mission has also been under discussion at the summit.
Not that Parliament has risen for the summer, the leaders can begin their summer tours in earnest, without having to take those inconvenient breaks to show up for the odd Question Period or a vote here or there. Because you know, they’re meeting with “real Canadians” as opposed to doing their actual jobs. And with by-elections happening a week away, both Trudeau and Mulcair are in Toronto today to campaign there, both of them drawing different lessons from the Ontario election, while the people who study these sorts of things aren’t necessarily sure that voters are committed to the same parties provincially and federally, and that they may be making a different calculation electorally.
Possibly the last QP of the year — one can hope — and tempers continued to fray throughout the Precinct. None of the main leaders were present, which wasn’t going to improve the mood either. Peter Julian led things off, where he blustered about Northern Gateway decision, and Kelly Block was the sacrificial lamb sent up to read her talking points about how projects only move forward if they are proven to be safe after a rigorous, scientific review process, and that the proponent has more work to do. When Julian noted that consulting with First Nations was the government’s job, Block read that the government was working with First Nations. Nathan Cullen followed on to carry on the sanctimonious bluster, and Block read yet more of the same talking points. Chrystia Freeland led off for the Liberals, denouncing the justice minister’s sexist comments about female judges, to which Peter MacKay accused her of mischaracterizing his comments and that they only made judicial appointments made on merit. Carolyn Bennett and Scott Brison followed along, Brison characterising it as the Conservatives’ war on modernity, and after MacKay gave another embarrassing qualification, Leitch answered Brison by claiming that the number of female Governor-in-Council appointments is on the rise.
The final caucus day of the sitting, and Rib Fest taking place a block away, MPs were itching to head back to their ridings. All of the major leaders were in the Chamber today for a second day in a row (amazing!) while Elizabeth May was absent for a change, off campaigning in Toronto for the forthcoming by-elections. Thomas Mulcair led off, wondering where all those Conservatives were to tout the Northern Gateway after three years of doing so previously. Stephen Harper said that the NDP were opposed to all resource development, considered it a “disease,” and it was up to Enbridge to fulfil the 209 conditions imposed by the NEB. Mulcair said that BC Conservative MPs were “in the witness programme” about the pipeline, while Harper shot back that Mulcair himself was in the programme when it came to answering for their improper mailings and satellite offices. Mulcair insisted that with the removal of Navigable Waters Act protections, the deck was stacked in favour of the pipeline, to which Harper reminded him of the 180 days of hearing and thousands of pages of evidence, and that there were 209 conditions. Mulcair brought up Enbridge’s record in the US, Harper returning to the scientific panel, and when Mulcair declared that Harper could not “subcontract the Honour of the Crown” to Enbridge with consulting First Nations, Harper listed the number of hearings they held with First Nations groups as part of the regulatory process. Justin Trudeau brought up that the BC government still opposes the pipeline, and wondered why the Prime Minister still said yes. Harper repeated that it was up to the proponent to meet their conditions. Trudeau brought up the government’s previous statements about the importance of the integrity of the Great Bear rainforest, but Harper reiterated about the scientific process of the regulator. Trudeau asked one last time to reverse the approval, but Harper kept repeating about the 209 conditions, and concluded that the Liberals don’t practice evidence-based decision making.
At long last, the government has made its decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline, and it’s not wholly unexpected, but surprising in other ways. For one, it sent it out as a press release rather than making a formal announcement. For another, it gave a half-hearted and somewhat mealy acceptance of the proposal, but only if Enbridge can meet all of the National Energy Board’s 209 conditions, plus having them get the First Nations all on-side, plus getting BC on-side as well. As economist Andrew Leach noted, it’s like the government is trying to distance itself from the regulator, the proponent, and any responsibility to get the pipeline built. After all, they do have a tremendous penchant for absolving themselves of responsibility wherever they can, and in this case, there is almost a sense that they’re inviting it to fail. Reaction was swift from the NDP, who declared that if they form government in 2015, that the pipeline would be cancelled immediately, and warned of “social unrest” in the meantime. The Liberals, however, took a slightly more nuanced approach – while they called for the rejection of this particular pipeline (they do support Keystone XL), but Justin Trudeau made the observation that the Crown – basically the government – has the obligation to consult with First Nations, not companies like Enbridge, so that throws yet another wrench into the plans o f the government. There are questions as to whether the decision will hinder Conservative re-election chances in the province, but I have a hard time seeing how it would with the “Bible Belt” ridings in the southern part of the province that the Conservatives hold quite comfortably. Enbridge says the decision gives them the time they need to get it right. Here are five other pipeline projects to keep an eye on. John Geddes notes the amount of work that Enbridge is being asked to do, while remembering that BC is the home to some memorable environmental protests. Paul Wells looks at the electoral calculus of the decision, while Leach has a Twitter conversation with Elizabeth May about her comments, and how they don’t actually make sense.
The days on the calendar running down, but crankiness among members ramping up, all of the leaders were present in the Commons, which was a little unexpected. Thomas Mulcair led off, asking about Quebec Supreme Court justice appointments and the possible attempt to use a backdoor to put Justice Mainville on the bench. Stephen Harper insisted that this was nothing to do with the Supreme Court, but about putting a good judge on the “supreme court” of Quebec. Mulcair pressed about whether the intent was to elevate Justice Mainville to the SCC, to which Harper reminded him that there was no current vacancy, nor a process to select a new one once a vacancy does become available. Mulcair then accused Harper of starting a war with the Supreme Court, but Harper mocked him for trying to launch into another conspiracy theory. Mulcair moved topics, and demanded that the Northern Gateway pipeline be turned town, to which Harper said that the NDP were against all resource development while they underwent environmental assessments and went through a rigorous assessment process. Mulcair listed the opposition to the pipeline, but Harper dismissed their opposition as ideological. Justin Trudeau carried on that line of questioning and pointed out the impacts a spill would have on that coastline, to which Harper accused the Liberals of holding a “deep hostility” toward the energy sector (really? Given their it boosterism for Keystone XL?) and insisted that they had a rigorous process.