By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair’s principal secretary sends his regards to Claude Patry. The Star’s editorial board likewise suggests Mr. Patry should resign and face a by-election. Chantal Hebert offers some background on the backbencher and some consideration of the future. And Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro offers his analysis.
News that another NDP MP has abandonned them, this time to go to the BLOC demonstrates how undemocratic the NDP really is. Because their members are always foced to follow the party line when voting in parliament the only choice that members have when they disagree is to leave.
It is true that New Democrats have tended to vote alike in this current Parliament, while several Conservatives have voted the party line a mere 98% or 99% of the time, but it’s not clear that Mr. Patry’s situation was a matter of party discipline run amok. He seems to have had a fairly fundamental difference of opinion over fundamental party policy—in this case sovereignty for Quebec and how that might be achieved. Maybe he could have remained both a resolute sovereigntist and a member of the NDP, presuming that the party hadn’t tabled its Unity Bill or taken the position on Churchill Falls that it did, but Mr. Del Mastro probably wouldn’t have approved of that either.
Usually three instances of something is sufficient grounds to declare a trend, but it’s not clear to me that there is a common denominator between Lise St. Denis, Bruce Hyer and Mr. Patry. Ms. St. Denis got to Ottawa and decided she wanted to be a Liberal. Mr. Hyer decided to become an independent because he didn’t like Mr. Mulcair’s style of leadership and position on the long-gun registry. (Conversely, John Rafferty, the other long-gun registry dissident in the NDP, opted to stay with the New Democrats.) Mr. Patry decided that the NDP’s views on Quebec didn’t match his own.
If two more Quebec New Democrats bolt for the Bloc, there will be an obvious and particular trend. But for now we have three MPs of varying backgrounds who’ve gone in three different directions (even if they all were running away from the same place). If we’re searching for a narrative here, I’ll submit this: after a dramatic and unexpected increase in the size of their caucus and a sudden change in leadership, there was bound to be some shaking out within the NDP. In the process of everyone figuring out where they fit and who does what, a few have apparently decided they would be better off elsewhere. If they remain a few, there’s maybe not much of a problem. If this keeps happening and the sample of three turns into a sample of four or five or more, it will become easier to identify a more obviously negative trend.
As for whether Mr. Patry should step down and face a by-election, his vote a year ago in this regard should make it difficult for him to argue otherwise. There are a lot of questions to be asked about this idea, but as a general principle it has some merit.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Last night’s At Issue panel.
I’m not sure there’s anything I can add that I haven’t already written over the last two years.
Here is what I wrote last week about one particularly silly question and here and here is what I wrote this week about another. Here is what I wrote this week about what Justin Trudeau says he’d do. And here and here is what I wrote about what Brent Rathgeber has had to say.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The At Issue panel takes viewer questions.
I’d like the Speaker to be more assertive on a couple fronts, but, in the context of Question Period, he can’t be asked to judge whether or not a question has been answered sufficiently. I think he should, just as he can cut off a question that doesn’t deal with the business of government, cut off a response that strays from the subject raised, but it’s problematic (and unworkable) to expect that he should be judging the quality of the response for the purposes of deciding when a question has truly been answered. I also disagree with Andrew’s suggestion that he should be able to compel a minister to stand. If the government side wants to hide a minister behind a designated deflector, that’s for the public to judge and the government to explain.
As for the way we elect our federal representatives, I’ve lately fallen for the idea of a ranked ballot. And unlike proportional representation or mixed-member proportional representation, I think a ranked ballot is something that could be widely accepted by the public and easily adopted.
(I’d happily be done with the monarchy, but, as Chantal says, it’s hard to imagine how that change would come about. If we’re looking around for things to abolish, it’d be more practical to focus on the Senate.)
By Mitchel Raphael - Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 10:05 PM - 0 Comments
The Travers Debates were held recently at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It…
The Travers Debates were held recently at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was a fundraiser for the R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship named after Toronto Star columnist Jim Travers, who died in 2011.
By Paul Wells - Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:44 AM - 0 Comments
Any Conservative gains in the province will have much to do with insider Denis Lebel
Just about the only good word to be said for the faceless government ofﬁce towers in downtown Ottawa is that you can get an excellent view from their top ﬂoors. Denis Lebel steered a visitor toward the ﬂoor-to-ceiling windows lining two walls of his 29th-ﬂoor ofﬁce.
“My colleagues tell me this is the best view in Ottawa,” the minister of (take a deep breath) transport, infrastructure and communities and minister of the economic development agency of Canada for the region of Quebec said. He pointed down to the Chaudière Falls, the Supreme Court building, and the Parliament buildings arrayed far below.
“This is the highest ofﬁce in the building,” Lebel said, leaning forward conspiratorially as he delivered his patter. “Nowhere to go but down.”
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 6:24 PM - 48 Comments
Chantal Hébert’s column in L’actualité points out what, to her, is a paradox: “In total, Quebec has never occupied as little place as it does today in the places of power in the federal capital.”
Let me summarize Hébert’s argument before gently trying to critique it.
Quebec’s five Conservative MPs, she writes, give it the seventh-largest provincial sub-caucus in that party’s national (well, Canada-wide) caucus. Ontario has 14 times as many Conservative MPs as Quebec does. Saskatchewan and Manitoba together have about 5 times as many Conservative MPs as Quebec does.
As for the NDP, despite those 59 MPs from Quebec, 58 of them newly-elected, only 2% of all the card-holding NDP members in the country are Quebecers.
“We’re swimming in paradox,” Hébert writes. “In 20 years, Quebec has never been so cool toward sovereignty and the parties that advocate it. But it has also never been so absent from the places of power and political influence of a Canada to which it nonetheless seems destined to continue belonging. Find the error!”
Okay. I’m pretty sure the error lay in expecting any other result.
If I left my house for 20 years and then came back, I should reasonably expect the house to be in shoddy repair, or occupied by strangers. I might really be looking forward to coming back. I might have all kinds of fun ideas for decorating and entertaining. But my decision to neglect that house for 20 years would have easily predictable consequences. We can phrase this more generally: Actions have consequences. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 9:42 AM - 0 Comments
On Monday, the 2011 class of MPs will settle in the Commons for the first four-year mandate in a decade. It will be their loss if they do not use that time to expend more energy than their predecessors on challenging a system that is turning them into drones.
See previously: The rebel sell
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 12:21 PM - 20 Comments
The best cat fight on the Hill
Why this MP needs a lot of coats
Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan keeps boxes of toothpaste at her constituency office. Because she represents Etobicoke North, one of the poorest ridings in the country, she has turned her office into a quasi drop-in centre for those in need. During the winter, she keeps a collection of donated coats because some constituents come jacket-less to her office in freezing temperatures. About 65 people a day come through. (Duncan keeps only one staffer in Ottawa so she can have more in Toronto.) One of those seeking help was particularly memorable: a woman named Linda came in with a crumpled brochure the MP had distributed, which said, “We can help.” Linda had been severely abused by her husband, was terminally ill, and had no official status in Canada. “You said you would help,” she said. Duncan asked Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to give her special status so she could receive palliative care and he did. When Duncan visited Linda in the hospital, she brought her a necklace: “I don’t think she had anything that sparkled in her life.” Linda said she had a gift in return and sang a song to her visitors. Before she died the nurses helped make a recording of her singing, and Duncan helped set up an endowment fund at a shelter in her memory.
Jason versus Justin
The next election will be a battle for the hearts of Canada’s ethnic communities. Things have heated up between Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Trudeau attacked Kenney for mixing partisan politics and government business with such things as award certificates. (In 2009, Ottawa Chinese restaurateur Yang Sheng got one “for creating an authentic multicultural dining experience.”) Then when Trudeau evoked his father’s name in question period, Kenney went for blood: “Mr. Speaker, let me tell members what his father did with immigration when we hit a recession, led by the Liberals, in the early 1980s. He slashed immigration to 80,000. Our government has maintained historically high immigration levels during the recession. In terms of social justice, his father’s government refused to apologize to Chinese Canadians for the head tax, to the Ukrainian Canadians for their internment, to Japanese Canadians for their internment, or for the shame of the Indian residential schools, unlike our Prime Minister.” Kenney has spent a lot of time working with ethnic communities who have, he has noted, “conservative values” but who vote Liberal. The minister has mastered the art of eating all sorts of cuisine, including getting out of difficult culinary situations by keeping a napkin in his pocket to help make some delicacies that don’t agree with his stomach discreetly disappear.
Power to 16-year-olds
NDP MP Don Davies recently introduced Bill C-634, a private member’s bill that would see the federal voting age lowered from 18 to 16. Davies says that with voter turnout getting more dismal, a “get them while they are young” approach will hopefully work. Davies notes his main rationale for lowering the voting age is that 16-year-olds work and pay taxes in most provinces. In some, he says, it is even lower. Davies says he took as his inspiration the famous American Revolution phrase: “no taxation without representation.” It’s an idea that has been tried before in Parliament, but Davies hopes this time it will see success.
Layton, Chow and the election
Last week pundits were mixed about the chances of an election. On CBC’s The National, the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert thought yes, while Andrew Coyne of Maclean’s said no way. The panellists agreed, though, that Jack Layton was skilled at keeping people guessing which way his party would go. Maybe Layton’s wife provided a clue. Toronto MP Olivia Chow secured her campaign office last week.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 12:28 PM - 253 Comments
The most interesting sentence in Chantal Hébert’s column this morning is this one: “At 42 per cent, the combined Liberal/NDP score just about matches the Liberal result in Quebec in the last Chrétien campaign in 2000.” That’s what a divided opposition looks like. That spectacle was familiar to Jean Chrétien, who won three majorities against a divided opposition; and it is familiar to Stephen Harper, who repaired the divisions that helped Chrétien and worked hard at aggravating divisions among Liberals and between the Liberals and the NDP.
Chantal’s point is that the NDP and the Liberals are cannibalizing each other’s votes in Quebec, to the Bloc’s advantage. Her point in any other province could have been, and sometimes lately has been, that the NDP and Liberals often cannibalize each other’s votes in other parts of the country too. Her remedy, and she has been strikingly insistent on this point, is that Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent had a point several months ago when they started agitating for a formal merger of those two opposition parties.
I think she has a point. As is often the case, history offers great big neon-bright lessons written in letters 14 feet high, which are nonetheless apparently easy to forget.
By Paul Wells - Friday, October 1, 2010 at 11:19 AM - 0 Comments
No political commentator working in Canada today is read with as much anticipation as Chantal Hébert. She’s obviously the class of the field, and I’m belabouring the point only because her column today is rather spectacularly beneath her usual standards.
In early 2009 I spoke to a pretty conservative audience in Toronto. (OK, it was a Fraser Institute event, an error of youth I won’t repeat.) I was in a fair snit about the Harper government at that time, and I uncorked a long list of critiques of the way the prime minister was going about his business: arbitrary, contradictory, yadda yadda. Frosty applause when I finally stopped. The question-and-answer period began, and a dotty matron dressed, approximately, like Milburn Drysdale drew herself up to her full height and said, as one might to an idiot: “Yes, well, that’s all very good, but what would you prefer? Would you prefer that… that… Michael Ignatieff and his gang govern the country?” She awaited my response with the grand satisfaction of somebody who had shut a troublemaker up but good.
Well, no, I replied, or at least not necessarily. There is another option: the government we already have could govern better. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, June 4, 2010 at 4:35 PM - 145 Comments
Over on her l’Actualité blog, Chantal Hébert takes such a mighty swipe at Scott Reid that I’m left wondering whether it’s 2004 and I wrote the blog post. “A good example of the wishful thinking that prevails in Michael Ignatieff’s palace guard,” she writes, and “to say the least, rich in intellectual shortcuts.”
Ha! Yeah. Go get ‘im, Chantal! Actually, I have a hard time summoning quite as much dudgeon against Scott today as I have, on occasion, in the past. The former Paul Martin communication director’s piece on the Globe website today is at least as much of a caution against wishful thinking as a case of it. Cooperation or merger between political parties with a long history of deep antagonism is a perilous exercise. Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 12:11 PM - 5 Comments
MP Nathan Cullen (right) and MP Glenn Thibeault… with half moustaches.
MP Nathan Cullen (right) and MP Glenn Thibeault with half moustaches.
MP Don Davies attempts to impersonate Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star.
By Paul Wells - Monday, November 30, 2009 at 8:31 AM - 42 Comments
In her inimitable prose style, Chantal Hébert delivers a magisterial thumping to any Liberal who would even think of opposing the implementation of a Harmonized Sales Tax for British Columbia and Ontario. The arguments make themselves: harmonized federal-provincial taxation is good policy; it is the preferred policy of two of today’s most important Liberals, Gordon Campbell and Dalton McGuinty, and of two significant legacy Grits, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien; defeating it would help only Jack Layton, while exacerbating the Liberal rifts that Stephen Harper is in politics to encourage. I’d add only one more: if realigning taxation is unpopular, that’s partly (only partly) because Stephen Harper spent the 2008 election using all the ingenuity he could summon to argue that no rearrangement of the tax burden could ever be legitimate because they’re always really a tax grab. Liberals don’t want to be in the business of encouraging that belief.
Oh, and you federal Liberals from B.C. who snorted when I called Gordon Campbell a Liberal? Unless you have a plan for getting an endorsement out of Carole James, he’s the only Liberal you’ve got. Pushing him into Stephen Harper’s arms? Not brilliant.
By Paul Wells - Friday, October 16, 2009 at 2:32 PM - 168 Comments
My kickback from the Harper PMO didn’t arrive in time today, so you’re going to have to make do with that other notorious rightwing lackey of the Conservative master schemers, Chantal Hébert. In this column, no doubt motivated (as is all such base criticism of Our Michael) by a fiendish desire to sell newspapers,* she argues that Michael Ignatieff’s semi-annual discovery of the Earth’s natural environment seems to be targeted at the fleeting headlines, rather than stemming from any convictions or ideas. I heartily urge all Liberals to do the one thing that has always guaranteed electoral success: question Chantal’s motives. That’ll help.
*You mean political columns that criticize an opposition leader aren’t a major driver of newsstand circulation? Now you tell me.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 9:32 AM - 76 Comments
Not quite. But then, around here we like the spicy headlines. Here’s what friend Chantal actually says in her column today about the Cauchon-Coderre hijinx:
Both of them might be better advised to pay more attention to Justin Trudeau, a rare rising Liberal star who actually beat a Bloc incumbent to get to the House of Commons. His stock has quietly been going up since then.
In a future succession battle, Trudeau is at least as likely to be a threat to both Cauchon and Coderre as they are to find each other’s names on the final ballot of a leadership vote.
And now you all get to argue in the comments.
By kadyomalley - Friday, September 4, 2009 at 10:33 AM - 103 Comments
If Chantal Hebert is right — and she usually is — the
Giornorchestrator’sthe government’s cunning plan to make those deck-loathing Liberal grinches kill off the beloved tax credit in order to force Canadians to the polls for An Election No One Wants while simultaneously scheming to install a sinister Separatist-Socialist coalition if the results don’t turn out to their liking may have hit a bit of a snag:
Yesterday, the Bloc Québécois leader told Radio-Canada that if the government brings forward a supply motion to finance the home renovation program later this month, his party will support it. Unless Harper loads a budget-related motion with other items that are unpalatable to the Bloc, the tax credit will sail through the Commons.
Now, ITQ did a quick Google News search for any other reference to such a statement from the Bloc leader, and came up empty, but that could be due to the language barrier.
UPDATE: Commenter Alan points to a second story in today’s Star that mentions Duceppe’s willingness to pass the supply bill as long as there’s no funny business in the fine print, but doesn’t include a direct quote.
If it’s true, though, it would leave the prime minister in a distinctly awkward position: He’d still be governing on borrowed time, since there’s no reason to think the Liberals wouldn’t simply go ahead with their original plan, which was to defeat the government on their own non-confidence motion a week or two later — and he’d be doing so only by virtue of 49 votes from that very same separatist party that his party has repeatedly decried as antithetical to the spirit of Canadian parliamentary democracy.
By Paul Wells - Friday, July 10, 2009 at 5:11 PM - 27 Comments
…it falls to me to do the pained, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger gloating he would be doing now if he were on deck:
Understand: there will be no going back from this, for the party or for the country. Whatever the budget’s soothing talk of “temporary” this and “extraordinary” that, and for all its well-mannered charts showing spending obediently returning to its pen, deficits meekly subsiding, multi-billion dollar “investments” repaid in full, we are in fact headed somewhere we have never been before. We are on course towards a massive and permanent increase in the size and scope of government: record spending, sky-high borrowing, and — inevitably — higher taxes…
If everything the budget foretells comes to pass, we might not come out too badly. A $34-billion deficit, after all, is only 2% of GDP, and even four years of deficits, if the budget’s projections hold, would barely budge our debt-to-GDP ratio. But if they do not — if the economy fails to recover on cue; if inflation spikes when it does, and interest rates soon after; if all those billions in new spending, once in place, do not prove so easy to trim back; if the assets the government acquires with all of its borrowed money do not turn out to be worth what they cost — then we will head into the approaching demographic storm loaded down to the gunwhales. It’s a monumental, even reckless gamble…
– A. Columnist, Maclean’s, Jan. 29, 2009
And indeed it is so. Why, in no time at all, a five-year timeline for getting out of deficit has gone from a budget-speech promise to an idea derided by Our Economist Prime Minister as “dumb.”
Recall that a few weeks ago, when Michael Ignatieff was still messing with Harper, he put four double-dare deal-breaker questions/demands/ultimata to the big guy. Only one was about improving EI by assigning Pierre Polilievre and Ryan Sparrow to the file (actually, it wasn’t even about that, though that’s the way the Prime Minister heard it); another was a demand/question/ultimatum that Harper explain how he planned to dig out of these immense deficits.
Now we have our answer. He won’t even bother to try. I believe it was Chantal Hébert who first wrote that, while many Canadian politicians claim to be socially progressive and fiscally conservative, Harper is turning out to be the opposite on both scales.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, May 8, 2009 at 10:19 PM - 15 Comments
In which Wells looks like he just stepped out of GQ, and I look like I just got out of jail. We discuss Mario Dumont’s possible resurfacing as a federal (and federalist?) Conservative, and Dalton McGuinty’s inability to understand basic economics, and uh, other stuff, but it’s not like any of you will be taking any of it in. It’s TV – all anyone notices is your hair.
By Paul Wells - Monday, March 16, 2009 at 8:12 AM - 72 Comments
From Chantal Hébert in Le Devoir (so it’s written in That Other Official Language), the most interesting column in ages: turns out the theatrical pout that constitutes Stephen Harper’s relationship with Jean Charest isn’t garden-variety spite, it is (Chantal supposes) strategic pro-active spite. And its goal is to ensure that the dastardly Charest, he of the multiple majorities, the sunny disposition, all the stuff that rubs our PM the wrong way – to ensure Charest never replaces Harper as Conservative leader.
While she makes her case, Chantal points out how scarce Conservatives-who-think-like-Charest have become in general across the federal Conservative movement. (By the way, this latter data point is Yet Another reason why, when your favourite member of the Ottawa Press Gallery rhymes off a list of potential Harper successors that’s topped by names like Prentice and MacKay, you should not pay too much attention).
It would be breathtaking indeed to think that poking sticks in Charest’s spokes might occupy any of Harper’s attention, when he has other stuff he could reasonably be working on. But it’s plausible enough to me. I wrote a book about Harper whose thesis was that by the end of 2001 he had grown tired of complaining, criticizing and intriguing, and wanted to reach out and build alliances for a change. What’s become increasingly obvious since I wrote that book is that the new, constructive Harper was a temporary case of a man playing profoundly against type; that he’s gone away; and that he will not be coming back.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 2:53 PM - 14 Comments
At last, at last, Chantal Hébert has a blog. Or rather, blogue.