By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
“Hostility to expertise in all of its forms,” an admitted sociologist ventured the other day, “is the closest thing that Canadian conservatives have to a unifying ideology.” This was not entirely fair. For instance, the Prime Minister’s first chief of staff was a professor. And that professor was very much interested in the study of winning elections.
“Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,” the professor once said. “It worked in the sense that by the end of the ’05-’06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us to win.”
But if the concern here is the application of expertise for the purposes of managing the national interest in a manner that reflects rigorous consideration, there is good news for pointy heads this day. On this, the second anniversary of the Harper government’s majority victory, a new day was heralded.
“Mr. Speaker, Conservative mismanagement is out of control. The President of the Treasury Board failed to protect the privacy of over a million Canadians and lost track of over $3 billion in security funding,” the NDP’s Mathieu Ravignat had charged. “What was he doing with this time one might ask? Apparently he was rebranding Government of Canada websites in Conservative Party blue. As if using department websites for political attacks was not enough, Conservatives have lowered the bar even further. Why are they not going after the missing $3 billion instead of rebranding government websites?”
Here the NDP seemed limited by low expectations. At the very least, we should hope that our government should have the wherewithal to do both.
“Mr. Speaker, we have already answered that,” Mr. Clement explained. “In fact, the Auditor General has already answered the question about the funds in question.”
Technically, the Auditor General has done no such thing. But let us not let that tiny detail obscure the moment that next came.
“But, let me answer about website colours. I would be happy to do so in the Chamber,” Mr. Clement now explained, smirking a bit and then leaning forward to read the iPad on his desk. “Apparently, different colours were tested with web specialists and it was found that blue worked best as a contrast to other aspects of the site and therefore blue was chosen.”
The Conservatives stood to cheer this explanation.
So blue just looks nice. It is not about matching official government advertising with partisan colour choice. It’s science. Or at least the considered opinion of those specialists who are specially trained and practiced at these things.
There might even be psychological grounds for the decision. Indeed, if blue is the colour of intellect and reliability, then perhaps the Conservatives are to be commended for deciding to associate such competence with government.
It is, granted, possibly too late to change Mr. Clement’s mind about safe-injection facilities or the census. But perhaps this new openness to specialized knowledge could lead the government to consult with criminologists about whether this guy should go to prison for three years in the interests of deterring crime.
Or perhaps specialists are not to be trusted with anything more than colour coordination. And winning elections.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 1:59 PM - 0 Comments
Here is Elizabeth May’s news conference on her bill to amend the Elections Act. Near the end, she claims that another MP might come forward to propose a similar bill.
Colin Horgan noted four weeks ago that the Reform party’s policy book in 1989 contained a similar sentiment.
“We believe in accountability of elected representatives to the people who elect them, and that the duty of elected members to their constituents should supersede their obligations to their political parties,” the 1989 Reform Party manifesto stated.
It also contained a proposal: “The Canada Elections Act must be amended to eliminate clauses which place Members of Parliament in a position beholden to their national Party Executive or Leader rather than their constituents (such as the provisions for the signing of nomination papers). This is essential.”
There is some reason to fret about what such a change might bring about.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explain the problem with the $3.1 billion in unaccounted-for anti-terrorism funding.
Given the sensitivity of this issue and the size of the amount missing, it is surprising that Treasury Board did not undertake a detailed analysis of what happened to this $3.1 billion, prior to the release of the Auditor General’s report. There was certainly sufficient time to do so. This would have saved the Government considerable embarrassment. Instead, it is viewed as a major blow to their credibility as sound managers of the public purse…
Once again the ability of Parliament to oversee government spending has been eroded. Parliament should ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) to undertake a review of the missing $3.1 billion. It simply cannot be shrugged off as “lacking clarity” and “bureaucratic error” and a claim that better controls will be put in place so that it won’t happen again.
The Prime Minister’s assertion yesterday was that “all spending has been reported and accounted for,” but no detailed accounting of the $3.1 billion has yet been released.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Officially, C-60, the first budget implementation act of the year, requires 128 pages to print. Government House leader Peter Van Loan gave notice yesterday that he’ll move a motion of time allocation today to limit debate at second reading to a total of five days.
We support efforts to help Crown Corporations manage public resources responsibly. We believe that this initiative may have unintended consequences on the successful operation of some corporations. It is important that these consequences are understood and addressed.
We will be writing to the Government to share our concerns about C-60, and to request a meeting to ensure that Ministers have accurate information on CBC/Radio-Canada’s record, both at managing public resources and delivering on its mandate.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, have tabled their proposal for splitting the bill. The motion was denied yesterday at the finance committee, but, for the record, here is what Peggy Nash proposed.
“That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, that Bill C-60, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures be amended by removing the following clauses:
a) clauses 136 to154 related to the Investment Canada Act;
b) clauses 161 to 166 related to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program;
c) clauses 174 to 199 related to the proposed Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act;
d) clauses 213 to 224 related to the National Capital Act and the Department of Canadian Heritage Act;
e) clauses 228 to 232 related to the Financial Administration Act and collective bargaining between Crown corporations and their employees;
That the clauses mentioned in section a) of this motion do compose Bill C-61; that Bill C-61 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology;
that the clauses mentioned in section b) of this motion do compose Bill C-62; that Bill C-62 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities;
that the clauses mentioned in section c) of this motion do compose Bill C-63; that Bill C-63 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development;
that the clauses mentioned in section d) of this motion do compose Bill C-64; that Bill C-64 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage;
that the clauses mentioned in section e) of this motion do compose Bill C-65; that Bill C-65 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates;
that Bill C-60 retain the status on the Order Paper that it had prior to the adoption of this Order; that Bill C-60 be reprinted as amended; and that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary to give effect to this motion.”
The Conservatives have said they would like different parts of the bill sent to different committees for study, but we don’t yet have the details of their proposal.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 4:16 PM - 0 Comments
Elizabeth May has just now tabled a bill that would remove the Elections Act’s requirement of a party leader’s endorsement for an individual to run in an election under a party banner, at least in ridings where a riding association exists to endorse the candidate.
Here is the full text of the bill. Bruce Hyer is apparently seconding it.
I wrote about Michael Chong’s suggestion of doing so two years ago. It would be, potentially, a very real and very significant change to the system.
Ms. May has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow morning to discuss her bill.
Update 6:30pm. One caveat: As has been noted, this is not the only bill Ms. May has on offer. She tells me she’s not sure yet if the above bill will be the one she brings forward when her turn arrives.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister again raised the notion of special deals for China yesterday as an explanation for the government’s decision to increase tariffs.
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure the leader of the Liberal Party understands the issue of tariffs. Let me be clear. The position of the government has been that we have progressively reduced a wide range of tariffs for all Canadians. Canadians have benefited from that to the tune of over half a billion dollars a year.
At the same time, we do not think it is appropriate to have special tariff reductions only for companies from countries like China. The Liberal Party apparently thinks that is appropriate. That is the wrong policy. The right policy is lower tariffs for Canadians and to ensure that Chinese companies pay their fair share.
That leaves only 51 other countries—the 71 other countries that are now subject to higher tariffs, minus the 20 who have trade deals with Canada—to account for.
Two weeks ago, Jim Flaherty suggested that increasing tariffs was about leverage in trade negotiations, but Mike Moffatt notes that Canada is only currently known to be negotiating trade deals with seven of the countries that are now subject to higher tariffs.
It also would seem to remain difficult to square the Harper government’s tariff increases with the Conservative party’s advertising in this regard.
In other news, Canada Border Services Agency has still so far failed to offer an explanation as to how imported iPods might be exempt from tariffs. It has been nearly three weeks since I asked.
See previously: A tax on imported blankets, The Commons: Ted Menzies challenges everyone to find a tax increase in the budget, A tax on bicycles, baby carriages and iPods, The Great iPod Tax Crisis of 2013, The iPod tax: The finance department responds, Will the Conservatives repeal the iPod tax?, Breaking news: Your imported hockey helmet will cost less and Letters from Justin
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 8:02 PM - 0 Comments
The parliamentary record counts 993 uses of the term “boondoggle” over the last 19 years before today. Here would be two more.
“Mr. Speaker, today’s Auditor General’s report is another scathing indictment of Conservative mismanagement,” Thomas Mulcair reported a few moments after Mr. Poilievre. “Conservatives have actually lost track of, wait for it… $3.1 billion.”
Lest this be confused with a mere $3.1 million, the NDP leader stressed that here was a word that began with a “b.”
“We all remember when the Liberals could not account for $1 billion in spending at HRSDC,” Mr. Mulcair mused. “Conservatives called it a $1 billion boondoggle.”
In fairness to poor Jane Stewart—and perhaps as a certain note of caution now—the billion-dollar boondoggle she came to be forever associated with was not actually worth nearly that much. Possibly it was something like $85,000. By one accounting, the total bill was $3,229. But then the “$3,229 boondoggle” is rather unalliterative.
“Will the Prime Minister hold his Minister of Public Safety accountable for this $3-billion boondoggle?” Mr. Mulcair asked, adopting something of a Preston Manning accent to pronounce this new boondoggle.
The Prime Minister stood here and declared all of this quite inaccurate. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 5:04 PM - 0 Comments
Nearer the end of Question Period this afternoon, the Speaker called on the Conservative MP for Vegreville-Wainwright and both Leon Benoit and another Conservative MP, Phil McColeman I believe, stood and began speaking. Only one of them, Mr. Benoit, is the member for Vegreville-Wainwright and eventually the other MP returned to his seat.
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber says Mr. Benoit was not on the government whip’s list of those backbenchers who would be asking questions this afternoon, meaning that Mr. Benoit had stood of his own volition, caught the Speaker’s eye and been recognized and possibly making him the first Conservative MP to do so since the Speaker’s ruling. Mr. Benoit has not yet confirmed as much himself, but here is the question he asked.
Mr. Speaker, development of our natural resources is very important for creating jobs, for adding to our economy, and for providing money for health care, education and other social programs. Opposition parties criticizing the government for not paying enough attention to protecting the environment as major projects like mines and pipelines are being developed are slowing this development, thus killing jobs and reducing funding for social programs. I would ask the Minister of Natural Resources for evidence that the government is in fact protecting the environment in the development of these major natural resource projects.
For the record, the response of Dave Anderson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources, was as follows.
Mr. Speaker, the National Energy Board in Canada is a strong, independent regulator. It is a world-class regulator that ensures pipeline safety. Our government has taken action to prevent pipeline accidents and to prove our ability to respond to any incidents that do occur. For example, we have increased the number of inspections of federally regulated pipelines by 50%. We have doubled the amount of annual audits. We have put forward new fines for companies that break Canada’s rigorous new environmental protections. We are there for Canadian communities. We are going to protect the environment and develop the economy at the same time.
Update 8:43am. Mr. Benoit’s office confirms he was not scheduled to ask a question.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:39 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair offered a simple premise.
“Mr. Speaker, a year ago the Conservatives created a new accelerated approval process for hiring temporary foreign workers,” the NDP leader offered. “They allowed them to be paid 15% less than Canadian workers doing the same job. That is an incentive to hire temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians. Today, Conservatives are begging Canadians to believe that this time they are really going to crack down, but Conservatives have not removed the incentive to hire temporary foreign workers. Why have they not changed the 15% rule? Their message is still, ‘Work for less or you’ll be replaced.’ ”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney rejected this premise entirely.
“As always on this matter, Mr. Speaker, the NDP is wrong,” Mr. Kenney declared. “I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition has been improperly briefed or whether he knows he is wrong when he says that the rules allow for foreign workers to be underpaid. That is not true. People cannot come into this country to work on work permits unless they are paid at the prevailing regional wage rate. However, of course, in every occupation there is a range and this allows for some people to be paid as long as Canadians are paid within that range, at the same wage level.”
That said, the answer to Mr. Mulcair’s actual question was apparently yes. Indeed, an hour and 45 minutes later, Mr. Kenney convened a news conference to declare that, a year after it was the introduced, the 15% rule was no more. Only, as Mr. Kenney explained, for entirely different reasons. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
The House is taking an hour this morning to debate Thomas Mulcair’s bill to amend the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s mandate. I asked Kevin Page about the bill in March.
Q: Tom Mulcair’s private member’s bill before the House to change the mandate for the PBO, do you think it goes far enough?
A: It would. It would go very far, in terms of correcting the problem that we’re experiencing right now. And I think what we’re seeing playing out right now is really just a problem of the legislation, which was not properly established. I was appointed by the Prime Minister, I work for this Prime Minister as a public servant. And I work at pleasure. Who really wants to work at pleasure? They would be more comfortable being dismissed by cause. And when you take a job and you’re appointed by a prime minister and you’re the watchdog of the finances of the prime minister’s government, at the get go, with the opposition, there’s not going to be trust. You can clean these things up and I think the private member’s bill starts to look at those issues.
So it would help and I think the issue of independence—I think there’s a lot of confusion about independence. For us, it’s not about being better or different, it’s really that we want people to know that this is our view. That’s why it’s so important for us, just like you, you put your name on your work, we put our names, individual authors, put their names on their work, people that peer review the papers put their names on their work. We want people to know this is our work and we want them to have a different data point. And so, within the library model, which is where we’re situated, that’s just not congruent. They need to provide confidential services to members of parliament who are looking at private member’s bills, policy development. Whereas I think in our model, people need to know that this is our work and so it’s very different business model. So I think the future’s not sustainable for us to be in a world where you have the parliamentary budget officer, I have this responsibility to the legislature for this mandate, but administratively I report through the librarian. So the librarian could say, you know, I don’t want you to have a website, I don’t want you to hire these people, I’m not signing off on that contract. And all of a sudden your independence is no longer there. And whereas I think for the five years, people have a strong sense that the work that we provided was our view, a PBO view. And that I would be held as responsible and I was also willing to be accountable for that work.
Q: Does it go far enough on the demand or the ability of the PBO to demand documentation from the government side?
A: There are different models in different countries that have much stronger access provisions. To me, it’s two things. There’s the force of legislation and the culture. If we don’t change the culture in this town right now, which is complete secrecy—nothing up on websites, sorry can’t talk to you—if we don’t change the culture to be more analytical, more open and transparent, we have a really big problem.
Stronger legislation helps. So if it’s clear that we’re operating within our sandbox, within the mandate and we ask for information, it should come. Over the last five years, we’ve used weak legislation, but we’ve done it in a very transparent way. So you know, Canadians know, members of parliament know, when we’re working on a project, I will write a letter to the deputy and it will say, we’re working on behalf of taxpayers, on behalf of these members of parliament, it’s within our mandate, here’s what we need to do our job. We’ll get a response back and that all gets posted on the website. So in the meantime, while we don’t have stronger legislation, we find the way to work in this environment is with complete transparency.
The Liberals, through a speech by Stephane Dion, say they will support Mr. Mulcair’s bill, but the government side, through a speech by Andrew Saxton, says it won’t support the bill on account of the additional costs it might impose—the Speaker has suggested it might require a royal recommendation—and because, in the government’s estimation, the current situation is apparently satisfactory. As a result, passing the bill at second reading would seem to require the support of a number of Conservative backbenchers.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 8:57 AM - 0 Comments
Brent Rathgeber says he’s interested in standing during Question Period and asking real questions of government ministers.
“Parliament exists to hold government to account,” he said. “I believe that some ministers, from time to time, have been disrespectful with respect to their expense accounts and I believe that some departments have budgets that are not justified in times of economic uncertainty where scarce resources are becoming scarcer,” Rathgeber said.
“So yes, it is my hope that I will be able to stand and ask a fair but challenging question on how the government spends taxpayer dollars,” the member from Edmonton-St. Albert said.
It is probably too much to hope for that such lobs should be entirely done away with. But it would be nice if those weren’t the only questions coming from the government backbench on a daily basis. Each afternoon, between 2:15pm and 3:00pm, nearly every MP in Ottawa is in attendance. Most of them with nothing to do except clap for their side and jeer the other. They might at least have the option of standing at their own discretion to ask a question.
The full episode of The House is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:05 PM - 0 Comments
There was some anger, to be sure, but there was just as much guffawing and as many furrowed brows over the wish of these MPs to discuss abortion … These MPs wished to discuss an issue that their party leadership and the media have deemed out of bounds. Rather than defend the rights of MPs to bring their views into debate and to eventually have them put to a vote, we are subjected to commentary that the prime minister needs to exercise more control over his caucus. We are told that MPs should be allowed to speak, but perhaps not on this issue. What other issues are off limits remains to be seen.
MPs come to Ottawa understanding that they serve at the pleasure of their leader. Those same leaders act virtually free of constraints. When MPs assert their rights, it is portrayed as a party in disarray and as leaders losing control when in fact it is actually parliamentary democracy in action. Acknowledging that MPs can rise to their feet and be recognized to speak without their party’s approval is surely a gain for our Parliament. But it will move our democracy only an inch rather than a mile if we do not equally free MPs from the things that keep them off their feet.
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber says he intends to stand.
I have been asked by several media outlets whether I intend to avail myself to this reestablished opportunity. The answer is “yes,” though I have not yet done so. The reason (and I believe the reason is important to an understanding as to why we have noticed only incremental change in the operation of the House) for this is that a rediscovered right or opportunity should not be deployed capriciously or in a cavalier manner. I did not advocate for a Member’s ability to speak freely just so that Members could speak merely to hear the sound of their own voices. They should reserve the opportunity and indeed the privilege to speak in the House to occasions when they have something substantial to say.
But Members must avail themselves of that ability to attempt to be recognized on occasions when that Member has something important to say, because the right to speak freely in this House was not so much taken away by the leadership as it was voluntarily ceded. So it is up to us now…
Peter calls the Speaker’s ruling a “hollow” victory. I think it’s probably more accurately described as a small victory—one that could take on more significance if MPs are willing to make use of it.
The basic problem is an imbalance of power. At present, it is the party leader who possess an overwhelming amount of it. When Mark Warawa stood on a question of privilege, he was openly questioning this dynamic. Nine other government backbenchers followed suit and did likewise. Those acts alone were significant in that they demonstrated a degree of independence and empowerment.
It is possible, I suppose, that someone on the government side had some inkling that simply standing up during the time reserved for statement by members would have allowed MPs to subvert the list prepared by their party whip. Mr. Warawa says he had no idea. Regardless, when the Speaker stood and ruled as he did, it was an official and public acknowledgement and invitation: an important statement from the authority of the Speaker’s throne that the whip and his list do not prevent MPs from performing the physical act of standing. If, as it seemed, Mark Warawa’s subsequent threat to stand without official approval resulted in him being put on the whip’s list, that was a specific victory for Mr. Warawa: a concession from his party’s leaders that they did not wish to be publicly subverted. Going forward, any backbencher who is told he cannot stand and speak, as Mr. Warawa was, can plausibly threaten to stand of his or her own volition.
Of course, the system of incentives—the political and media pressures—that existed before the Speaker’s ruling still exists now. And there is much more that might be done to achieve a more healthy balance between the party leader and the MP, the executive and the legislature. But over the last few weeks, ten government backbenchers stood and asked the Speaker to confirm their rights as individual members of the legislature and the Speaker responded with a public assurance that they could stand at their own discretion. That is a small, but potentially useful, victory.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 6:32 PM - 0 Comments
It was just two weeks ago, asked about Alberta’s carbon tax, that Peter Kent was moved to muse aloud about a contentious and contested topic. “There hasn’t,” he ventured, “been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing.”
Perhaps this lack of subtlety is something like the root cause of our current impasse. Or perhaps this is no time for nuance.
The foreign press is now referring to Joe Oliver as the Canadian “oil minister, which is terribly unfair to the trees and rocks and water he is also responsible for making use of. Of a year-old op-ed, Mr. Oliver is accusing a NASA scientist of “crying wolf” and suggesting that James Hansen ”should be chaining himself to a mannequin in Rodeo Drive,” which would be pointless unless the mannequin was itself nailed down. And now another scientist is likening Mr. Oliver to “a Shetland pony in the Kentucky Derby,” who is “making Canada look like a country full of jerks,” which is terribly unfair to at least the three or four of us who aren’t.
It was on something like this note that Mr. Mulcair stood to harangue the government side this afternoon. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 6:01 PM - 0 Comments
With the vote breaking along party lines—Liberals and New Democrats in favour, Conservatives opposed—the Liberal proposal to amend the standing order related to statements by members was defeated this evening by a vote of 150-96
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair: For over a year, the Conservatives have refused to tell Canadians the truth about their devastating austerity measures. According to the law, the new Parliamentary Budget Officer must have access to all the financial information she needs to inform parliamentarians and Canadians. The courts clearly said that they will intervene if the Conservatives do not comply. My question is simple. Will the Prime Minister finally show some transparency by requiring his ministers to provide all the required information?
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to see the court decision against the partisan action of the former Parliamentary Budget Officer and the leader of the NDP. This government created the position. We provide information on a regular basis and we will continue to do so.
Nonetheless, with that ruling in hand, the interim Parliamentary Budget Officer is now sending letters to 84 departments and agencies of the federal government to request information on the Harper government’s budget cuts.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Yesterday afternoon’s debate on the Liberal proposal for statements by members starts here—with this question of how the Speaker would be impacted being a point of some conflict. The debate on Brad Trost’s motion to have the House of Commons elect committee chairs starts here.
Meanwhile, John Ivison talks to two Conservatives about the Speaker’s ruling and Mark Warawa’s statement yesterday.
“My view is that our rights as MPs have been affirmed,” said one MP, explaining why Conservative MPs did not spend Question Period bouncing up and down with their hands raised like over-eager students.
Mr. Warawa was clearly of the same mind — being recognized by the Speaker was victory enough, without having to rub the leadership’s nose in it. “Mark’s a good man, not a rebel,” said one of his colleagues. “The local issue is, in its own way, a statement against PMO control, without being provocative.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
At 2pm, the Speaker’s parade—a ceremonial photo op, a silly show of hallowed tradition—proceeded down the West corridor of Centre Block toward the House of Commons. Preceded by one marching guard and flanked by three more—To protect the Speaker from what? A sneak attack by the Queen?—strode the sergeant-at-arms, carrying the large golden mace that must be in place for the House to conduct its business, and the Speaker and his clerks in their three-cornered hat and robes. Once the official party was safely inside, the large wooden doors were shut and the official business of the nation began for another day.
Something like a dozen reporters had gathered at the gallery door, anxiously waiting for the House to be called to order. This was something like four times the usual attendance—the larger crowd here in anticipation that one of the duly elected adults sent here to represent the people of this country might stand up in his or her place without having first obtained the permission of the party leader he or she is supposed to support. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 12:28 PM - 0 Comments
Chris Selley questions the Liberal motion on statements by members and notes that Justin Trudeau’s interest in freedom for MPs doesn’t include the freedom to pursue a new law on abortion.
But it’s not just that Mr. Trudeau is trying to foment dissent within the Conservative ranks on a very basic and important point of privilege (which is certainly fair play, but not exactly Doing Politics Differently). It’s that he agrees with the subcommittee on private member’s business that quashed Mr. Warawa’s motion in the first place. “[I’m] committed to giving MPs more freedom to represent Canadians, but MPs would be required to support Canadians’ fundamental rights,” he tweeted a while back. “For me, a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right.” (He seemed to be suggesting that the motion ran afoul of the Charter, which is absurd.)
In other words, Mr. Trudeau is not so much standing up for MPs’ freedom to discuss and debate issues, or for Parliament as the proper venue for same, as MPs’ right to make embarrassing statements that he can then use against them. It’s very likely that at least a few Liberals would vote for a private member’s motion condemning sex-selective abortion, and he couldn’t have that, could he? It would ruin his angle of attack.
This goes to both Mr. Trudeau’s promised democratic reforms and the larger discussion about abortion and democracy. It’s actually possible that all three party leaders in the House—Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair—are in agreement on this point: no votes in the House about anything to do with abortion.
Jeff Jedras has argued that the Liberals should whip any vote related to abortion: that if the party has taken a pro-choice position, its MPs should adhere to that position. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau basically agrees with Jeff. At least so long as none of his MPs decide to pursue a bill or motion related to abortion and Mr. Harper is able to block any Conservative MP from doing likewise, he might never have to enforce such discipline. But should such a motion or bill reach the floor, if Mr. Harper or his successor should allow that to happen or prove unable to stop it, Mr. Trudeau will be put in a bit of a spot. When Motion 312 reached the floor last fall, four Liberals voted in favour. Were something like Motion 312 to reach the floor now, what would Mr. Trudeau say to someone like John McKay?
McKay, one of four Grit MPs who voted in favour of a motion calling for a review of “when life begins” this week, is outraged over the suggestion debate should on stifled. “It is going to be discussed, and it is going to keep coming up and it is failure of political will to actually deal with it,” McKay told reporters outside the Commons Friday.
Although the Liberals circulated a petition against the motion put forward by backbench Tory MP Stephen Woodworth, interim leader Bob Rae allowed caucus members to vote freely. “I don’t like to go against my colleagues or the platform of the Liberal party. It is not a lot of fun but Mr. Rae had the wisdom to say these are matters of conscience and views,” McKay said. “I think I actually have an informed view. I think my opinion should count for something and I am sick and tired of people refusing to discuss what is a foundational issue in this country.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 5:50 PM - 0 Comments
As the Speaker proceeded through his ruling on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege this afternoon, Michael Chong, the cabinet minister turned parliamentary agitator who last week spoke in support of Mr. Warawa’s appeal and who currently sits directly in front of Mr. Warawa on the government side of the House, periodically nodded and smiled.
Officially, there was nothing for Mr. Warawa or his supporters or any agitators for a more perfect parliament to smile about. On the strict question of whether Mr. Warawa’s privileges as a member of parliament had been breached, the Speaker found no such prima facie case.
Unofficially, Mr. Warawa, his supporters and all willing agitators have been invited to stand and, in doing so, change the rules by which we understand our parliamentary democracy in some small, but significant, way. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
A statement from the office of Sonia L’Heureux, the parliamentary librarian and interim parliamentary budget officer, on yesterday’s Federal Court decision.
Sonia L’Heureux, the Parliamentary Budget Officer on an interim basis, is pleased that the Federal Court of Canada has rendered a timely decision regarding the questions raised by the PBO in responding to Mr. Mulcair’s request for analysis.
In its decision, the Federal Court has said that the statutory mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) includes estimating the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction when requested to do so by a member of the Senate or House of Commons.
In light of the Court’s decision, the PBO intends to request the information required in order to respond to the request from Mr. Thomas Mulcair, M.P. We expect that the requested information will be duly provided by the government departments and agencies. If a dispute arises, the Court has said it will be available to assist with its resolution.
This is the request that hadn’t been officially made—Kevin Page was asking the court to determine whether his mandate entitled him to such documents before making the request of the government. The court essentially ruled that it couldn’t rule in the absence of such a request. Mr. Mulcair’s reading yesterday of a larger victory might now be tested.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 9:01 AM - 0 Comments
Shortly after Dominic LeBlanc had said his piece yesterday, Independent MP Bruce Hyer, formerly of the NDP, stood to add his support to Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.
Before the third reading vote on the long gun registry bill, for example, I was informed by the whip of my former party that if I did not vote as the party wished, then I would be “punished”. After that vote I was instantly punished: no questions, no statements, no foreign travel, no committee representation, no debating time other than asking brief questions of party debaters.
However, I was not really the one who was punished by the party and by our system here. It was the constituents of Thunder Bay—Superior North who were punished. Their voice in the House of Commons was muzzled. The person they had elected was no longer able to speak for them, to ask their questions and to raise their concerns and aspirations.
Tomorrow will be exactly one year to the day since I became an independent. I was scheduled that day to have my first S. O. 31 statement since my punishment had begun. Somehow the party found out that I would use my statement to announce my becoming independent. In the few minutes before my scheduled speaking time, they asked the Speaker to pull my statement, and the Speaker complied. However, now, as an independent, I and my constituents do get a reasonable and adequate number of questions and statements.
The similarities between my experience and that of the member for Langley are striking. We must all recognize that we have developed a problem in Parliament of excessive party control, and we must move to fix the problem before it erodes our democracy any further.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:19 PM - 0 Comments
At noon, the House moved to government orders. To present S-7, the Combatting Terrorism Act, stood Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety.
“In closing,” she concluded shortly thereafter, “I would like to express my deepest condolences to all of those who have suffered as a result of the despicable acts that occurred in Boston this last week. The way that the city has come together has been an inspiration for all of us. They have shown the world that fear would not define them and I would hope that Canadians, if such a thing would happen, would do the same thing.”
So let us say that it is not fear, but general awareness of fearsome possibility that guides us now.
“At the same time, I would like to say that it is so important to ensure that Canada has the necessary laws and tools to prevent such a heinous attack,” Ms. Bergen continued. “We want to make sure that we are fully prepared and that we can combat terrorism and possible future terrorist acts, as well as making sure that anyone who has been involved in terrorist acts in Canada is dealt with. We have to ensure that the evildoers are met with the justice that they deserve. Otherwise, we as parliamentarians have failed our most basic duty: To protect Canadians.”
Up first was Charlie Angus, who quibbled with nothing less than the fact that this debate was happening now. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 4:54 PM - 0 Comments
The Liberals had said they wouldn’t get involved in Mark Warawa’s question of privilege, but after Question Period today, Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc stood to make a submission. He expressed his support for Mr. Warawa’s cause, but also asked that the Speaker to “resist” ruling on that question of privilege until the House has had a chance to debate and vote on the related Liberal motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am intervening with respect to the question of privilege that was brought before the House by the member for Langley. Without any doubt, freedom of speech for members of Parliament is paramount in any democracy. In fact, you will be very familiar with this text, Mr. Speaker. Erskine May’s 19th edition states: “The freedom of speech is a privilege essential to every free council or legislature”.
Mr. Speaker, the sheer number of interventions you have had on this question clearly displays the considerable concern surrounding the current management of members’ statements. That concern is reflected clearly on all sides of the House.
The Liberal Party has until now not intervened in this question of privilege. I want to make it clear, on behalf of my colleagues, I am rising to intervene in support of the concerns raised by the member for Langley and I do so with the proviso that perhaps a solution is at hand, a solution that may negate your needing to find a prima facie breach of privilege.
As you will know, Mr. Speaker, the leader of my party, the member for Papineau, gave notice late last week of a motion that in our view would resolve the issue and perhaps lead the member for Langley to conclude that his question of privilege need not be debated in the House and subsequently at the procedures and House affairs committee.
We had hoped to be able to debate the motion today. The motion from my colleague, the member for Papineau, would take control of members’ statements away from the party whips, every party whip including our own, and give it back to members themselves because we believe that it is very important for members to be able to rise in the House in a consistent and reliable way to represent their constituents and speak for the women and men who have elected them and sent them here to this chamber.
We had been told in last Thursday’s statement by the government House leader that we would have a Liberal opposition day today and therefore the House would have been seized of this very issue today. Unfortunately, the government decided to change the order of the proceedings today. We would have preferred to be discussing this today, but we are hopeful that in the coming days, perhaps even this week, the House will again be seized with the motion from my colleague from Papineau.
The motion, from our perspective, and I hope from other colleagues as well, would provide not only direction to the Chair by, we hope, changing the actual standing orders, but would reduce the need for the question of privilege to continually be debated in the House and for the procedure and House affairs committee, which is currently dealing with the rather lengthy and complicated electoral boundaries reports from each province, to take up its time with this particular matter.
The question of privilege has been before the House for several weeks. There have been regular interventions from members on all sides. Mr. Speaker, I would urge you, and believe it would be prudent for you, to wait only a few more days in the hope that the House is able to pronounce itself through a vote on the motion presented by the Liberal Party on an opposition day, which we believe may, in a very common sense and democratic way, resolve the issue. A ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, before the House has had a chance to speak and to vote on this Liberal motion could in fact lead to the procedure and House affairs committee’s important work on electoral boundaries being delayed. I think there is no better way than to get the consensus of the House in a stand up vote on a thoughtful, democratic motion brought forward on an opposition day.
Therefore, I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to resist ruling on this question of privilege, to give the House, I hope, in the coming days a chance to pronounce itself on a motion that we think is very important to restore the democracy of this House of Commons and Canadians’ faith in their elected representatives to speak on their behalf at every available opportunity in this chamber.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:47 AM - 0 Comments
This wording, if accurate, imports the word “Party” previously absent from the Standing Order; importing the concept of Party seems to run contrary to the stated intent of the Motion, to remove the control and vetting of SO 31s from the Parties. More troubling, the draft seems to infer (or at least is open to the interpretation of) equality of parties. It appears the proposed rotation would be on a Party basis, meaning that all Parties would have equal, not proportional, slots. That would certainly advantage parties with smaller caucuses, whereas the current system appropriately distributes spots proportionally to the size of the caucus. Mathematically, the 8 Independents would similarly get 25% of the rotation; accordingly each would get to deliver a Member’s Statement approximately every other day.
The awkward wording aside, it is also unclear that the Motion is well intentioned. It has been suggested that its entire purpose is to “wedge” Members such as myself, who have been vocal in favour of Parliamentary Reform, to vote in favour of the Motion, possibly against the wishes of our Leadership. Regardless, the whole Motion could be pre-empted and deemed moot by a positive ruling from the Speaker. I have argued in the House that the current Standing Order 31 is actually quite clear and as written, does not support Party or Whip vetting. If the Speaker so rules and provides appropriate direction, that would be a preferable outcome to amending the Standing Order unnecessarily and especially using unclear wordage that denotes equality of Parties rather than equality of Members.