By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
A little more of the back story to this week’s news about Thomas Mulcair and the envelope.
In November 2010, Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Menard, since retired, alleged that, in 1993, he was offered a cash-filled envelope by the mayor of Laval. On November 16, 2010, Mr. Mulcair—nearer the end of a news conference with Pat Martin about Louis Riel—was asked about the controversy.
Two questions for Mr. Mulcair. One, you might have heard of allegations of the mayor of Laval handing out cash in envelopes. Were you ever offered cash in an envelope by the mayor of Laval? Did you ever see cash in envelopes around the mayor of Laval?
Mr. Mulcair responded as follows.
No. And one thing preoccupies me with that is that a person who went on to become justice minister and public security minister, felt that he wouldn’t do anything about it. In my career, the only time anybody ever came up to me with an issue they described had happened to them, that would’ve constituted an offence, I invited the person to go to the police and when they said they weren’t sure if they could do that, I said that I would do it myself and I did. And it had nothing to do, by the way, with Laval city hall. It was an issue involving somebody in the work that I was doing at the time. So I’ll leave it to you to sort out the different versions that are no doubt going to come out today. But all I can say is, as a citizen, I’m worried with regard to our democratic institutions when someone who went on to become justice minister and public security minister says he didn’t seem to have anything he could do about it and in regard to those institutions I think it’s a serious preoccupation for all of us.
As the Canadian Press noted yesterday and the Globe’s Daniel LeBlanc notes in his story, whether Mr. Mulcair saw what was in the envelope that the mayor of Laval alleged brandished during the 1994 meeting—apparently before Mr. Mulcair was elected, for whatever that is worth—is a matter of some debate. But the Conservatives seem to be trying to chide Mr. Mulcair now in a similar fashion to the way Mr. Mulcair chided Mr. Menard in 2010.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 5:20 PM - 0 Comments
In the wake of a report from La Presse about Thomas Mulcair’s statements to police about a meeting with former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the NDP released a statement from Mr. Mulcair this morning.
In early 2011, I met with the police in order to help in their investigation.
I gave to them my account of a meeting I had with Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt dating back to 1994.
As is indicated, I effectively and immediately ended the meeting with Mr. Vaillancourt.
This matter is currently before the courts and I will therefore avoid further comment.
The Conservatives followed that with a statement from Peter Van Loan.
The Canadian Press summarizes.
A statement from House Leader Peter Van Loan accused Mulcair of remaining silent about corruption for two decades. It also accused him of lying during a 2010 press conference, when he said he had never been offered a bribe during his time in Quebec politics…
It’s unclear whether Mulcair was in fact lying on Nov. 16, 2010, when a journalist asked at an Ottawa press conference whether he had ever been offered cash envelopes by Vaillancourt and he said: “No.” The report in La Presse said Mulcair told police he’d actually left the 1994 meeting without opening, or accepting, a white envelope and did not know for sure that there was cash inside.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
The prepared text of the NDP leader’s speech to the Economic Club of Canada comes in at 3,397 words. Nineteen of those words are “together.” Here are all of the sentences containing the word.
And thank you to the Economic Club of Canada for this opportunity to talk about how, together, we can build a brighter future for this city and for of all our cities…
Then all of us, business and labour, local, provincial and federal governments, Torontonians from Scarborough to Etobicoke, will have to work together. Because when we work together, when we dream together and when we act together, there’s no stopping this city…
We’ll have to work hard and we’ll have to work together. But together, we can build a future for Toronto, a future for all Canadian cities that will create opportunity and prosperity not just for a few of us but for each and every one of us. A city as great and as complex as Toronto only works when it all works together. That means business, labour and government working together. It means every level of government working together…
The NDP will take action on day one, and together, we will get the job done…
And another area where it is key for all levels of government to work together—especially through the CMHC…
By working together, this extraordinary city can continue to thrive … Together, we can take this city to new heights. Together, we can build a brighter, greener future. And, together, we can put cities and communities like Toronto back at the heart of our national agenda. There’s no clearer case of either the necessity or the opportunity for us to work together than the Toronto Portlands.
To work together and build together.
There were seven uses of “together” in Mr. Mulcair’s speech to the NDP convention last month. Make of this what you will.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:24 PM - 0 Comments
And so it has been nearly three years since we, the previously vulnerable people of this vast land, were freed from the tyranny of the most-accurate data. Nearly three years since Tony Clement took a stand against all those interested in a particularly reliable basis for understanding the demographics of this country. Nearly three years since the Harper government vowed that Canadians should not be made to answer questions that no one seems to have been interested in asking.
And yet, oddly, with the release today of the results of the National Household Survey, that tribute to personal freedom and individual rights, Thomas Mulcair seemed rather uncelebratory.
“Mr. Speaker, today we have begun to see the consequences of the Conservatives’ backward decision to kill the mandatory long form census,” the NDP leader declared this afternoon. “Experts at StatsCan have confirmed that the data in the Conservatives’ new survey is deeply flawed. It contains contradictory information and 30% of Canadian families did not even bother filling it out. That is five times more than the last census.”
It seemed here that Mr. Mulcair had decided to hate freedom.
“The Prime Minister is not just satisfied to make public policy based on flawed information, that is his goal,” Mr. Mulcair ventured. “We have been calling on the Conservatives to reinstate the mandatory long form census for over three years. Will the Prime Minister finally listen?”
To listen, of course, is one thing. To heed is quite another. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 4:16 PM - 0 Comments
The New Democrats will ask the House of Commons on Thursday to demand documentation related to the $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funding that the Auditor General has questioned.
That, in light of $3.1 billion of missing funds outlined in Chapter Eight of the 2013 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada, an order of the House do issue for the following documents from 2001 to the present, allowing for redaction based on national security: (a) all Public Security and Anti-Terrorism annual reports submitted to the Treasury Board Secretariat; (b) all Treasury Board submissions made as part of the Initiative; (c) all departmental evaluations of the Initiative; (d) the Treasury Board corporate database established to monitor funding; that these records be provided to the House in both official languages by June 17, 2013; that the Speaker make arrangements for these records to be made available online; and that the Auditor-General be given all necessary resources to perform an in-depth forensic audit until the missing $3.1 billion is found and accounted for.
In terms of the vote on that motion, I wonder for now what argument the government could make for opposing this motion.
Thomas Mulcair asked the Prime Minister during QP this afternoon if the government would support the NDP motion, but the Prime Minister offered no direct response. I’ve asked Tony Clement’s office if the government will be supporting the motion, but have not yet received a response.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:09 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, Thomas Mulcair recalled, it was discovered that the Conservatives had lost track of $3.1 billion. The Auditor General, Mr. Mulcair declared, has regularly suggested that the Conservatives be more transparent. And so what, Mr. Mulcair wondered, have the Conservatives done to date to find that $3.1 billion.
Jason Kenney, leading the Conservatives this day, was unimpressed.
“Mr. Speaker, as usual,” Mr. Kenney lamented, “the question of the honourable Leader of the Opposition is not fair.”
Life, alas, is not fair. But protesting that fact tends to be counter-productive.
The Auditor General, Mr. Kenney explained, had said that the money hadn’t been used in a way in which it should not have been. Thus, it is all good.
Mr. Mulcair, mostly eschewing his notes to engage the government side directly and with the benefit of something the government seems unable to account for, was confidently unpersuaded. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 12:29 PM - 0 Comments
In an essay for Policy Options, Thomas Mulcair lays out his vision for resource development.
Within a framework of sustainable development — including a cap-and-trade system and thorough environmental assessments — New Democrats would prioritize our own energy security and with it the creation of high-paying, value-added jobs, refining and upgrading our own natural resources right here in Canada — just as other resource-rich developed nations like Norway already have.
With unused refining capacity in eastern Canada already available, increasing west-east capacity is, in fact, a win-win-win — better prices for producers (and higher royalties for provinces), more jobs here at home and greater energy security for all Canadians. Shouldn’t that be Canada’s top priority for natural resource development?
As we move to seize these opportunities at home, we must also foster the international trade and foreign investment relationships that will ensure we have the capacity to meet them. In the past two years alone, state-owned Chinese companies like PetroChina and CNOOC have invested more than $25 billion in the Canadian oil and gas sector. That trend is expected only to grow.
New Democrats support breaking down trade barriers, lowering tariffs and reducing protectionism. We believe that government has a role to play in creating the predictability and clarity that potential investors count on. But we also believe that our government must stand first and foremost for Canadian interests, rather than ideological purity.
Mr. Mulcair actually mentions cap-and-trade twice, in the first reference he describes the NDP proposal as “a comprehensive upstream cap-and-trade system.”
A couple weeks ago, I noted the problems with the European carbon market and some questions about the future of carbon-pricing in Canada. I then sent those questions around to a few people. Here is a response from PJ Partington and Clare Demerse with the Pembina Institute. Continue…
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 Martin Patriquin - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:02 PM - 0 Comments
Martin Patriquin on the NDP leader’s unexpected constitutional quest
Thomas Mulcair is supposed to be on a charm offensive.
Since taking the helm of the NDP, the bearded Beaconsfieldian has done much to make himself and his party more electable. He bled the NDP constitution of the word ‘socialism’, started saying words like “entrepreneur” and “middle class” a whole lot, and punted the party’s pesky far-left fringes. On the personal front, Mulcair has buttoned his renowned temper, something a Quebec NDP higher-up told me came as a result of a “concerted effort” from both the party and Mulcair himself.
The results have been impressive. The party maintained relatively solid PJE (Pre-Justin Era) numbers—a remarkable feat for a party that lost Jack Layton, its most successful leader, at the height of his popularity. In Quebec, where most politicos and commentators figured the orange crush would fade as quickly as it came, Mulcair has remained well ahead of the Bloc Québécois and the PJE Liberals nearly two years after the federal election. Dippers approved of him to the resounding tune of 93.2 per cent during the recent convention in Montreal. Having shed (or at least closeted) his dreaded Hulk persona, Tom is more often seen looking rested and pleasant. He has every reason to be as much.
Which is why Mulcair’s recent Supreme Court sortie is all the more perplexing. The details—I’ll be quick, so as to avoid narcolepsy—go like this: a fellow wrote a book suggesting former (and very dead) Supreme Court Justice Bora Laskin leaked details of judicial proceedings regarding the repatriation of the constitution to the Liberal government of the time. Predictably, the news caused a near-riot in certain Quebec circles, with much of the province’s politicos, commentators and the National Assembly calling for an investigation. Mulcair quickly joined in. “What we’re doing is standing up foursquare in defence of the independence of the Supreme Court,” he said. “Canadians are entitled to have a full answer to these important questions.”
Should there be an investigation? I haven’t the foggiest. Smarter people than I have wondered out loud whether such a thing is merited. What I find weird is how Mulcair’s dive into ancient constitutional matters flies in the face of his own and his party’s studied, deliberate makeover. The cliché, and it applies here, is that Quebec-related constitutional chatter seriously annoys Canadians outside of Quebec. Were this only the case, Mulcair could arguably say he’s placating his power base in Quebec. But there’s a second, not-at-all unexpected part of the equation: Quebecers themselves seemingly don’t care about constitutional matters.
Beyond the PQ government and Quebec’s cloistered nationalist set, the Laskin Affair (it barely deserves capital letters) has barely even registered in the province. “In Quebec, after one week, you’d have to do a top 200 search of the headlines to find it,” Jean-François Dumas, of the media monitoring firm Influence Communication, told me. This so irked Le Devoir’s Michel David that he penned a column lamenting Quebecer’s distinct lack of fury. “It’s springtime, the Canadiens are in the playoff, it’s time to move on to other things, no?” He asked, tongue jammed into his cheek. Mulcair should take the advice. In taking on the legitimacy of an ancient Supreme Court decision, the NDP leader has seemingly managed to find the one issue that irritates Canadians and bores Quebecers in equal measure.
And it isn’t the first time. Just this winter Mulcair challenged that other dull thud, the Clarity Act, by pushing for a 50-per-cent-plus-one threshold for Quebec separation. Mulcair was duly thumped at the time, and we haven’t heard anything on the subject since.
The question is: why does Tom Mulcair keep straying from the script of a perfectly effective makeover? Is he trying to appeal to would-be Bloc Québécois voters? If so, he shouldn’t. The Bloc is in deep trouble, even beyond its dismal poll numbers: never a fundraising powerhouse, it will arguably suffer the most once the per-vote subsidy is fully eliminated in 2015. Is he worried about hanging on to Quebec’s (inherently nationalist) lefty vote? Maybe, but with the Bloc hobbled, the NDP’s real fight in Quebec is with the Liberals. And any Quebecer reconsidering the Liberals isn’t likely going to care a hoot about the Constitution, 50-percent-plus-one or anyone named Bora Laskin.
I can’t help but think that Mulcair’s flights of fancy are a product of another aspect of his personality, the one in which he lashes out at whatever he deems a threat. If this is the case, then Hulkair clearly has his blinkered eyes on Justin Trudeau. He sees what everyone else sees: that the Constitution business—a vestige of Trudeau père—dovetailed with Justin Trudeau’s rise to the Liberal throne, making it plunderable political fodder. Hulkair must see how the Conservatives have all but dropped Mulcair from their sights—when was the last time you saw a Mulcair attack ad?—focusing instead on the inexperienced leader of a third party that was supposedly on its deathbed not two years ago. He sees how the polls suggest Justin has stunted the NDP’s ascendancy.
Hulkair sees, and Hulkair smashes. Pity that poor charm offensive.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 1:59 PM - 0 Comments
Further to Mr. Mulcair’s concerns about the Supreme Court, Francoise Boivin wrote to the other parties to ask that they support the NDP’s call for disclosure. Stephane Dion has now responded for the Liberals.
On behalf of the Liberal caucus, thank you for your letter dated April 29, 2013.
In your letter, you suggested that the Liberal caucus join the New Democratic Party in asking the Conservative government what its response will be to the motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly on April 16, 2013.
This motion calls for the federal government to release archived documents related to the constitutional negotiations which led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.
However, the federal government has already stated that it does not intend to give policy directives to civil servants responsible for the application of the Access to Information Act.
We would like the government to hold firm in this respect. The Conservatives already have a tendency to politicize everything; there is no need to encourage them in this bad habit. The last thing we should do is politicize the application of the Access to Information Act.
We believe this act should be strengthened; however, this should be done as part of a global legislative review and not in response to one specific request for information.
In your letter, you criticize the Supreme Court. Your leader, Mr. Mulcair, took things one step further by accusing the Supreme Court of never having had the intention to seriously investigate the allegations of inappropriate communications between judges and members of the executive branch in 1981.
We are distancing ourselves from these irresponsible and unfounded comments. There is no doubt in our minds that the Supreme Court investigated as it should.
We suggest that you leave history to historians. But, let’s not be naïve: separatist leaders have a vested interest in reinforcing the idea of a scheme in the minds of Quebeckers in order to undermine their confidence in the Supreme Court, in Canada and in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
To summarize, your leader has demonstrated irresponsibility on three fronts by attempting to politicize the application of an act, by criticizing the Supreme Court without foundation and by playing the game of separatist leaders.
If the NDP wants to play that game, it will have to play it with the Bloc alone once again.
Hon. Stéphane Dion, MP
Liberal Democratic Reform and Intergovernmental Affairs critic
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
Over the weekend, Emmett Macfarlane questioned the wisdom of Thomas Mulcair’s decision to question the Supreme Court in regards to new questions around the Patriation Reference.
Yesterday, after QP, Mr. Mulcair was questioned about all of this.
What we’re doing is standing up foursquare in defence of the independence of the Supreme Court. We want to make sure that these documents that Canada does have are made public, that all this is put in the full light of day. We have a version that has come to us from England, full documents that have been provided to a Canadian historian. We want to make sure that the Canadian documents are put out as well. I wasn’t the only person to note that a laconic press release of several lines on a Friday afternoon at 4:30 didn’t do a lot to reassure people but that’s why we’re continuing the work today. Françoise Boivin, our Justice Critic, has written to the other parties, not only the official parties represented in the House but also to the Bloc and to Madame May of the Greens to make sure that everyone is requested. So we’ve asked all parties to help us move forward and get the full answer to this. That is the fundamental question here. It’s respect of our judicial institution to make sure that the separation of powers is fully respected in our country and that’s what we’re hoping to get an answer on…
What we’re trying to do is to establish whether the version that has been provided by Great Britain in very concrete documents is exactly what is borne through by the Canadian documents that do exist. We know that. They’ve just been blanked out, redacted, I guess is the word. So we want to make sure that those full documents are put forward for public view so people understand what took place. It’s important to defend our democratic institutions, to defend the independence of the judiciary and of course above all the independence of the Supreme Court from interference or communication between the executive and the judiciary.
Look, all you have to note is the fact that we had a Native Affairs Minister who recently stepped down for having written to the tax court. There have been cases of Liberals and Conservatives before that with communication between the court. That independence of the judiciary has to operate both ways. We’re standing up foursquare in defence of the independence of the judiciary. We want all Canadians to know if the Canadian documents confirm what has already been provided by Great Britain.
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 Emmett Macfarlane - Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:56 PM - 0 Comments
An unnecessary tempest over the Patriation Reference
Late Friday the Supreme Court released a statement regarding its internal investigation into allegations—published in a recent book by scholar Frédéric Bastien—that two of its justices made inappropriate disclosures about the Court’s deliberations regarding the 1981 patriation reference case.
Drawing on documents obtained from the British government through freedom of information requests (Bastien also received Canadian documents, but they were apparently heavily redacted), the book alleges that, in 1980, former Justice Willard Estey informed British officials the Court would be addressing the patriation issue, which centered on whether the federal government under Pierre Trudeau required provincial consent to seek constitutional change (at the time, the Canadian Constitution did not have its own amending formula: any changes thus required an Act of the British Parliament). More significantly, it is alleged that then-Chief Justice Bora Laskin revealed to British and Canadian government officials that the Court was divided on the issue and also gave his two cents on when he thought a decision would be forthcoming.
If the allegations are true, Estey’s and especially Laskin’s actions were completely inappropriate. The Court jealously guards the substantive details of its internal decision-making in order to preserve its institutional independence and impartiality. Details about how specific cases are rendered could threaten the institution’s legitimacy, particularly in the context of the patriation reference, which led to constitutional negotiations in which Quebec was left the odd province out. That case—one of the Court’s most politically explosive—continues to feed nationalist sentiment in Quebec.
But while the allegations may create a disappointing black mark on the reputation of two former judges, they do not come close to calling into question the validity of the Court’s ruling. There is no sense that the personal communications described in the book were designed to influence the Court’s decision. Nor, it should be noted, were they successful if that was the aim. Even if we twist this story into one of crazy conspiracy, where Laskin was working with Trudeau to help bring about patriation, they did not succeed: Laskin was on the losing side of a Court decision that said Trudeau was bound, by convention though not by law, to seek substantial provincial consent.
Nevertheless, the book’s allegations unsurprisingly caused an uproar in Quebec, where the idea of betrayal prospers (the story of the kitchen accord meetings where the federal government got all remaining provinces on board, except Quebec, is recalled by some Quebec sovereigntists as “the night of the long knives”).
Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously called on Ottawa to release all documents regarding the patriation process and to investigate the claims. This demand was probably inevitable. Sovereigntists make hay out of any hint that Quebec’s interests were harmed by federal institutions, and federalist provincial parties in Quebec have to make a show of “confronting Ottawa” just to keep pace. More disappointing was that the federal leader of the Official Opposition, Tom Mulcair, voiced support for the motion as well. “It’s what everyone wants,” he said.
Imprudently, and perhaps far too self-conscious about a perceived threat to its reputation, the Supreme Court then announced it was conducting an internal investigation.
Nothing was going to come from this. All of the judges involved in the 1981 case are dead. There were unlikely to be phone records. Estey and Laskin were unlikely to have kept their own records about having inappropriate conversations. Why the Court announced an investigation into some rather vague allegations of misconduct by two deceased judges is a bit of a puzzle. And yesterday the Court released an entirely predictable short statement: “The Supreme Court of Canada conducted a thorough review of its records and it does not have any documents relevant to the alleged communications by former Chief Justice Bora Laskin and former Mr. Justice Willard Estey in relation to the patriation of the Constitution of Canada. This concludes the Court’s review.”
Enter Mulcair. The Court’s statement, he said, was simply not credible. “You won’t find something you don’t ask for. Those documents were given to Mr. Bastien by the Canadian government … and large elements were taken out. So the first thing that one would have expected the Supreme Court to do is to ask for the full version, read them, and start an investigation,” he said. “Instead, what they seem to have said from this cryptic, one-paragraph statement, is: ‘We looked in our filing cabinet and we don’t have them.’ … It’s a clear indication that the Supreme Court had no intention all along of ever dealing with this issue seriously. But unfortunately, it is an extremely serious issue.”
The implication of Mulcair’s comments is either that the Supreme Court is lazy and incompetent or that it is hiding something. Coming from the leader of the Official Opposition, and an aspiring prime minister, these comments have more potential to harm the Court than Bastien’s book. They are irresponsible, not only for the attempt to sully the Court’s integrity, but also for feeding the notion that the patriation process itself was illegitimate.
It is deeply troubling that a federalist leader would pour salt in this old wound. The comments serve nothing except raising doubts about the 1982 Constitution itself (which public opinion polls routinely show to be as popular, or even more popular, in Quebec than the rest of Canada—even if many in Quebec were angered by the process leading to it). And it feeds a pattern by the NDP under Mulcair of questionable judgment as it pertains to the Constitution and Quebec.
The Court’s response to the book’s allegations was unhelpful, to say the least. It should probably have avoided addressing the story at all. Further, by releasing its statement about the end of the investigation late on a Friday—a tactic of timing that modern governments the world over use to minimize the impact of bad or controversial news—the Court reveals itself to be all too strategic and sensitive to public relations. This does not excuse Mulcair for his comments, but the Court compounded this “controversy” by responding to it the way elected politicians would.
Emmett Macfarlane is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo. His new book, Governing from the Bench: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Role is published by UBC Press.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 5:42 PM - 0 Comments
From the NDP leader’s scrum this afternoon, in which he was asked whether this was the wrong time to be having a discussion about root causes.
The question is what terms are you going to be using and what the analysis leads to. Sometimes, you have to take a step back from these situations and try to understand what it involves internationally. But the root cause of an eight-year-old child being killed at the Boston Marathon is that somebody who doesn’t care about other people’s lives placed a bomb. And that’s what we have to look at, that reality. Beyond that, of course you can have discussions about all sorts of things but I think that it’s unwise to go beyond the immediate fact that human life was lost that day and that’s what we’re looking at…
It’s part of the analysis and the ongoing work that every government does, that every person does. That’s not the question. I think we have to be wise in our timing of these things. Don’t forget, this was in the immediate aftermath. When you find out what the situation is, that’s what I was concentrating on in any event. I’ll let other people explain what their words have meant.
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 - 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 John Geddes - Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The new Liberal leader’s biggest rivalry may not be with Harper, but fellow progressive Mulcair
The House of Commons is laid out to create confrontations, classically a prime minister and an opposition leader glaring at one another across the wide centre aisle. So when Justin Trudeau entered the chamber this week for the first time as Liberal leader, interest naturally focused on how he would fare against Stephen Harper. (Their initial exchange was disappointingly low-key.) But there is another equally intriguing, though less obvious, way to size up the House scene. If Trudeau takes a sidelong glance from his new front-bench seat, he’s liable to catch sight of the brooding profile of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair—potentially his even more important adversary in the next election.
Neither Mulcair nor Trudeau seems eager to publicly emphasize his rivalry with the other, at least not nearly as much as his desire to bring down Harper. Yet in key election battlegrounds—notably Quebec, home province of both—their success in the expected 2015 campaign will depend largely on which left-of-centre party comes out on top and by how much. “It really comes down to trying to eliminate the other progressive option,” says Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker. Recent polls show the Liberals surging past the NDP on the strength of the excitement Trudeau generated cruising to victory in the party’s leadership race. That sort of bounce for a new leader is typical, but not easy to sustain. Still, the opinion shift provides a glimpse of how Trudeau’s rise, if he doesn’t falter, might change the next election’s outcome.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy blended the findings of five national polls, conducted in late March and early April, and projected that if those voter preferences prevailed on election day, the Tories would be reduced to a minority, 138 seats down from 164. The Liberals would vault into second place, rising to 93 MPs from today’s 35, while the NDP would be relegated back to third, dropping to 89 seats from 100. Barry Kay, a political science professor at the university and an associate at the institute, says projected Liberal gains in Quebec—from today’s eight seats to a respectable 23—would come mainly from the NDP. In Atlantic Canada and Ontario, Trudeau would pick up ridings primarily from the Tories—sometimes as a result, not so much of the Conservative vote slipping, but of NDP support shifting to the Liberals.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 10:09 PM - 0 Comments
The Harper government has notified the National Health Council that it won’t be renewing the organization’s funding once the 10-year health accord Paul Martin struck with the provinces in 2004 runs out. The critics are raving. Saskatchewan’s former deputy health minister is displeased; Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition calls the decision to wind down the National Health Council “a decision to wind down national medicare.”
One suspects the feds will manage to move on after this broadside. McBane’s online bio puts quotation marks around the “Free” in “North American ‘Free’ Trade Agreement” and the Health Coalition’s board includes executives of CUPW, the Steelworkers and the CAW, along with the author of a book on Harper’s foreign policy that was blurbed by rogue Senate page Brigitte dePape. But there remains the substantive question of the Health Council’s necessity; let’s take a look. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 6:01 PM - 0 Comments
On the matter of RBC, Thomas Mulcair leaned forward and loudly conveyed his indignation. The Prime Minister stood and accused the New Democrats of hypocrisy, reporting that NDP MPs had previously advocated for temporary foreign worker permits. Mr. Mulcair returned to his feet and sketched a thorough denunciation of the government’s attitude toward the working class. And Mr. Harper stood and ventured that it was the NDP who needed to explain.
Not that much of anyone was here to see any of this.
In the moments before Question Period, the man on the front page of today’s newspapers sat in his new spot along the front row at the far end of the room. Wearing a high white collar, his wavy hair parted to the side, Justin Trudeau resembled somewhat the fellow who played John A. Macdonald in that movie. The press gallery was nearly full to capacity, as was the front row of the Prime Minister’s gallery. On the floor, Joyce Murray stopped by to give Mr. Trudeau a hug. Tony Clement and Randy Hoback and Pat Martin and Nathan Cullen shook his hand. On his way to his new seat, Bob Rae stopped in front of Mr. Trudeau and presented him with a small wooden box, within which was a pen that once belonged to Wilfrid Laurier. Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner stood and, as is his habit on special occasions, read aloud an original poem.
And then everyone waited for the sixth, seventh and eighth questions of the afternoon. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 8:17 PM - 0 Comments
Within the Palais des congres de Montreal, a complex series of boxes, decorated with brightly coloured glass and perched above the freeway, where Stephane Dion once became Liberal leader and where, if memory serves, Michael Ignatieff blew kisses from an escalator to supporters below, the president of the NDP called the meeting to order. And with that there was a complaint. It was in the opinion of a man referred to as Barry, apparently a fellow from the socialist caucus, that the 30 minutes set aside on Saturday afternoon to hear from an organizer of the Obama campaign be allotted, instead, for policy discussion. Barry seemed rather unimpressed with policies of President Obama’s administration.
“We don’t need Jeremy Bird to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bipartisan political system,” he ventured. “Labour and the NDP aren’t here to take instruction from political operatives of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our fellow workers in the United States. Follow the example of the NDP, form an independent political party based on your unions, break with the Democratic party.”
Joe Cressy, a Toronto organizer who has worked for Olivia Chow and Paul Dewar, stepped forward to speak against Barry’s proposed amendment. “Friends, we have had a great start to this convention already and let’s keep this positive energy going,” he said. “We must build on our momentum by maintaining a packed agenda that has everything from learning how to organize and fundraise better to hearing from our leader, Tom Mulcair, to, yes, learning from the Obama team on how to mobilize those who…”
His final words were drowned out in applause. Continue…
By John Geddes - Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 8:10 PM - 0 Comments
If you were listening for hints of policy in Justin Trudeau’s acceptance speech in Ottawa as he won the Liberal leadership today, then you must not have been paying attention to his campaign.
Still, there was content of a sort. Three strategic aims, all well worth keeping in mind, stood out in Trudeau’s generally low-key text. He framed Liberalism as the sunny alternative to gloomy Conservatism; asked Quebecers to think of themselves as builders of Canada; and scolded Liberals for letting their intramural squabbles undermine their electability.
1. Here was a key moment as he tried to draw that advantageous Liberal-vs.-Conservative contrast (throwing in the NDP for good measure):
“Canadians want to be led, not ruled. They are tired of the negative, divisive politics of Mr. Harper’s Conservatives, and unimpressed that the NDP under Mr. Mulcair have decided that if you can’t beat them you might as well join them. Well, we are fed up with leaders who pit Canadians against Canadians, West against East, rich against poor, Quebec against the rest of the country, urban against rural.”
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 3:41 PM - 0 Comments
The prepared text of Thomas Mulcair’s speech to the NDP convention this afternoon.
Thank you very much.
Look at this crowd. What energy.
Thousands of New Democrats from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
From the Northwest Territories to Southern Ontario.
From Victoria to the coast of Labrador.
From the centre of Manitoba to all across Quebec.
This is the party that speaks for Canadians.
This is the party that fights for Canadians.
And this is the party that gets results for Canadians.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 2:58 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair’s leadership has been endorsed by 92.3% of delegates at the NDP leadership.
For the sake of comparison, Jack Layton received 92% in 2006, 89.3% in 2009 and 97.9% in 2011.