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Demystifying the role of parliamentary staffers

Read my article in Policy Options here. Also, here's the longer essay here, in the Canadian Parliamentary Review. What do you think?...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Demystifying the role of parliamentary staffers

Read my article in Policy Options here.

Also, here's the longer essay here, in the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Liberals have dragged national anthem into a debate of process

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Why shouldn’t Canada’s national anthem be changed? 

It’s quite simple: “in all thy sons command” was written to honour the Canadian soldiers (yes, Canadian men) who died during World War One. It’s not sexist or exclusionary to recognize what should be a proud but somber moment of Canadian history – as Barbara Kay opined three years ago.

But if such a concise explanation can be offered in two sentences, this debate would have long been over, and the Liberal Parry wouldn’t be using a dying MP to push its agenda.

Instead, the debate has become larger than Canada’s national anthem: it’s become about the Liberals’ abuse of parliamentary process. The Liberals have broken almost every rule in the book to shove these changes through Parliament without giving Canadians a say.

As Conservative MP Peter Van Loan pointed out during third reading debate on June 10, the Liberals have broken almost every rule as they ram this bill through the Commons. The bill was referred to the heritage committee and, on less than 48 hours’ notice, could call but one witness to testify about the bill – for about 40 minutes. That was enough, declared the Liberals, who shut down any other witnesses or any other dates to hear testimony.

And when normal things happened – like Conservatives using their rightfully-allocated time to actually debate the bill, or standing rules requiring that the bill’s sponsor be present to move their bill – criticisms ran wild, condemning the “blocking” of this “dying MP’s” private member’s bill.
Not once did the Liberal government consult with Canadians about whether they want to see their national anthem changed. Many reasonable questions can be asked of this bill:

  • Is it “time” to change Canada’s national anthem? Why? Why not?
  • Shouldn’t Canadians have a say in determining their national anthem? Whether that means the ability to appear before a parliamentary committee or a nation-wide referendum, shouldn’t Canadians get something?
  • With heavy Liberal government support, why are national anthem changes being pushed through a Private Members’ Bill and not a government bill?
  • If the national anthem is indeed “open” for modernization, what about references to God? Native land? What about the French version’s references to Christianity? Where does this insanity stop?
  • Since when does an MP’s health status influence the urgency of his or her pet projects becoming law?
Unfortunately, these questions cannot be asked or answered because the Liberals won’t allow them. Interestingly (for many reasons) it will likely take the Senate once again standing up to the government to put its foot on the brakes and say “hey, slow down.”

As Van Loan pointed out, he was initially in favour of making the lyrics “gender-neutral” and was prepared to support the Conservative 2010 Throne Speech that would have done just that. Remember, just six years ago the Conservative government was in favour of doing the same thing. The difference is that the Conservatives did it right: the non-partisan Governor General announced the intent and the government was prepared to hear from Canadians on the issue. And hear from Canadians they did: within 48 hours they heard from thousands of Canadians, and some estimates say 90% of that feedback was to keep the anthem as it was.

That should really drive home the point that such crooked tactics by the Liberals have tainted this bill and made it unsupportable.

What do Canadians think about it this round? According to this poll with almost 27,000 responses, 91% are in favour of keeping the anthem as it is. Could there be polls showing more or less support? Yes – but we won’t know if the government won’t allow testimony or hear evidence.

Canadians should be disgusted with the Liberal government for dragging Canada’s national anthem into this debate – on the back of a dying MP. If this bill passes and the national anthem is changed, its legacy will forever be that it was forced through Canada’s Parliament – against all rules – without hearing from Canadians. Is that what Mauril Belanger wants to be remembered for?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald



The Trudeaus aren’t like the rest of us.
Most of us aren’t endowed with $1.2 million inheritance funds, $1 million Mercedes sports cars, $20,000 watches, or attractiveness so dashing as to distract from almost any substantive questions of the Trudeau government.
These are just statements of fact – not envy. And these observations aren’t new: we’ve long-known that the Trudeau family is exceptional. This isn’t illegal or terrible, and we shouldn’t punish wealth. But Justin’s belief that he’s exceptional and special should not extend into the public sphere of how government and Parliament are run.
Since becoming Prime Minister, this exceptionalist attitude has crept into the public square, damaging Parliament and offending the sensibilities of otherwise reasonable Canadians. Call it the Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine.
The first hint of the Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine was when Trudeau – the supposed champion of the middle class – hired personal nannies for his children as if they were staffers of the Prime Minister’s Office. Canadians were confused. “Shouldn’t your $340,000 salary cover child care for your kids? Can’t your wife – who has no official role and is not a government employee – look after your kids?” were just two of the many reasonable questions asked during that period. But the Trudeaus are exceptional, and so the $100,000-per-year NannyGate controversy subsided.
More recently, we saw Sophie GrĂ©goire complain that she was overworked and needed “a team” of assistants. The personal assistant, the family chef, and the two taxpayer-funded nannies are just not enough. She needs a larger empire. But the wife of the prime minister has no official role; she’s not Canada’s First Lady and she’s free to act as she chooses, whether taking up employment, a speaking circuit, or being a full-time wife and mom – but we shouldn’t pay for it.
As I was writing this column, I wrote that the most egregious example of Trudeau Exceptionalism was Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc’s recently-tabled motion to give complete control of the House of Commons’ agenda to the Liberal cabinet (formally known as “Motion 6”). This exceptional motion would completely remove any say the Opposition Conservatives or NDP might have in determining the House’s affairs. It would have required the Opposition to be on-call, 24/7, at the absolute whim of the Liberals to control the House of Commons. The motion was retaliation for the embarrassment that occurred on May 16, where a Liberal bill was almost defeated because not enough Liberal MPs had showed up to work that Monday morning.
At least, I was going to write that that was the most egregious example of Trudeau Exceptionalism, until the evening of May 18, 2016, when the now infamous “Elbowgate” incident happened. Growing impatient waiting for Members of Parliament to vote on the assisted suicide legislation, Trudeau rose from his seat, reached through a crowd of MPs, and forcefully grabbed another MP by the shoulder, striking a female MP in the process. It was disgraceful, unparliamentary, and blatantly unbecoming of any member of Parliament, let alone a prime minister. Never before in Canada’s history has a prime minister assaulted two MPs on the House floor. It was exceptional: an immature child whose impatience and temper got the best of him, and ended with two MPs being physically accosted. (The government withdrew Motion 6 as a result of the fallout from Trudeau’s conduct.)
That the Trudeaus believe they’re exceptional isn’t new. What is new is that Trudeau’s exceptionalist attitude has tainted how the Liberals are running Parliament. And that should concern every single Canadian. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In six months, the Liberals have gone from sunny ways to governing hypocrites

 
 
 
Oh, how quickly the sunny ways have come and gone from our nation’s capital.
 
Take, for example, the parliamentary proceedings of just one day, April 19, 2016 – the six month anniversary of the Liberals being elected to office.

The day started on a poor note for the Liberals.  Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has been on the defensive for more than two weeks now over her hosting of an intimate and private fundraising event at a Toronto law firm, and Conservative MP Michael Cooper moved that the House of Commons debate why Wilson-Raybould wasn’t following her own Prime Minister’s guidelines to avoid actual and potential conflicts of interest. The entire day was filled with Liberal MPs and ministers apologizing for and defending the minister. Mere months ago, these then-candidates were elected under the banner of hope and transparency and “better is always possible.” But on this day, what the Justice Minister did was apparently good enough.

But the debate went even lower when the Democratic Institutions Minister spoke. Maryam Monsef boldly complained that those mean Conservatives were really debating this issue because the Justice Minister is a successful aboriginal woman. She implied, several times, that the Justice Minister’s race was true reason for the day’s debate. It was something else to watch an MP who was elected just six months ago on a positive message come so close to complaining of racism in the House of Commons – no less the MP who is also in charge of Canada’s democratic institutions.

The day only continued to get worse for the Liberals.

Speaker Geoff Regan, a Liberal MP, ruled that the Liberals had potentially committed a prima facie breach of privilege by leaking advance copies of the assisted suicide bill to members of the media before that bill was tabled in the House of Commons. “There was a direct contravention of the House’s right to first access,” Regan concluded before sending the matter to a parliamentary committee for investigation.

This is not a small matter: the Liberals brought down the Conservative minority government in 2011 over a question of privilege. According to their logic at the time, Parliament had been so deeply disrespected by that breach that the only remedy was to call an election.

Shortly after the Speaker’s ruling, Liberal House leader Dominic Leblanc tabled a notice of time allocation for a government bill dealing with Air Canada. Time allocation, you might recall, “is undemocratic and a type of abuse, as a rule, of the House of Commons of Canada” according to Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, “undemocratic” according to Liberal MP Arnold Chan, and not only “prevent[s] business and debate” in the House of Commons, but “hurt[s] the ability of committees to do their work” according to Liberal MP Wayne Easter. At least it was when the Conservatives were the ones who did it, lest the Liberals be exposed as hypocrites. Even the Liberal platform specifically promised “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny” and yet the Liberals moved their motion for time allocation anyway – because hypocrisy should be no barrier to governing.

Keep in mind that this all happened in the course of just one day in Canada’s Parliament – no less on the six month anniversary of the Liberals being elected to office to supposedly do things better, differently, and more transparently.

Of course, the following day was April 20, or “4:20,” where people across the world smoke marijuana in defiance of the current drug laws. Despite promising to legalize marijuana, the Trudeau government has made zero headway on the matter. They did conveniently announce that Canada would begin the process of legalizing marijuana in spring 2017, but that still means that anyone who indulged in the 4:20 festivities was still breaking the law.

How quickly hope and change have given way to governing as hypocrites.

Daniel Dickin is the author of Liars: The McGuinty-Wynne Record, available in e-book and paper copy through Amazon or direct from the publisher.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two very different Liberal responses to fundraising scandals

Published in the Ottawa Sun

A Liberal government on its way out and a Liberal government on its way in: two very different ways of dealing with fundraising scandals.

On the same day as Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne promised “tough” new legislation on electoral financing, one of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet ministers was defending her decision to attend a private $500-a-plate fundraising dinner that put her neutrality as a minister in jeopardy.

Talk about irony.

But it gets better. Trudeau’s cabinet minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, defended her fundraising gala because – even though she’s the Attorney General of Canada, the main attraction at an event exclusively advertised to lawyers, held at a private law firm – she says she escaped her cabinet position for the night and attended just as an ordinary Member of Parliament.

If that line passed the smell test, Wynne’s cabinet ministers would have used it weeks ago. Both the federal and provincial Liberals are facing similar scandals, yet their handling of them is markedly different.

In January, the Toronto Star revealed the Ontario Liberals set aggressive fundraising quotas for cabinet ministers – so aggressive that the newspaper implied the “price of admission” to cabinet is to continue meeting these targets. Even lobbyists complained that they were told to buy a ticket to a fundraiser if they wanted to pitch their proposals.

“Want to chat with the Energy Minister? That’ll be $7,500” is a despicable way of running a government.

Yet Premier Wynne has offered no apology, and in fact her only justification has been “we all do it” – the same excuse Wilson-Raybould has offered.

It’s interesting that one Liberal Party has promised “tough” changes while the other continues to arrogantly stand up and defend its selling of access to cabinet ministers. It’s as if Wynne is taking a page from Stephen Harper while the federal Liberals are ignoring her.

Harper was rocketed into the Prime Minister’s office in 2006 with the simple but effective message that money has no place buying influence in politics. His message resonated with people disgusted with the Liberals’ use of taxpayers’ money for partisan purposes, which culminated in the Sponsorship Scandal.

Wynne seems intent on following Harper’s lead and avoiding the same demise the federal Liberals faced. Her “seven-piece” legislation proposal is quite similar to the federal Accountability Act. Banning corporate and union donations, capping donations at the federal limits, changing third-party advertising rules, and limiting loans and loan guarantees to parties, candidates, and leadership contestants are all consistent with Harper’s Accountability Act.

Some of Wynne’s proposals go further than the Accountability Act because she needs to demonstrate she’s now serious about fixing a system that has remained broken under her party’s watch for the last 13 years.

Some of her reforms are only necessary because the Liberals made them necessary: introducing by-election donation limits comes after the Liberals raised $1.6 million on a by-election with a $142,000 spending limit. (They lost the by-election anyway and the money went to the provincial party.)

And it’s convenient that these revelations only came after the Liberals held a $2.5 million fundraiser.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau Liberals should rightly face the same skepticism, especially when their ministers continue to use excuses like “I took the night off from being the minister to attend this event,” and “we all do it, so it’s okay.”

Trudeau’s government is still fresh and high on sunny ways, but they could learn a lot from Kathleen Wynne’s government, on its way out for precisely the same scandals and arrogance.