Canada: Government & governance 2014
Stephen Harper: The Survivor
CBC National Affairs Editor Chris Hall looks back on the Harper years and forward to what might be ahead for him. (22 January 2014)
Andrew Coyne: Ideally, generals, judges, bank governors should rein in political ambitions
He makes some good points, e.g. “To fault him for his political judgment now is to suggest he should have been using it then: that he should have been thinking, even then, about his future political career. I’d prefer to imagine he wasn’t, but having entered the political world, Leslie inevitably exposes himself to this charge: not only that he was thinking about it then, but that he was thinking about it all along, even as a serving member of the military. And if he can be suspected, after the fact, so can others, prospectively.” However, the flip side of this proposal is that the country should be deprived of the years of expertise acquired by such individuals in fields (defense, judiciary, finance – we would add diplomacy and trade) that are foreign to most MPs. Perhaps the answer is to reserve a certain number of Senate seats for them?
Canadians give political parties failing grades
Sixty-nine per cent of respondents thought political parties were more interested in their votes than their opinions. “(Politicians) are very focused often on winning an election…It can kind of come at the expense of actually making Canadians feel listened to or engaged in a deep way,” says Hilderman. “I think…they see through the attention that they get at election time, but worry that goes away very quickly after.”
In terms of reaching out to Canadians, the political parties got a grade of F. “I think that speaks to a broader message Canadians are trying to send our political leaders that they want them to represent Canadians but they don’t see that as happening,” says Hilderman.
John Ivison: Report fires at aimless Canadian military ruled by balance sheets not foreign policy
Beyond our support of Israel and freedom of religion, it’s not clear what Canada’s foreign policy goals are — or how its armed forces are expected to fulfill them. No wonder we are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars buying the wrong military hardware.
Rob Nicholson, the defence minister, clearly thinks that attacking a retired general over his moving expenses, in order to undermine his new role as an adviser to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, is a priority and efficient use of his time. … Yet for Mr. Nicholson, this is the only event of note to have prompted a ministerial statement to the press in recent times. It has at least diverted public attention from a new report that excoriates the government’s handling of the defence file post-Afghanistan.
The Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s Strategic Outlook for Canada, released Tuesday, takes no prisoners.
… the major structural complication behind much of the chaos at DND is that there is no clear concept of what the military should be doing after Afghanistan. The new defence procurement strategy announced this month is unlikely to revolutionize the process if there is still a lack of political direction on precisely what the military should be preparing itself for.
Budget freezes and the deficit reduction plan has chopped $2.7-billion, or 14%, from the defence budget. This has resulted in ad hoc cuts to operations such as land training programs, full-time reserve employment and aerospace and maritime readiness.
The Speech from the Throne last year called for the renewal of the Canada First Defence Strategy, at the same time as it announced further budget cuts. To say the CFDS is outdated is an understatement – one of its six core missions is to support key international events in Canada “like the 2010 Olympics.”
As the CDA paper points out, there may be a role for a Canadian “transitional disengagement force” to police a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Are we equipped for such a role? The authors say the Prime Minister is devoted to the Arctic, but point out that Canada’s physical presence is no match for other Arctic powers. Should that be the focus of future capacity building?
The Economist is critical of budget approval and more
Canada’s budget — Something doesn’t add up
The process for approving the budget is broken
Like many finance ministers in parliamentary democracies, Mr Flaherty knows the Conservative majority in the House of Commons will approve his revenue and spending plans even if they don’t understand them. But Canada’s budget process is designed to hamper rigorous scrutiny. Before he stepped down last year as the country’s first parliamentary-budget officer, Kevin Page said most MPs and civil servants would agree that “the system is broken”.
Andrew Coyne: Conservative jobs plan is coherent, relevant, bold — naturally the provinces hate it
… say the provinces, the reduction in federal transfers will force them to cut back on priority programs for literacy and at-risk youth. Will it? The amounts involved, about $300-million, are a tiny sliver out of total provincial revenues (in excess of $300-billion) or even federal transfers (at roughly $63-billion, they are up more than 50% since the Tories took power and nearly three times what they were at the start of the last decade). If the needs of street youth are the priority they claim, they can shift funds out of other, shall we say “lower priority” uses, such as subsidies to business. Or are they only a priority so long as someone else is paying for them?
Bruce Anderson: Tories risk voters’ wrath with arrogance on electoral reform
In Canadian politics, incompetence is not even a minor criminal offence, it’s fully legalized. However, arrogance carries the most severe electoral penalties.
That’s why Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre’s dismissive comment about the value of public hearings on his Fair Elections Act should cause wincing on his own side, and a trip to the woodshed escorted by his boss.
Declaring that public hearings on how elections should be run would be a “costly partisan circus” betrays the type of arrogance that rots a government from the inside.
It wasn’t so many years ago that the modern Conservative Party was built on Preston Manning’s Reform Party ideals of strenuous efforts to gain public input on matters of public policy.
There remain many thoughtful, populist-oriented MPs on the Conservative benches, all of whom will know how bad Mr. Poilievre’s comment sounds, and any of whom would do a better job with this bill than he’s doing. …
The Conservatives seem oddly indifferent to the news that fewer than 4 in 10 voters now say they would even consider voting to re-elect the government next year.
Bringing forward a bill to reform elections, led by the most partisan person on the government benches, who is so dismissive of public hearings will do nothing to alleviate that problem – it risks making it worse.
Tories approved $600,000 in Commons committee trips before rejecting cross-country hearings on election overhaul bill
(Hill Times) The NDP rebelled in the Commons on Wednesday and temporarily blocked trips that had been earlier approved to carry out reviews on trade, finance and other issues in Canada, the U.S., and cities in South America, after the government rejected an NDP proposal to take hearings into the sweeping electoral law changes across Canada.
An NDP motion calls on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to conduct hearings through every major region to give the public a chance to respond to the Canada Elections Act changes, especially in rural and inner city electoral districts where tens of thousands of voters could be affected by a provision to end a vouching system that allows electors without formal ID to cast ballots on the oath of a neighbor or someone else who knows them.
Elizabeth May: ‘Fair Elections Act’ Addresses the Wrong Crisis
The crisis in Canadian democracy is not that Canadians are voting more than once, it is that they are voting less than once
I am baffled and appalled and deeply shocked and troubled by this bill. The things in it that are good could have been so much better, but the things that are bad are unforgivable in a democracy.
Adam Goldenberg: Why the Conservatives’ “Fair Elections Act” Could Be Unconstitutional
(Slaw) Opitz’s victory may ultimately doom his party’s efforts. In allowing Opitz to keep his seat, the Supreme Court chose to follow the Charter more closely than it insisted on the procedural requirements of the Canada Elections Act. That decision could come to stand for a powerful proposition: that no Parliament—and no Conservative majority—may change the rules to stand between Canadian citizens and our right to vote.
Election reform bill an affront to democracy, Marc Mayrand says
The Fair Elections Act says it “limits the chief electoral officer’s power to provide information to the public.”
Under the proposed bill, the only role of the chief electoral officer would be to inform the public of when, where, and how to vote.
Elections Canada would be forbidden from launching ad campaigns encouraging Canadians to vote. Surveys and research would be forbidden under the new bill, Mayrand said.
“Most of the research will no longer be published because these are communications to the public.”
Fair Elections Act: Tory Reforms Don’t Address Leadership Debt
(Canadian Press) Proposed changes to Canada’s elections law won’t give Elections Canada new powers to address old unpaid leadership loans that the governing Conservatives have used repeatedly to bash both their political opponents and the elections watchdog.
But the reforms should help eliminate the catch-22 that trapped some past leadership candidates in unrepayable debts.
Andrew Coyne: What problems are the Conservatives really trying to solve with bizarre Fair Elections Act?
(National Post) To make sense of the many disparate provisions in the Conservatives’ sprawling 242-page Fair Elections Act, the first question to ask of each is not whether it is good or bad but: what problem was this intended to solve?
God knows we have enough real problems with how we run elections. The bill was born of the mess of the 2011 election, with its multiple allegations of voter fraud, including but not limited to the infamous robocalls affair: still unsolved, two years later, despite a Federal Court judge’s finding that, indeed, mass fraud had occurred. A partial list would also include the vast and needless expense of modern election campaigns, and the consequent diversion of party energies, rhetoric and policy to the ceaseless quest to raise funds. And, despite or perhaps because of all of these frenetic efforts to “reach out” to the electorate, the constant decline in turnout.
But that is not, apparently, how the Tories see it. Rather, the bill seems motivated by an entirely different set of concerns.
Andrew Jackson: Canada needs sound fiscal thinking, not balanced budget laws
(Globe & Mail) In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget, expected early next month.
Flaherty picks middle of Olympics for date of federal budget
The Conservative government will deliver an earlier-than-normal February budget in an effort to recapture the policy agenda and set the stage for a good-news pre-election budget in 2015.
Conservatives stress that a low-key budget this year helps the government move toward its primary political goal, which is to announce a surplus for 2015 that is big enough to accommodate new spending and tax cuts ahead of the next election.
The new ministerial responsibility: punish the underlings
Ministers no longer have to take the blame for staff mistakes – but they do have to correct them
(CBC News) Somewhere between the first Conservative election victory and the last election, the rules on ministerial responsibility changed without any fanfare or public discussion.
The 2007 guide for ministers, written by the PCO, explained ministerial responsibility this way: “Ministers are individually responsible to Parliament and the prime minister for their own actions and those of their department, including the actions of all officials under their management and direction, whether or not the Ministers had prior knowledge.”
By 2011, there had been a shift in thinking.
“Ministerial accountability to Parliament does not mean that a minister is presumed to have knowledge of every matter that occurs within his or her department or portfolio, nor that the minister is necessarily required to accept blame for every matter,” wrote PCO in an updated version of the pamphlet.
And the new rules didn’t just apply to bureaucrats but to the minister’s political staff as well. They are the partisans who handle everything from answering media inquiries to advising them on policy.
Kevin Page: Before we can fix our economy, we must fix government
Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says we must repair our institutions before we can fix the economy.
The time has come to launch a royal commission on the state of our institutions. We are now confronted by problems we can no longer ignore, and we cannot think up solutions without the facts.
The Prime Minister will not stand accountable for the actions of his own office. The Senate has lost trust over a spending scandal. The House of Commons has lost its power of the purse. Members of Parliament are forced to vote on appropriations without the information they need. The public service has become dangerously good at avoiding transparency and accountability.
Without rebuilding — and rebuilding trust in — the bodies charged with protecting our prosperity and democracy, we will continue to drift aimlessly, to put off the thinking we must put off no longer.
Murray Dobbin: Canada’s Slide into Sleaze with Harper as CEO
Or, the problem of running government like a business.
(The Tyee) The Senate scandal that will continue to plague Stephen Harper when the House resumes sitting is far more than just a run of the mill scandal, of which Canada has had many over the years. This one seems to present the result of an accumulation of rot, amorality, casual thuggery and complete lack of shame, as one politico put it. It feels like we are approaching the end point of the collapse of public morality.
I think it started as soon as the political, business and media elites decided that the new mantra for the state was that government needed to be run like a business. At first blush this may seem like an innocent precept because, as it advocates were careful to frame it, it could mean little more than just running things more efficiently.
Andrew Coyne on Chris Christie and Stephen Harper: Change a few words here and there, and you could have been listening to the prime minister’s year-end interviews.
Indeed, the explanation both have offered is remarkably similar: My closest advisers and confidants conceived and carried out an ethically abhorrent plan, for my benefit but without my knowledge, then lied to me about it for months. Even supposing we take these at face value, it is hardly “taking responsibility” to blame it all on your staff, nor is it especially difficult to say you are “sorry” for other people’s mistakes. They are simply words politicians have been taught to say: They test well with focus groups, almost as well as “I’m not a focus-group-tested politician.”
David vs. David on the Reform Act
David Jones says
Reform Act: Chong’s proposal creates more confusion, not more democracy
The answer for dissenters is resignation: either resign from the party or resign oneself to trying again later. Chong took the correct approach in 2006 resigning his ministry rather than supporting the concept of Quebec as a “nation” within Canada. In practical terms, Harper’s move was adroit, helping sidetrack Quebec sovereignty efforts. Chong is principled, but again wrong.
If leaders have lost their following, there should be a way to oust them
Chong’s bill corrects several flaws in our national party practices. The most important allows 15 per cent of any national party caucus to demand a caucus vote in which a majority vote, if carried, renders its leadership vacant (Thirty or forty per cent would probably be a more acceptable threshold.). This safety device, if activated successfully in the early 1990’s, might have saved Conservatives from their political near wipe-out in 1993 by removing Mulroney and giving a successor a reasonable chance of electoral success. Michael Ignatieff similarly could have been removed by a similar procedure by Liberal MPs in time for a successor to compete more effectively in the 2011 election.
A smaller Senate would be less effective
(Ottawa Citizen op-ed) … the Canadian Senate … is a singular upper chamber in the world that serves both territorial and cultural federalism. The Senate was never just about the provinces having a say in Ottawa. Rather, it was designed to be a chamber of minorities, be they minority provinces, linguistic minorities or cultural and religious ones within the larger population. With time, that came to include more women and visible minorities than you would find in other elected bodies, particularly the Commons, so that they could have better representation at the federal level. … much of the grown-up work of Parliament winds up taking place in the Senate, particularly in its committees, which are far less partisan and which anyone will tell you produce superior work to any Commons committee or even a great many royal commissions. … the Senate needs all 105 members in order to keep the committees up and running. Between 2006 and 2009, when Stephen Harper refused to appoint new senators on a point of principle, the dwindling number of Conservative senators were burning out because they were forced to spread their time among two or three committees apiece. Good work means having the time and attention to devote to it.