Canada: Government & governance 2013

Written by  //  December 16, 2013  //  Canada, Government & Governance  //  1 Comment

Canada Post logoEthan Cox: How to save Canada Post
(National Post) It’s worth recalling that in 2011 mail delivery was a service so essential that it required back-to-work legislation to end a lockout. What changed between then and now to leave the service so little valued that we would be well served by its elimination? … There are many options available that would keep Canada Post a profitable public corporation which provides essential services to Canadians. Too bad then that our government is more concerned with their ideological agenda than what is best for the public.
11 December
MPs’ Staff Asked To Sign Lifetime Confidentiality Agreements
A proposed lifetime gag order for employees of members of Parliament that would restrict their ability to share information — and stifle the kind of whistleblowing that led to some of the revelations in the Senate scandal — is triggering alarm among Parliament Hill staff, according to a union representing some of the workers.
… The author highlights several provisions, including the lifetime application of the contract and the fact that any breach can result in immediate termination without pay or notice, as well as a new requirement to disclose all outside work, including volunteer gigs.
9 December
Prime ministers’ club would be good for Canada, experts say
(Postmedia) Unlike our neighbours to the south and Commonwealth compatriots such as Britain and Australia, Canada has a curious lack of an unofficial “prime ministers’ club,” and it’s to the detriment of the entire nation that we haven’t established the tradition, [David Mitchell, CEO and president of Ottawa’s Public Policy Forum] feels.
“The current prime minister really suffers the lack of wisdom that his predecessors represent by not drawing upon the experience and counsel of people who have held that lonely office,” he said.
A longtime advocate of an ex-prime ministers counsel of sorts, Mitchell said Canada is wasting a rare and valuable resource in the solipsistic attitude toward ex-leaders.
… Joe Clark, who was to join the delegation in South Africa, has vast experience as foreign affairs minister, Smith said, while Kim Campbell has expertise on environmental issues and adds a unique point of view as the only female prime minister. Unfortunately, we do not envisage a warm welcome for the views of either on these particular topics.
Brett House & David Landry: As world moves to weed out graft, Canada remains a laggard
(Globe & Mail) Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Anti-Corruption Day. Canada should embrace Dec. 9 as a day of national resolve to weed out graft: we have a lot of work to do.
Senate expense scandals, kick-backs to municipal politicians and a continuing investigation of SNC-Lavalin related to alleged bribes in the developing world all belie Canada’s squeaky-clean self-image.
Two good opinion pieces from the Ottawa Citizen
Kelly Blidook: Chong’s bill strives for balance
Finding the right balance is hard work, but part of the trick is to avoid trying too hard. Conservative backbench MP Michael Chong has taken a lot of deep breaths, and he’s got closer than most. His proposed Reform Act is an excellent issue to debate, and I hope we’ll get a result that is best for both Parliament and Canadians.
However, there is already a lot of misunderstanding both about how Chong’s proposal would become law, and about whether it is worthwhile as a reform of Parliament.
William Cross: Reform Act in context
(Ottawa Citizen) Michael Chong’s bill highlights many important issues for the health of our democracy, not least among them the internal practices of parties relating to the selection of their leaders and candidates. We should be wary, however, of thinking that these challenges can be legislated away and be equally careful in our use of international comparisons.
6 December
Peter Loewen: Chong reform aims to undo accidents of history
(Ottawa Citizen) Michael Chong’s Reform Act is the single most important piece of democratic reform legislation to be considered by our Parliament in a generation. Its passage would at once return power to MPs and enable local riding associations to choose their own candidates without interference.
The bill proposes three particular initiatives. First, the obligation of party leaders to approve nominated candidates will cease. Final decisions on candidacies will rest with local riding associations. Second, caucuses will have the explicit ability to remove leaders. The bill proposes a clear mechanism: a leadership review will occur if 15 per cent of MPs in a caucus petition for one. A majority of MPs can then defenestrate a leader. Third, caucuses — not party leaders or their whips — will define their own membership.
David Frum: In praise of the Prime Ministerial ‘control freak’
Who will benefit from Michael Chong’s proposed charter for greater MP independence? The promise is that, freed from PMO control, MPs will speak out on behalf of the good people of his or her constituency with a verve and brio sadly lacking today. But where’s the evidence that such local interests go unarticulated today?…
It’s not regional interests that will get more airing, but factional interests.
The empowering of factionalism poses special dangers to Canada’s center-right, the grouping historically most vulnerable to internecine squabbles. The governments of John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney ended not in mere defeat, but in party civil wars that banished conservatives from office for a political generation. Stephen Harper has avoided that fate, and he’s avoided it not — as his critics say — by crushing opposition, but rather by inching his way down the path of the possible. It may be dull to watch. But more exciting politics is not the same thing as better government.
Explaining and debating Michael Chong’s Reform Act
(Maclean’s) Peter Loewen says the Reform Act is “the single most important piece of democratic reform legislation to be considered by our Parliament in a generation.” Alex Cullen, a candidate for the Ontario NDP, argues the bill is a step backwards. Radical Centrist looks at a third aspect of the bill. And Colin Horgan suggests what the House of Commons really needs is a sense of shame.
Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt suggests some other reforms, specifically related to advertising, that might be pursued.
5 December
Murray Dobbin: Why Tories Are So Afraid of What Deloitte’s Runia Might Testify
RCMP’s email files place auditor’s scope at centre of scandal storm.
( The response to all this could be a yawn. “Quelle surprise” that the Prime Minister of Canada’s top advisors would think that because the Conservative Party paid Deloitte to audit their books that entitled them to influence the firm’s other work. Quelle surprise that the managing partner of one Canada’s largest accounting firms would take a call from a politician inquiring about a supposedly independent audit and follow through on his requests. But it would signal a dangerous slide into corruption if we respond to these events with a bored cynicism.
3 December
Pierre Poilievre Suggests Tories Don’t Need Reform Act
The minister of democratic reform suggested Tuesday he sees no need for a Conservative backbencher’s bill that proposes to limit the powers of the prime minister and other party leaders.
In an interview with The Huffington Post Canada, Pierre Poilievre said he hadn’t seen MP Michael Chong’s bill and wouldn’t comment directly on it. But the minister indicated that the problems it aims to fix — liberating MPs from the stranglehold of party leaders — do not exist in the Tory caucus.
throne-speech-wordcloud How Reform Act could empower MPs and save democracy or snarl Canadian politics in an anarchic web of insanity
Already, the Liberals like his new initiative so much they invited him to a caucus meeting. The National Post’s Andrew Coyne said the new law would “change Canada’s parliament forever.” Kevin O’Donnell, deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario, did not even need to see the text of the bill before he registered to trumpet its passage.
Amid other measures, the Reform Act would give political parties the power to turf out their leaders at any time, so long as 15% of the caucus agrees to hold a leadership vote — and that vote passed by 50% plus one. This measure alone would dramatically rebalance power between a prime minister and his caucus, and help chip away at a system often compared to a temporary dictatorship. At present, a prime minister heading a Canadian majority government is so little accountable to his MPs he holds more power than almost any other democratic leader.
22 November
New “cyberbullying” law: more police power than implied
The Federal government is proposing new “cyberbullying” legislation. This comes following several recent incidents in which teens were bullied and taunted online using intimate images which led to the suicides of at least two teenage girls.
At a press gathering Justice Minister Peter Mackay said the law was necessary to combat the often hurtful spread of intimate images.
The proposed law under Bill C-13 would give police a greater ability to investigate incidents of cyberbullying by giving courts the right to order the seizure of computers,mobile phones and other devices used in an alleged offence.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone who posts or transmits an “intimate image” of another individual without that person’s consent could face up to five years in prison.
Legal experts however are concerned about the breadth of C-13, which not only addresses cyberbullying, but also gives police heightened powers of surveillance to track terror suspects as well as individuals who use computer programs to gain unpaid access to WiFi or cable TV service.
25 October
The Senate drama: So lacking in good guys, it must be a European movie
(Globe & Mail) Mr. Duffy tore into the PM with the viciousness of a mobster. Ms. Wallin is apparently starring in Mean Girls. Other women on the Hill are just jealous because she “once garnered the praise of the Prime Minister,” she said, setting the feminist cause back to pre-Clan of the Cave Bear.
Some seek a hero in this. Either the PM betrayed innocent senators, or guilty senators betrayed a trusting PM, but every character here seems so unsympathetic and self-serving that surely a film of this affair could only be a European production. Of course, if it’s a French film, Ms. Wallin will be an alluring, troubled 15-year-old runaway appointed to the Senate after she hitchhikes to Ottawa from Nantes. Canadians have, of late, been asked to believe equally unlikely things.
Maybe this is why Mr. Harper keeps talking about free trade with Europe when asked about the Senate – he’s opening up markets for this mess.
29 October
Chris Ragan: No to balanced-budget laws, yes to sound budgeting
(Globe & Mail) The federal government has recently announced its intention to legislate a requirement for balanced budgets. Hard-core fiscal conservatives love this idea because they believe it is desirable to restrict the spending powers, and thus the size, of government. Unfortunately, such legislation is either ineffective or ends up creating bigger problems than it solves. Genuine fiscal responsibility cannot be achieved through simple legislation.
24 October
Bill C-7 Declared Unconstitutional, Dealing Blow To Senate Reform Plan
The Harper government’s most recent attempt at Senate reform has been declared unconstitutional in a stinging court ruling rendered Thursday.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has released an opinion that the federal government had no right, under Bill C-7, to create Senate elections and set term limits without seeking provincial approval.
It says the fathers of Confederation considered the role and function of the Senate in great detail, and the conditions they drew up were essential to uniting the provinces under one country.
“The transcript of the pre-confederation conferences shows that the founding fathers discussed the role and composition of the Senate at length,” the 20-page ruling said.
“There is no doubt that this institution was a fundamental component of the federal compromise in 1867.”
21 October
Harper’s Quebec lieutenant personally feels 50% plus one is a ‘clear result’ for separation
The comments were made as Mr. Lebel was stumping to defend federal efforts to oppose Law 99, a 2000 Quebec law asserting the right to separate on a 50% plus one vote, and that no “other parliament or government” could obstruct the “democratic will of the Québec people to determine its own future.”
It is not the first time Mr. Lebel has defied the official government line on an issue of Quebec politics.
In September, the prime minister publicly opposed Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values, a contentious plan to ban religious clothing in public-sector workplaces. … “There’s nothing that upsets me in there,” the minister told The Canadian Press in late September.
16 October
At Issue: Impact of the Throne Speech
Andrew Coyne not very impressed Thin agenda plays to the Tory base
and neither is Chantal Hébert: Tories seeking their electoral salvation in the policy margins
Stripped of all of its lofty rhetoric, the so-called mid-mandate reset of the Conservative government amounts to a handful of sometimes half-baked and always ill-defined promises.
Five standout promises in this year’s throne speech
(Global) Called “Seizing Canada’s Moment: Prosperity and Opportunity in an Uncertain World,” the document focuses on Conservative stalwart issues such as the economy, jobs and crime. … The government plans to amend the law to allow Canadians to take beer and spirits across provincial boundaries for their own use. No, you couldn’t do that before.
Not much here, but just wait until 2015
(Globe & Mail editorial) The government’s target date for a balanced budget is 2015. Absent a global economic shock, that goal can easily be met. The next election is also scheduled for 2015. The government is in effect promising that there will be few new agenda items in this session of Parliament, or in next spring’s budget. But jump forward a year: in the run-up to the next election, the government can expect to find itself in a position where it will be able to make significant announcements in terms of tax cuts and spending. Until then? Another middle year of tinkering around the margins is what Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne promised.
Elections Canada appoints high-powered board as federal government prepares new elections law
Elections Canada announced Tuesday that it has appointed an advisory board, co-chaired by former auditor general Sheila Fraser and former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie, the day before the government is expected to announce changes to the Elections Act in the speech from the throne.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, has been unusually prominent in the media lately, calling on the government to give new powers to the investigators in charge of getting to the bottom of election crimes. He has several times pointed out that the government has not consulted him on the changes it plans to make.
If the government and the elections agency disagree on the proposed legislation, Mayrand will be able to take advice from a who’s who of Canadian politics.
Along with Binnie and Fraser, the board includes former premiers Bob Rae and Roy Romanow, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former federal cabinet ministers John Manley and Michael Wilson, Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal, journalist Lise Bissonnette, political scientist Paul Thomas, former Ontario ombudsman Roberta Jamieson, Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, of l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, and Cathy Wong, of the Quebec YMCA.

Rebel to realist: How politics changed Stephen Harper and how he is changing Canada
( Stephen Harper began his political career in the 1980s as a conservative renegade advocating a fiscal and democratic revolution. But over time, he appeared to bend his explicitly held principles to the demands of political power. Even so, he has deftly – perhaps permanently – stamped his brand of conservatism on the country.
Mark Kennedy, parliamentary bureau chief for Postmedia News in Ottawa, examines how – 20 years after Harper was first elected to Parliament, and 10 years after he took over the leadership of his party – the once-impatient revolutionary has changed, and how Canada has changed with him. (Five-part series)

Troubled Waters
(The Walrus) The Experimental Lakes project has influenced environmental policy around the world. So why would the Harper government abandon it? (July/August 2013 magazine)

Canada map

“1984 in 2013: The Assault on Reason” – Allan Gregg
Well-known pollster Allan Gregg stands up as a defender of facts, data and reason as a basis for good public policy. (video 27 April 2013)
Andrew Cohen: The Canada that Lester Pearson built
On April 8, 1963, Pearson and the Liberals won a minority government. He would govern for next five feverish years, leading the most productive government in Canadian history.
Among its achievements were the Canada Pension Plan, universal health care, official bilingualism, the guaranteed income supplement, the flag, open immigration, student loans, the Order of Canada and the Auto Pact.
There was scandal, resignation, and messiness, yes, which clouded a long season of progressive legislation. Presiding over it all was Lester Bowles Pearson, who always believed in an independent, compassionate, self-confident Canada.
As a soldier, professor, diplomat and politician, he taught us much: that modesty, practicality, honesty, humour and ambiguity are virtues that can take you far in life. That you could go into the world and be bigger than you are. That you can, with imagination and courage, create a kinder, fairer society.
And the greatest lesson of all? He taught us how to be Canadian.
L. Ian MacDonald: Behind the throne in Langevin Block
Complaints about power being centralized in the Prime Minister’s Office have been going around Ottawa since the time of Pierre Trudeau. In that regard, Stephen Harper’s PMO is no different, though it is more controlling than most if not all of its predecessors.
The system actually likes to know who’s in charge, and historically that begins with the PM’s chief of staff, principal secretary or senior policy adviser.
If you want to talk about great PMO leaders, going back half a century, here’s a short list: Tom Kent under Lester B. Pearson, Jim Coutts and Tom Axworthy under Trudeau, Derek Burney and Hugh Segal under Brian Mulroney, Jean Pelletier under Jean Chrétien, with a nod to senior adviser Eddie Goldenberg.
These were all go-to-guys at the centre and the system knew them as problem solvers. They not only enjoyed the confidence of their PMs, but could occasionally speak truth to power, as in: “Sir, that’s a really bad idea.”
Keith Spicer: How Canada met its bilingualism challenge
With the passage of the Official Languages Act in September 1969, Canada launched itself on a long, often rocky, but steady path to a new identity. Toward a historic accommodation with its two founding societies. The Act’s integration into Canada’s subconscious and reality would demand boldness and commitment by thousands of people.
Launched 50 years ago in July 1963, Lester Pearson’s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the “B and B” or Laurendeau-Dunton Commission”) had laid down the intellectual groundwork for language reform. Pierre Trudeau translated its key federal recommendations into the Act.
From then on and until now, hundreds of thousands of public employees have implemented the Act — some more enthusiastically than others, but with little of the sabotage feared at the outset. The Treasury Board and Public Service Commission played vital policy roles.

12 October
Harper Tories appear to mix policy, fundraising with often shocking results
(Postmedia News) We can only hope the parties are being ethical, because they are not subject to the Privacy Act, because they – the parties, that is – get to decide what’s in the Privacy Act.
Are political staffers entering informat ion gleaned from Immigration files or tax records? Let’s hope not! The estimable Susan Delacourt collects a few creepy anecdotes in her crackerjack of a new book, Shopping For Votes, which traces the accelerating transformation of our political parties into marketing machines.
9 October
Another issue for Mr. Harper to face when Parliament resumes
Canadian spies met with energy firms, documents reveal
Government agency that allegedly spied on Brazil had secret meetings with energy companies
The Canadian government agency that allegedly hacked into the Brazilian mining and energy ministry has participated in secret meetings in Ottawa where Canadian security agencies briefed energy corporations, it has emerged.
Claims of spying on the ministry by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) come amid the Canadian government’s increasingly aggressive promotion of resource corporations at home and abroad, including unprecedented surveillance and intelligence sharing with companies.
According to freedom of information documents obtained by the Guardian, the meetings – conducted twice a year since 2005 – involved federal ministries, spy and police agencies, and representatives from scores of companies who obtained high-level security clearance.
26 September
Revenue Canada Issues Run Deeper Than Nicolo Rizzuto Cheque: Ex-Staff
Problems at the Canada Revenue Agency run much deeper than a $381,000 rebate cheque mistakenly issued to a jailed mob boss, according to two former auditors who say they witnessed an attempt to stall a corruption probe and colleagues getting cozy with organized crime.
Dean Del Mastro charged under the Canada Elections Act
After a two-year investigation, the Commissioner of Canada Elections has laid charges against Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro and a campaign worker, accusing them of failing to report $21,000 in expenses. Update Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro quits caucus
Suzanne Legault, Canada’s Info Czar, Warns Against Federal Government’s New Obstructive Tactics
(Canadian Press via HuffPost) Canada’s information watchdog is rebuking federal officials for dubious new tactics to thwart the freedom-of-information law.
In a closed-door session with dozens of bureaucrats Thursday, Suzanne Legault cited a series of novel measures she says are damaging an already tottering system.
17 September
The missing $3.1B no one is asking about
(Maclean’s) A few billion dollars went missing in Ottawa over a period of eight years, but after a government watchdog finally uncovered the consistently shoddy accounting, only a few weeks passed before everybody stopped asking about where the big pile of money ended up.
At stake is $3.1 billion in anti-terror funding that, according to Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s spring report, lacked any paper trail. … At the time, the opposition raised a stink in the House of Commons, appalled at the government’s response that the money was properly reported and accounted for. They attacked Treasury Board President Tony Clement as being managerially and fiscally incompetent. Both sides of the aisle cited Ferguson’s words in their own interests, and the argument reached a stalemate.
13 September
Board rules Canadian government bargaining in bad faith with striking diplomats
(RCI) Canada’s Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled the Canadian government has been bargaining in bad faith in its negotiations with striking diplomats. It says the government “violated its duty to bargain collectively in good faith and make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement,” concluded the board.
12 September
Poilievre’s Democracy Deficit
Every Member of Parliament wants to leave a lasting legacy on the halls of Centre Block for their successors to enjoy. With the recent cabinet shuffle, Pierre Poilievre’s legacy got a helping hand after being appointed Minister of State for Democratic Reform. … With the Upper Chamber embroiled with Brazeaugate, Duffygate and then Wallingate over the last year, the junior minister has made Senate reform his top priority.
28 August
What sounds like a REALLY BAD IDEA
New fees for international touring musicians threaten smaller clubs and live venues across Canada
(Calgary Herald) The new rules, which quietly came into effect July 31, will double, triple or even quadruple the cost of bringing in international artists to perform in bars, restaurants or coffee shops. …
The regulations require that any venue with a primary business other than music but which also books bands or performers must now pay an application fee of $275 per musician and those travelling with the band (tour manager, sound person, guitar tech, etc.) when it applies for a Labour Market Opinion, or LMO, to allow those outside workers to perform and work in their establishment. That’s also in addition to an extra $150 for each approved musician and crew member’s work permit.
Prior to the changes, the fee was simply $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, and that was a one-time fee for them to simply enter the country, which allowed venue owners across Canada to share the nominal cost or book them separately at no extra charge.
17 August
Rex Murphy: The most elite VIP-only club around
The Senate is a taxpayer-funded extension of the two main political parties and hardly anything else at all
15 August
PMO shakeup to continue as top spokesman steps down
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seeking to overhaul his office amid a damaging controversy that has left him facing pressure to regain control of the national political agenda.
The departure of director of communications Andrew MacDougall – the seventh in seven years – and the expected appointment of a longtime Harper loyalist are the latest elements of a shakeup in the Prime Minister’s Office that comes as Mr. Harper heads into the second half of his term.
29 July
CFIA contract flip-flop latest sign of Tories’ ‘hardball’ approach to PS unions
(Ottawa Citizen) The chair of a conciliation panel has scolded the federal government after its representative on the panel rejected three recommendations he had earlier endorsed during contract bargaining involving more than 4,000 employees of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“It does not assist the process when one party backtracks from earlier agreements,” Lorne Slotnick, a respected mediator and arbitrator, wrote as the three-member panel released its recommendations, including a dissent from Andrew Tremayne, the member representing the CFIA.
Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said the flip-flop is consistent with the Conservative government’s “larger narrative” of taking on public service unions in the lead-up to the anticipated federal election in 2015.
Scott Reid: By accident or by design, Harper breathes new life into federal leadership
Harper is right, even if his motivation is crass politics. Even if he’s already using taxpayers’ money to advertise a program that doesn’t yet exist. And even if the Canada Jobs Grant becomes a gerrymandered mess. It’s still the right approach because it represents an improved and more practical vision for how our federation ought to operate. The federal government should play a more robust role in such matters. It should be collaborating and partnering with the provinces. It should participate in policies that meet people’s basic needs like good jobs, better health care, more secure pensions and improved education.
Senate Abolition: Brad Wall’s Pitch To Premiers Gains No Traction
During the premier’s meeting, one of the leaders — not Wynne — quipped: “We shouldn’t abolish the Senate, we should abolish Mike Duffy.”
Diplomats escalate job action to 15 largest missions; up from three
Canada’s striking foreign-service officers have escalated their job action to 15 major embassies after an attempt to seek binding arbitration with the federal government broke down Friday.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers accused Treasury Board President Tony Clement of negotiating in bad faith for insisting on a series of preconditions before agreeing to binding arbitration.
19 July
A minister barred from her own committee? It’s Harper’s consensus-free cabinet
By David McLaughlin, former deputy minister of policy and planning and secretary to the cabinet committee on policy and priorities in New Brunswick
… newly-appointed Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq … doesn’t even make it onto her own cabinet committee, the one dealing with environment and sustainable development issues. The newly-named cabinet committee on economic Prosperity, having dropped the words “Sustainable Growth” from its pre-shuffle title, still deals with environment and sustainable development, just not with the participation of the minister of the environment. Not only bizarre, this defies the consensus nature of cabinet decision-making. …
Few matters brook conflict or tax consensus today as much as reconciling the environment with the economy. But doing so is a long-standing precept of achieving sustainable development. It is deliberately tough; yet, the benefits are real.
Ms. Aglukkaq has something unique to contribute to environmental, energy, and economic policy in Canada with her Inuit background and Northern perspective. In cabinet, she will have to content herself with doing so via the social policy committee only, for she is nowhere to be found on P&P either.
18 July
Tory democratic reform minister could face Senate anger if he takes hard line on reform
The man Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed to oversee democratic reform — including revamping the Senate — once threatened to personally see to abolishing the upper chamber if it killed a bill about union financing.
17 July
Alex Himelfarb: Why Canadians have no time for politics
Inequality and the distrust it yields are at the root of our growing political apathy.
A growing body of international research … points us to what may be the underlying factor we’ll need to address if we are to turn things around: the decline of social trust. …
Social trust is not the same as political trust, but where it is high people are readier to trust their democracy, more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to government when something goes wrong, and less likely to see the latest scandal as indicative of the entire class of politicians. Even when governments perform so badly as to make political trust impossible, where social trust is high, citizens still participate, still try to make things better. Because they trust the future and their ability to influence it, they are still capable of outrage rather than the indifference or fatalism of the jaded.
16 July
John Ivison: Pierre Poilievre’s cabinet appointment may signal Senate reform back on Harper agenda
Much as we may not like this practice, it is probably a common occurrence and not limited to politicians, but it’s pretty arrogant/stupid to put such a request in writing – likely evidence of undisciplined PMO without Nigel Wright?
Harper asked Tory staffers for list of ‘enemy’ lobbyists, bureaucrats and reporters: documents
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office asked Conservative political staffers to develop lists of “enemy” lobby groups, as well as troublesome bureaucrats and reporters to avoid as part of preparations for incoming ministers named in Monday’s cabinet shuffle, according to leaked emails sent to Postmedia News by an unidentified source.
15 July
Andrew Coyne: Why cabinet shuffles don’t matter
Little more than an exercise in rewarding loyalty
The people to whom these offices are awarded may be talented, but that is not why they were selected, nor is that what the jobs entail. Rather, they are prizes to be handed out, either as a reward for individual loyalty or to purchase the loyalty of the constituencies — region, sex, ethnicity — they represent.
This is why after every cabinet shuffle the discussion tends to centre, not on the talents or ideas of the appointees but on how “representative” the result is: how many ministers there are from each region, or province, or even city; how many women, how many visible minorities and so on. It is a tacit admission that the individuals, like the jobs themselves, do not matter. …
If there are changes of policy in the works, they await the Speech from the Throne: with most of the major economic portfolios, from Finance to Treasury Board, remaining in the same hands, and none of the other major posts assigned to notably independent thinkers, it is hard to read much into the current lineup.
As for tone — the relentless partisanship, the disdain for Parliament, the lowbrow rhetoric and underhanded tactics and general nastiness for which this government is notorious — the message is quite emphatic: there will be no change. If the retention of the much-loathed Peter Van Loan as government house leader suggests simple obstinance, the elevation of the oily Poilievre — to minister of “democratic reform,” yet — is positively insulting.

July 06, 2012
Dan Gardner: Harper likes his ministers weak
(Ottawa Citizen) On Wednesday, a minor and largely irrelevant minister was replaced by a minor and largely irrelevant minister, and with that the cabinet shuffle was complete. Thus, a prime minister who dominates the political landscape more than any before him, a prime minister with unprecedented control of Parliament and the machinery of government, a prime minister whose mastery of his party and caucus is absolute, confirmed once again that he likes things just the way they are.

Bob Rae: With shuffle, the Harper Revolution continues its slow, steady crawl
14 July
George F. Will: The conservative case for the long-form census
If the survey were voluntary, compliance would plummet and the cost of gathering the information would soar. The data, paid for by taxpayers and available to them at no charge, serves what the nation needs most — economic growth. Target, Wal-Mart and other large retailers tailor their inventories to regional, even neighbourhood, differences revealed in the ACS’ granular data. Homebuilders locate markets rich in persons 25 to 34, and renters. NOT that the Harper government would listen to this good sense.
10 July
Don’t bother trying to abolish the scandal-plagued Senate — it’s pointless, experts say
(National Post) … the Constitution requires, at minimum, the approval of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population to make any significant changes to the Senate, including abolishing it.
4 July
Readying a shuffle, Harper severs Senate’s connection to cabinet
(Globe & Mail) Stephen Harper is severing a long-standing tie with the beleaguered Senate as the first step in a coming shakeup of his ministerial team and administration, signalling there will no longer be a place in his cabinet for the person who represents the government in the Red Chamber.
3 July
Ontario Byelections 2013: Kathleen Wynne Calls 5 Votes For Aug. 1
Wynne called the byelections in Windsor, London, Ottawa and two Toronto ridings to replace five Liberals who have resigned since she became premier in February.
29 June
PMO rebukes RCMP for seizing guns in abandoned High River homes
(Globe & Mail) The Prime Minister’s Office has rebuked the RCMP over its decision to seize guns in abandoned homes in High River, Alta., raising concerns Ottawa is interfering with the operations of the national police force during the flooding crisis.
And this kind of conjecture is NOT helpful: Matt Gurney: High River citizens right to be suspicious as RCMP changes story over removal of guns
Bravo Alison Redford:
Alberta Premier Redford: ‘The provincial government did not take away anyone’s guns’
“The RCMP went in and secured a community that has been evacuated and as part of that work … they went into houses where there were firearms that weren’t properly secured. And as opposed to leaving them sitting on fireplace mantles in a town that has been evacuated, they secured those guns”.
28 June
Fire chiefs slam cuts to emergency preparedness in wake of Alberta flooding
Aside from the great support offered by Canadian Forces personnel, the federal government has done nothing but get in the way during the Alberta floods, the president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association said Friday.
“The federal government, they can just stay in Ottawa. They got in the way,” he said, singling out Toews, who visited High River on Wednesday.
“Coming into the site, it’s pretty hard to deal with those guys because they require a lot of resources to provide them security. Unless they’re directly in charge of the military and have a functional role, it’s really just posing.”
27 June
While all eyes were on Alberta, look what the Senate did:
Beleaguered Senate blocks immediate passage of union disclosure bill
Canada’s upper chamber the Senate has won both praise and condemnation for blocking the immediate passage of a government supported bill on union disclosures, this despite a government majority in the Senate.
(CBC) … a number of government senators were very concerned by what they had heard from witnesses about the constitutionality of the legislation, on the right of association, on the right of privacy.
A Senate Committee was also concerned by the cost to government of such scrutiny.
And, so a number of government senators ended up voting for amendments  to the bill, which, because the House is on summer break, effectively stopped the passage of the bill, at least until the autumn.
25 June
So much of what Elizabeth May says is sensible and needs to be heard – even some of her more interventionist recommendations (with which I do not necessarily agree, although the goal is worthy) deserve intelligent debate
What I Would Change About Politics in Canada
(HuffPost) Here’s a short prescription for what ails our democracy:
Get rid of “first past the post” and elect MPs, as is done in most modern democracies, by some form of proportional representation. Make sure every vote counts so voters feel the impact of their vote. Thanks to first past the post, in 2011, a minority of voters elected a majority government. Such “false majorities,” as University of Toronto Prof. Emeritus Peter Russell has dubbed them, have occurred for Liberals as well as Progressive Conservative and now Conservative governments. Such results are only possible due to First past the post.
24 June
Watching Mayor Naheed Nenshi in action these last few days, makes one yearn for leaders like him at other levels of government (though we think Alison Redford and her team are also doing a great job) and in other provinces – wouldn’t he be a refreshing change in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa?
Alberta floods: Keeping up with Calgary Mayor Nenshi
Nenshi says he has three jobs.
The most important is to give people the information they need to stay safe.
His second job may be what he’s best at — giving hope and courage to people affected by the floods.
His third job? Staying out of the way as relief efforts continue. Leadership at its best!
23 June
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi gets online hero status
The tireless efforts of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to keep his city safe and informed during its flood emergency has earned him a lot of praise online, as well as several Twitter hashtags and memes created in his honour.
Don't be a Nenshi nounCalgary Flooding 2013: Naheed Nenshi Gives Redundant Message To Calgarians (VIDEO)
When Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi addressed the city on Sunday, he couldn’t believe he had to state the obvious, which apparently wasn’t obvious enough.
“I can’t believe I actually have to say this,” said Nenshi, “but I’m going to say it. The river is closed.”
Referring to people who were still using the river while the city was in a state of emergency due to flooding, Nenshi said “I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow river today. I am not allowed to use any of them. I can tell you, however, that I have been told that despite the state of local emergency, I’m not allowed to invoke the Darwin law.”
Not too little, but definitely too late – why did it take 6 years before it was published?
Alberta flood zone development was a mistake, former MLA says
The 2006 Provincial Flood Mitigation Report, which was just released last year, recommended a cessation of the sale of Crown lands in known flood risk areas.
Sale of flood-prone Crown lands creates the potential “for increased financial liability for the province in terms of Disaster Recovery Program funding that must outweigh the short-tem financial benefits of the sale,” the report stated.
2006 flood report called for the end of land sales in known flood risk areasThe report also recommended that disaster recovery payments for “new inappropriate development in flood risk areas” be prohibited.
“To me that was the real issue with the report, if you’re going to [build there] the individuals themselves are responsible,” he said. “When you have a disaster, don’t be looking for the government to bail you out when you build in these areas.”
As well, the report recommended a notification system be established that informs potential buyers that the property is located in a flood-risk area.
20 June
‘Everyone is feeling the pressure’: Senate could sacrifice summer break until July in face of legislative backlog
Conservatives in the Senate say they are willing to sit into July — past June 28 when the upper chamber is scheduled to start its break — to pass five government bills and possibly two contentious bills from backbench Tory MPs.
This year, the Senate may sit into July to pass two private member’s bills: one about union finances (bill C-377) and the other about hate speech (bill C-304).
18 June
Tories stumble and bumble without Nigel Wright
… All these things have happened in the few short weeks since Wright left the PMO and even Conservative insiders are saying these haven’t been the government’s finest hours — reaction-wise. It does seem to prove that Wright was a steadying influence on the hyper-partisan zeal that has been exhibited now in his absence.
Politicians vaunt achievements as Canada’s House of Commons adjourns early
(RCI) Friday was supposed to be the last day for MPs in Canada’s House of Commons before the summer break, but Tuesday night (June 18) an all-party deal adjourned the House until the autumn.
Numerous questions on senate expense claims and numerous bills are now on hold until the session resumes on September 16.
MPs pass NDP motion on expenses, adjourn for summer
New Democrat MP Peter Julian won unanimous consent late Tuesday for a motion aimed at creating an independent body to oversee House of Commons spending, including MPs’ expenses [replacing] the secretive board of internal economy, a multi-party committee that is currently responsible for the financial administration of the Commons. … Julian’s proposals could take almost a year to produce any result.
MPs and senators’ side income provokes ethics debate
(CBC) The debate over Justin Trudeau’s speaking fees has raised questions about what MPs and senators should be allowed to earn on top of their parliamentary incomes.
17 June
Justin Trudeau Far From The Only MP To Make Cash On The Side
Justin Trudeau may be under fire for the extracurricular speaking fees he collected before he became Liberal leader, but an analysis of the most recent MP disclosures reveals 40 per cent of all MPs declare a secondary source of income.
Federal politicians are supplementing their six-figure salaries with a range of income, from music royalties, condo rents and farm earnings to profits from private investment firms and a national speaker’s bureau. MPs make a base salary of $160,200.
14 June
Heritage Minister Considers Restoring Some Funding To Library And Archives
CBC News has learned Heritage Minister James Moore will ask Library and Archives Canada to consider restoring a program eliminated during recent federal budget cuts that helped hundreds of small museums across the country preserve local history. … The federal grant program, with a budget of about $1.7 million annually, was cut as part of $9.6 million in reductions to the department.
According to [Doug Marshall, the president of the Union of National Employees which represents the staff at Library and Archives Canada],the staff responsible for digitizing the material were the ones impacted by the cuts. “Less than two per cent of the materials are digitized and at the rate they’re going, it’s going to take seriously hundreds of years before they actually get what they have in digital form,” Marshall said.
11 June
Steve Paikin: Bob Rae Was Right (But Before His Time)
Rae made plain in his government’s first budget that he had a choice to “fight the deficit, or fight the recession, and we choose to fight the recession.” Essentially, he cranked up government spending to record levels in hopes of doing what the private sector wouldn’t or couldn’t do, namely, spur on some economic growth that could create some jobs.
… his government came up with an idea that, it turns out, would achieve two things: First, it would save jobs, and second, it would utterly alienate Rae from his support base. He did it anyway with the full support of his cabinet. Not a single member resigned, not even the labour minister. The idea was the Social Contract. It was part of a so-called three-legged stool the government created to deal with some impossible economic numbers.
6 June
John Hancock: Canada’s Wasted Years
It’s not the Harper government’s agenda we should be worried about – it’s their lack of agenda
( When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives first came to power in 2006, critics warned of their “hidden agenda”. The critics, it turns out, were too generous. Despite the image of tough leadership and ideological conviction, this government has done less to reform, restructure, or re-imagine Canada than any of its modern predecessors – and this at a time of seismic global change. The problem is not a hidden agenda, but no agenda at all. …
What about structural reform? Canada continues to slide down the global competitiveness and innovation ladder – from the 9th most competitive economy in 2009, according the World Economic Forum, to 12th place today – yet there is no coherent plan to reverse this trend, let alone a bold blueprint for national renewal along the lines of the MacDonald Commission. Lack of policy direction is compounded by policy ambivalence and U-turns. After initially welcoming foreign investors with open arms, the government has started closing the barn door – but long after Inco, Alcan, Falconbridge, and other Canadian corporate giants have been lost. Trade policy is everywhere and nowhere – trivial agreements with Panama and Jordan, non-existent agreements with rising Asia, a stalled agreement with troubled Europe, and an outdated agreement with the United States.
3 June
Glen Pearson: Don’t Abolish Senators, Choose Better Ones
(HuffPost) There appears to be a rough consensus that something is required to round off the rough edges of the House of Commons, something which only a reformed Senate could accomplish.
There have been many profound arguments for abolishing the Senate or changing it to an elected Chamber, but those negotiations would be so constitutionally fraught with hedging and acrimony, not to mention provincial wrangling, that it would be a process likely to take years and with no guarantee of success. For now it is important to recognize that most Canadians pressing for change are sincere about their democracy and willing to pursue the measures necessary, despite their differences, to bring about change. …
Our focus should be upon the selection process for Senators, at least in the interim.
10 May
Janice Kennedy: Living in the Age of Dumbness
All rational reasons to the contrary, the Stephen Harper government decided in 2010 that the embrace of ignorance — dressed up as a principled stand against perceived government intrusion into private lives — trumped the gathering of information that would enable it to do a better job of governing.
That’s willfully dumb, an anti-intellectual choice made not because members of this government are unintelligent, but because they’re blinkered by a philosophy they don’t question.
8 May
Canada census survey results set off opposition party attacks
(CBC) Normally census data results aren’t the stuff of debate, but on Wednesday (May 8), the first release of 2011 Canadian census survey data set off questions both in the House of Commons and in the media.
The results of two surveys from the government agency Statistics Canada focussed on Canada’s Aboriginal population, and on immigration, ethnic origin, language and religion.
The reason there are questions, is that the 2011 Canadian census was the first not to be a mandatory census which people had to respond to. In 2006, the non-response to the census was at 6%, in 2011 it was 31.4 %
John Ivison: Harper’s Conservatives seem to have lost their way as opposition hits the Tories where it hurts
The “lost” $3.1-billion in anti-terror spending revealed by the auditor-general last week and the millions being spent on Economic Action plan ads during the hockey play-offs have allowed the opposition parties to ask whether Stephen Harper can be trusted to govern.
24 April
Senator shows why ‘sober second thought’ matters: Goar
Liberal senator holds the floor for 85 minutes, taking apart Tory anti-union bill clause by clause. Six Conservatives applaud.
18 April
Allan Gregg: The democratic danger of political attack ads
For decades, political operatives have defended the practice of focusing on your opponent’s weaknesses, rather than your strengths, as a legitimate part of democratic choice.
Not just part of democratic choice, attack ads are also justified for the simple reason that they work. Of course they work. They play to – and I believe feed – the public’s general cynicism towards the political system and distrust of politicians. Sad but true, a message that states … “politician A is a crook” is far more likely to be believed than one that claims “politician B is a paragon of virtue”. But using this justification implies that the only practice of politics and role for politicians is to secure short-term electoral gain over your opponent.
15 April
Parliament losing power to keep tabs on government: Tory MP
( A former member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has warned that Canadian parliamentary democracy is being jeopardized by the “command and control” system that is removing the right of MPs to speak in the House of Commons.
13 April
Andrew Coyne on the modern party leader: Pragmatic, disciplined and without political principles
(National Post) Pride of place, of course, goes to the Conservatives, who have devoted most of the last decade to shedding any vestigial belief systems in the service of electing what they learned to call a Harper government. This was called “moving to the middle,” or in other words giving up, and was greatly applauded by the wisest heads as a sign of maturity. For as long as they continued to believe things they could never win power, and without power they could never put into effect all the things they no longer believed in.
23 March
Tories to ‘unwind’ budget office, departing PBO warns
(CBC) Canada’s first budget watchdog could also be the last, says the departing public civil servant with 27 years of experience who held the job until Friday when his five-year mandate came to an end.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House, the former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page told host Evan Solomon that the federal government has already begun to undo the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as Canadians have known it.
18 March
This is simply beyond the pale, but then, we keep thinking that about new measures from the Harper government.
Librarians warned of loyalty duty to Canada’s government, high risk activities
Canada’s government librarians and archivists are being warned of ‘high risk’ activities such as going to a classroom, attending a conference. or speaking in public meetings about what they do.
They are also being reminded of their “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government”.
14 March
Federal budget to be delivered March 21, same day budget officer takes government to court
Flaherty … will table the budget the same day Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is due in court in an attempt to clarify his mandate and ultimately get federal departments to hand over more information on the impacts of spending cuts.
It will also come just a few days before Page’s appointment as budget officer expires.
3 March
U.N. food envoy slaps Ottawa for scrapping census
(Canadian Press) The United Nations right-to-food envoy says the Harper government’s controversial decisions to scrap the long-form census and negotiate a free trade deal with Europe will make it more difficult to fight poverty in Canada.
Those are among the many cutting observations made by Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food, who will release his report Monday in Geneva at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.
The report calls on Ottawa to create a national food strategy to fight hunger among a growing number of vulnerable groups, including aboriginals and people struggling to make ends meet on social assistance. It says the strategy should spell out the levels of responsibility between federal, provincial and municipal governments.
14 February
David (Kilgour) Senate reform: Canada should adopt Australia’s Triple-E Senate … Canadian senators do not provide effective regional representation because most attempt to represent the “national view” by transcending provincial and regional interests. In addition, since prime ministers alone appoint senators, they have no legitimacy in democratic terms. Our Senate shrieks for reform from a representational perspective.
We’re living in a golden age of falsehood
(iPolitics) Parties of all political stripes have had their share of liars and cheaters, just as they have had a goodly number of visionaries and public benefactors. But when lying and cheating morph into a model of governance where citizens not only don’t know, but can’t know what’s going on, democracy becomes what H.L. Mencken called a fancy abstraction for the collective fear and prejudice of an ignorant mob.
7 February
New policy gives government power to muzzle DFO scientists
(iPolitics) Canada, the only parliamentary democracy in the Commonwealth where a government has been found in contempt of Parliament, is now the only democracy in the world where a government bureaucrat can suppress scientific research.
3 February
Canada’s autopilot political culture
It’s time to get real about what we expect from our democracy and ourselves.
(Ottawa Citizen) Canada isn’t a democracy — not in the sense that many of us think it is. While we expect a system built for immediate response to our whims and full attention to our fickle demands, our democracy isn’t designed that way. Thus, when our political attention is temporarily piqued and we bother to engage in civic life, our imaginations get ahead of our political system, running wild with dreams of participatory democracy, instant change, and responsive and productive dialogue.
And when our fleeting desire to “get political” runs up against an unresponsive system, we are bound to feel disappointed, offended, or even scorned by our democracy. Part of the problem is our leaders and the political system: our politicians tend to gamble with our trust and lose it; contemporary governance structures can be groaning and complex to the point of being so arcane that even experts find themselves unable to comprehend them; and ordinary citizens are rarely called upon to do much more than vote.
But part of the problem is us. Our politicians are weak, but we don’t demand stronger ones. The system is complicated, but we make little effort to prioritize learning about it. And while we could build more time in our lives to engage as citizens, it doesn’t make our To-Do lists — after all, Homeland isn’t going to watch itself. Our problem is that the expectations we have for our democracy are divorced from the expectations we have of ourselves as citizens.
3 January
Adam Goldenberg: Idle No More needs to go over Harper’s head
(Ottawa Citizen) When no Canadian is able to shrug off as unreasonable a demand from an aboriginal leader to meet with the government officials who advise and represent the Crown — namely, the prime minister and the Governor General — and not with some lesser minister in their stead; when First Nations no longer need to hire professional lobbyists in Ottawa to make their case to the government of Canada; and when the federal government recognizes, once and for all, that aboriginal peoples are partners in Confederation, not just stakeholders in politics, then Idle No More will have made an important and lasting contribution to the way we understand and govern our country.
Yet, in the meantime, Idle No More is up against a government for whom governing is politics by other means. If aboriginal Canadians can convince the rest of the country that the honour of the Crown deserves better, then they will have done all of us a great service.

One Comment on "Canada: Government & governance 2013"

  1. Nick's Gleanings December 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm ·

    Nick’s Gleanings #542
    In Canada household debt has gone from < 90% of GDP in 1990 to 164% (a level well in excess of that in the US at its peak). But according to the Chief Economist at one of Canada’s Big Five banks, this “shouldn’t necessarily trigger alarm bells because 70% of it is mortgage debt5”. Expectations now are that in 2014 it will surpass 170%6. If so, this will intensify the all but inevitable eventual hangover for Canadian consumers . Add onto this the implications for the Canadian economy if one of its mainstays, the Alberta oilsands, were to prove unable to solve its access to world markets’ problems in a timely fashion7, and the outlook for the Canadian economy in 2014, and possibly even more so in 2015, the year of the next federal election, becomes ‘dodgy’. If so, Prime Minister Harper might be wise to either call an early election (thereby relegating his earlier much-vaunted four-year fixed election schedule fully to the trashcan of history since it would be the second time he ignored it since he introduced the idea), or jump off what is starting to look like a sinking ship while he still can, with his reputation intact.

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