Being Better By Doing Better

Being Métis working in political Ottawa is an experience that can be trying at times. Let’s face facts, there aren’t many Indigenous peoples who work in Canadian political circles and our histories and experiences are things that are not always well known, or at least not well understood. Granted this is changing, and I can honestly say that in the decade that I’ve been here working in this environment I’ve seen some improvement.

But there are days and times when you’re given stark reminders of the past and how much further we have to go. This week, we got one of those reminders, as stark and clear as ignorance gets in this country. It’s vile and wrong on so many levels. And the person bringing it all about sits in the Senate of Canada:

I will freely admit that this is something I’ve wanted to write about, but I’ve struggled with how to go about it because honestly, this hits close to home for me in a couple ways. Firstly, Senator Beyak is from my part of the World, Northwestern Ontario, Treaty 3 territory. I take great pride in being from where I am, but we have our problems. Reading the Senator’s comments and seeing the letters that she posted on her Senate website just made my blood boil, and still do. But honestly, they also remind me of comments I’ve heard from people back home growing up. I’ve heard people say awful things about Indigenous peoples, to only then say things that Beyak said in her reply to the Senate Ethics Commissioner, things like “some of my family are Aboriginal” and “I have many friends who are Aboriginal”.  And I admit, at those times growing up, I didn’t have the courage to tell them they were wrong; most times I was too afraid to say anything, and I just stayed quiet because it was easier.

The fact remains that where I’m from has a history, and some of it is not that distant. You hear the stories from places like Canadaland, who did their “Thunder Bay” podcast series last year that exposed much of what we from Northwestern Ontario have experienced and lived. The fact remains that my hometown, where I was born and raised, had multiple residential schools. One was where Chanie Wenjack escaped from; when I was in high school, my school soccer team would practice on the land where that school sat, none of us any the wiser as to what happened there because we were never taught it. At another, the students were the subject of nutritional experiments, where the kids were fed an experimental flour mixture that was illegal in the rest of Canada as a part of their diet. My hometown was also the site of the occupation of Anicinabe Park in 1974. This is all part of our combined history.

The fact remains that these are not distant events, they are not ancient history and many of the people who lived and survived them are still with us, dealing with the effects. We know how intergenerational trauma can affect the course of a person and their whole family, that’s clear today. And where I’m from, we are still dealing with it all the best that we can.

There was also a second reason why I was struggling with writing this piece; I struggled with drawing more attention to this Senator and in turn, amplifying her voice and giving it more power. I firmly believe that the views of Senator Beyak are those of the past, not of the future, and if I was going to go into this topic, I wanted something positive to come from it, something good to be highlighted that shows us that there is hope. I wanted to highlight something hopeful and today, that came across my Twitter feed from my hometown newspaper, the Kenora Daily Miner and News:

What’s the best way to work toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Kenora?
 
Ahze-mino- gahbewewin — Reconciliation Kenora want to know what you think — that’s why the group, partnered with Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, is holding a strategic planning workshop Friday and Saturday, meant to gather insights from residents about the best way to work together for reconciliation in the city.
 
The organization is seeking people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to speak to their experiences to help inform its next steps.

https://www.kenoradailyminerandnews.com/news/local-news/reconciliation-kenora-to-hold-strategic-planning-sessions?fbclid=IwAR2VWifkmFSKfauUVOXQ9dwOQ3YvDqWWpIlFuToHe8uSjv8RuA3kgbAtMwQ

If you want to see hope for the future, I see it here in this kind of initiative. It’s young people like these taking the lead, showing the way forward, that give me hope for better back home. Change and better isn’t going to come from the outside and seeing an end to the racism and hate that Senator Beyak spews will not come from shaming from the big cities of Canada. That changes needs to come from the ground, come from home and come from ourselves. So, it gives me hope to see this not only happening but making progress.

So yes, Senator Beyak needs to resign and her views need to be thrown into the dustbin of history, but at the same time, it’s up to us to do better. We hold our future in our own hands, and we will get there by dialogue, listening, learning and truly caring about one another. So, while my blood boils reading her words, I’m not focusing on them; I’m looking at those who are making a positive difference and giving them my energy. In my view, that’s the best way to not just show the Senator Beyak’s of the world that they are wrong, but to ensure that we don’t repeat their ignorance going forward.

Philpott Speaks

We are now just a bit more than a day past the Federal Budget, and normally this would be a time when government ministers would fan out across the country talking about the virtues of the document. Being an election year, this would especially be the case. And of course, with the SNC/PMO Scandal swirling around, there was some hope from the Prime Ministers office that this budget would help to draw attention away and maybe help turn the page.

So last night, as MPs voted late into the night and into the morning, we found out just how far this budget would go to quelling the SNC story and the answer was barely more than a day. Yesterdays media blitz by SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce was giving the scandal bearing their name a bit more oxygen, but it hadn’t managed to totally drown out the budget. But overnight, we had a development that seemed to do the trick, and it’s not good for the Liberal government:

Former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott gave an interview to Paul Wells of Macleans’, in which she opens up a bit about her resignation. It’s the first such interview she’s given and comes after it was reported yesterday by CBC that she had a “rough” regional caucus meeting with her Ontario Liberal colleagues yesterday. In that reporting, it says that Philpott received tough questions for her colleagues about her resignation while some of those members to the chance to remind her that other Liberal MPs had “made compromises on sensitive issues”, like the medical assistance in dying legislation that Philpott was involved in advancing.

In the interview, Philpott says some things that shine a good light onto what has happened, as she sticks her neck out to point out that something wasn’t right with how the government handled this:

Q: When you left cabinet, did you have a strategic goal in mind? What was the point of resigning?
 
A: I resigned because I could not maintain solidarity with cabinet on the specific issue of the management of the SNC-Lavalin issue. I felt that there was evidence of an attempt to politically interfere with the justice system in its work on the criminal trial that has been described by some as the most important and serious prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.
 
Q: Have all of the things that concerned you about the handling of that file come to light at the committee?
 
 
A: No. There’s much more to the story that should be told.

https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/jane-philpott-theres-much-more-to-the-story-that-needs-to-be-told/

She felt there was evidence of attempted political interference and that there is more to this story to be told? Wow, that looks especially bad on the government given that they killed the study into the matter in the Justice Committee barely 24 hours before this. But she had more to say:

Q: Mr. Butts said, essentially, ‘Come on, this doesn’t rise to the level of harassment, or bugging, or even sustained engagement. It’s 20 interactions over four months. It’s two phone calls and two meetings per month.’
 
A: The constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system is such that the attorney general of our country should not be subjected to political interference in any way. Whether there is one attempt to interfere or whether there are 20 attempts to interfere, that crosses ethical and constitutional lines.
 
Q: In recent days, including on Monday, the Prime Minister and the government have announced a series of steps: getting advice from Anne McLellan; a change at the clerk level; and the Liberal majority on the committee has written that they have heard enough. How would you assess that series of steps as a response?
 
A: When I decided to become a politician, I made a commitment to represent the people of my riding. People of my riding want to hear more. They do not feel that they have heard the whole story. And I believe my primary obligation in representing them is to ensure that they have confidence that nothing untoward took place. And they have understandably been concerned about why there’s been an attempt to shut down the story.

https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/jane-philpott-theres-much-more-to-the-story-that-needs-to-be-told/

When I read this interview, but especially that passage, I thought back to something I wrote back when Mrs. Philpott resigned, which repeated something that I wrote when Jody Wilson-Raybould did the same. At those times, I pointed out how in their mandate letters from the Prime Minister, he spoke about being better, about making Canadians proud and about setting a higher standard. With this interview, it’s clear that she didn’t see those words as flowery puffery not to be believed. She was trying to live up to those words, especially when it became clear that the PMO wasn’t as interested in them.

There was one more exchange in the interview that I believe needs noting, mostly because of part of the tone it’s set and how it ties into her party’s reactions:

I remember, when the Finance Minister made those comments, thinking how tone deaf those words were. Did he not realize how belittling a comment like that was? Did he not think about it would be received? You can’t help but wonder if comments like those have pushed her to do an interview like this, escalating matters for sure. But it seems that it’s not just the Finance Minster who needs to think about their reactions and words in this matter. As MPs were doing their marathon voting session overnight, I saw a tweet from the chamber at the time that the Wells/Philpott interview broke. I’ll just let these words speak for themselves:

So, as we start this Thursday, the Budget that the government hoped would change the channel is an afterthought and everyone is continuing to buzz about the newest details of the SNC/PMO Scandal. By trying to hide and burry this scandal, the government has given it more and more life, making sure that it’s not going away. One thing though is very clear here when it comes to Jane Philpott and her view of things; this is not a matter of politics or doing “politics as usual”, this is a matter of being ethical and striving to be better. This isn’t about lowering her standards to meet the norm in Ottawa, it’s about rising the standards of Ottawa to where she believes they should be. In my mind, there is nothing “pathetic” about that and her actions are far from a betrayal to the group that matters most to her; her constituents. We keep saying that we want better from our politicians and we complain when fail to do so. She is standing on principle, which is a refreshing thing to see. The government won’t be able to sweep that principle away and if they ever succeeded in doing so, we are all worse off for it.

SNC-Lavalin Speaks

I believe I’ve noted it here a few times already, but to me one of the amazing things about the whole SNC/PMO Scandal has been the amount of new news that keeps coming out from it. It’s been a near daily barrage of details leaking or flooding out, depending on your perspective. But one of the people that we’ve heard very little from about this whole story has been SNC-Lavalin’s CEO Neil Bruce. Well today that change, as Mr. Bruce did the media tour, talking to a lot of media outlets and dropping a lot of quotes around that I doubt the Prime Ministers Office is appreciating:

In the span of a morning, Mr. Bruce managed to lay waste to the main arguments that the Liberals have been running on about now for weeks. The same arguments that Gerald Butts made at the Justice Committee, the same ones that have been littered through out Justin Trudeau’s talking points; it’s all about saving jobs…. 9,000 jobs to be exact. Maybe more!!! Don’t you care about jobs?

But in this various media hits today, Mr. Bruce made a few things clear. First to the Canadian Press, he made one point very clear:

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Neil Bruce says the Montreal-based company, unlike the Trudeau government, has never cited the protection of 9,000 Canadian jobs as a reason it should be granted a remediation agreement to avoid a criminal trial.
 
However, he says there’s a public interest for such an agreement because its well-qualified employees will be forced to work for U.S. or European competitors if it is barred from bidding on federal contracts for a decade.

https://www.nationalnewswatch.com/2019/03/20/snc-lavalin-ceo-says-employees-will-move-to-foreign-rivals-if-it-is-debarred/#.XJJ1yIAVKpN.twitter

See folks, not only did Mr. Bruce deliberately put distance between himself and the government on the protection of jobs, he makes it very clear that their concern isn’t about jobs disappearing; it’s about their employees deciding to go work for someone else. So, for them the issue wasn’t if they stop existing or moved, it was if they would be able to hold onto their skilled workforce. And you know what, with some of the things they have been alleged to have done, they are right to worry about that. A lot of talented people would have a problem working for a company with that kind of track record. But that problem for SNC doesn’t rise to the level of a national emergency.

But Mr. Bruce didn’t stop there, he’s continued to talk to more media. He went on Bloomberg BNN and proceeded to tear more holes in the governments story. There he said that SNC had never threatened to leave Canada or Montreal. On top of that, Mr. Bruce pointed out that even if SNC was convicted of the criminal charges against them, they would still find other work in Canada.

Let’s take stock of these details; no jobs were at risk, no corporate evacuation to the UK and they feel that they will still be able to get other work in Canada. So where is the emergency here? What’s the problem that requires the government to try to move Heaven and Earth to help SNC get that Deferred Prosecution Agreement? According to what Neil Bruce has said today, there wasn’t one.

So not only do these statements totally blow up the governments arguments and defences for what’s happened so far in the SNC/PMO Scandal, it leaves a major question on the table: why would the government had done so much and gone so far here? That’s a serious question that now hangs out there because even if it wasn’t admissible, there was a certain ability to understand trying to go so far if jobs were actually on the line. That wouldn’t have made it right, but the pressure was somewhat understandable. But as we now see clearly, no such pressure existed.

Personally, I look forward to hearing the latest explanation for this turn of events, because the one thing that this news doesn’t change are the actions that Jody Wilson-Raybould testified took place. The government wasn’t even denying that any pressure was being placed and they haven’t denied they were trying to find a “solution” here. So, what is the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist according to the company who supposedly had the problem? I guess we’re about to find out what the Liberals think that might entail. Needless to say, the government still has a lot of explaining to do.

Budget 2019: The Morning After

Yesterday was Budget Day in Ottawa, a usually crazy day that usually brings some drama along with it. Well thanks to the Liberal members of the Justice Committee meetings killing the study into the SNC/PMO Scandal, that got cranked right up to 11, leading to threats of procedural shenanigans from the Conservatives to stop the introduction of the budget. But for one of the first times in this Parliament, the Liberals seemed to be on their procedural game as this happened:

Yep, Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives thought they had cornered the government in their attempt to stop the budget speech, therefore the introduction of the budget itself. They were going to delay and delay and make the news networks wait while stakeholders were held in the lock-ups until they relented. But someone read up on their rules obviously because while it is customary for the Budget speech to trigger when everyone can see the budget, under the rules there is no actual requirement to have that speech; they simple just have to table it. So that’s what the Finance Minister did; before a vote was called, the first of the designed attempts to stifle the speech, he rose, tabled the budget document and then spent the next 30 minutes while the bells rang calling people for a vote going on every live national news network to talk about the budget he just dropped on everyone. Game, set. But not quite match.

So, with that start to the budget drama, what was actually in there? What did we find in the last budget before the 2019 election campaign? Well, honestly, not that much:

When going over the budget docs and seeing what was in there, I guess my general sense was to be underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect huge swings for the fences in this budget; that’s what the campaign platform is for anyway. But with all the leaks that came out leaving blank details, I was expecting this budget to fill in more of those blanks. It really didn’t. The promised start towards pharmacare was underwhelming and really of no consequence; basically, arranging the bulk purchasing of drugs is not a bad idea, it’s just far from being a pharmacare plan. There was piddly help for childcare in there. The help for first time home owners is nice if you have an RRSP, but I would easily bet that the number of millennials with those is small and of those that do, they can already take from their RRSP’s to put towards the down payment on their home; I did that in 2015. But to be fair, the extra 5% coming from the government is an innovative idea for those who can actually use it, so a tip of the hat there. And it goes on from there.

In the end, it’s bits and ends towards many issues but nothing that’s going to make a drastic change. It’s a valid approach to take, but it’s not one that I think many of us were expecting. When I look at this budget as a New Democrat, I don’t feel so bad about where I sit; I personally expected this budget to go  harder on things like pharmacare in an attempt to put the full squeeze on Team Orange and to really take a lot of their potential platform ideas right off the table. That didn’t happen today, especially on the pharmacare front. The government had the chance to take the idea beyond rhetoric to action, and didn’t do that, so that will make their case of “vote for me and trust me, you’ll get it after the election” a bit harder to make. That’s especially true given other key progressive promises they made last time then subsequently broke.

But of all the stories of the day, the big one was the Conservatives and how they managed to completely get played. I’ve said it here a few times that their danger with the SNC/PMO Scandal, which will go on after this budget, was overplaying their hand. Yesterday in the stretch of a few hours, they managed to get outmanoeuvered and then overplayed that worse hand multiple times. The Liberal procedural move at the start was just genius, giving credit where credit is due. But after that happened, the Conservatives could have sent Andrew Scheer out into that lobby to speak to media for the next 30 minutes about how underhanded and crappy this all was; but instead he stayed in the chamber, where no one was watching and made a scene. Then when Morneau finally rose to speak, of course the TV cameras were all on the panels and pundits talking about the budget that had been out for 40 minutes at that point. So instead of staying in the Chamber and trying to raise holy Hell, why not then step out and go talk to the media. Jagmeet Singh did that and got a prime chance to reply, getting more attention for his perspective and looking more statesmanly than Andy beating on his desk like a toddler. And finally, when he and his caucus stormed out of the Chamber and bee-lined it for the microphone, about 20 seconds into speaking, this happens:

Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is a time and a place for procedural shenanigans and such in the Chamber; it’s one of the few tools an Opposition has when the Government is totally out of line, and what they did in the Justice Committee rose to that level. But you also have to be smart about using those tactics; once it was clear that the budget was tabled and you weren’t stopping its release, they should have pivoted to a new strategy. If they had stormed out of the House then, going to the mics and saying that was a BS move on top of another BS move from earlier in the day, that would have looked much better on them. But instead of doing something like that, they overplayed their hand again and drew many comparisons all over the national news to children throwing a tantrum. That makes people question the seriousness of the whole SNC/PMO Scandal, which is more harmful to our democracy than anything else.

So, as we go ahead, this is a budget that won’t stick in peoples minds very long; it wasn’t bad, but it was far from being transformational or even consequential. It was a bland budget that just happened to be tabled before an election, when we usually see more meat on the bones. That gives the NDP some breathing room that I don’t think they were expecting, while the Conservatives look bad while having said almost nothing on the topic of the budget itself. All in all, quite the day of drama in Ottawa.

Three Moves on a Monday

Mondays in Ottawa can be some of the most boring days you can get anywhere at anytime. When Parliament is in session, usually Mondays are one quiet day that when combined with quiet Fridays bookend the week. Usually many MPs are still en route to Ottawa, committees sit later, and it’s not odd to see the party leaders not be around on these days. But this Monday was different, as it seemed like the Liberal government was trying to make up for lost time or better put, decided to move quicker to try to burry the SNC/PMO Scandal. So, what happened? Well, a lot:

Where to start? Well let’s start with the announced retirement of Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. It has been rumoured around Ottawa that this would probably happen within the calendar year anyway, so that he decided to do it isn’t a shock. But the fact that given his implication in the whole SNC/PMO Scandal, his testimony before the Justice Committee that was out of line, and given the fact he could easily retire, the only part of this that is shocking for me is that he didn’t do this like a month ago. Could that have helped to staunch this story then? Maybe. When you look at the SNC/PMO Scandal and everything that’s come up in it, one of the common threads has been him.

So Wernick announcing his retirement now is a case of “too little, too late”. Also, when you read his retirement letter, he goes out of his way to throw as much shade as possible at the Opposition parties. He actually wrote that it’s “now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the Opposition parties”. He writes that as if there was no reason for the lack of trust these days after his testimony. As for the respect part, who is it that lacks it? Is it Wernick not respecting the Opposition Parties? When you throw in the word “mutual” into that line, it opens that question up. I’ll have more to say on this development at a later time, but it’s interesting.

After that, we heard the news announced in the House of Commons that the Prime Minister has tapped former Deputy PM Anne McLellan to be as special adviser to examine machinery of government. She will be looking at the joint roles of Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and if that should remain that way going forward. To me, here is what is amazingly cynical about this move; by bringing in someone to “advise” on this matter, who is not independent and was going to be headlining a Liberal fundraiser this month until this appointment, it will automatically bring whatever she suggests into question. And that’s sad, because McLellan does have experience and knowledge, but that doesn’t change the underlying partisan facts. If the Prime Minister were serious about getting to this bottom of that particular problem, there are dozens of eminent professors and scholars who don’t have the partisan ties who could give the advice needed here. But maybe that’s the rub? Maybe they couldn’t be counted on to do what the PM wants here? It opens it all up to question for sure.

What makes this appointment all the more interesting is that it’s a tacit admission that the PMO did something wrong here, that something untoward happened that created this scenario; if that’s not the case, why bring in “Landslide Anne”? And that’s what makes the third development from yesterday all the more egregious and slimy. The Liberal members on the Justice Committee, with the letter they sent indicating that they’ve heard enough testimony, was just pure and simple crap. It was partisan, it drives the last stake into any sense of “Sunny Ways” coming from this government and is probably the most “politics as usual” thing they could have done. It stinks like crap because it was a crap move, and it’s crap that the government is going to wear.

And making matters worse, it can’t be said enough in this whole scandal; these are not the actions of an innocent group. Something happened here and with this latest attempt to kill any questioning or investigating into this, the PMO is showing a certain tone-deafness to this issue and what it really means. Furthermore, it’s now going to force Jody Wilson-Raybould’s hand. As she wrote in a letter to her constituents just last week, “This old, cynical view is wrong. We need never resign ourselves to the excuse that “this is just the way things are done.””. This move flies right in the face of that and gives Wilson-Raybould and Canadians the finger.

So, if the Liberals think that this will end it all, and everyone will get swept away in today’s budget, something tells me they have misread the situation again. It’s the one thing they have consistently done through out this whole scandal, so why stop now, right? The ball is now firmly in Jody Wilson-Raybould’s court, and we’ll see what she decides to do with it but regardless of what she does, the government can blame no one but themselves for the result. They’ve done this to themselves.

The Politics of Outsmarting Yourself

In my decade and a half in volunteering and working on political campaigns, I’ve been blessed to get to have many amazing experiences. Those experiences have taught me a lot and given me the chance to live out some childhood dreams and honestly, get to see things that a Métis kid from the bush of Northwestern Ontario probably was never supposed to.

For those chances, I have many people to thank, but right near the top of that list are people who took the time out to teach and mentor me over the years. Those people took the time to pass along the lessons of how to run campaigns, how do work in politics and how to do it all in an ethical and moral way. I owe those people much today, and it is with that in mind that I always jump at the chance to pass those lessons along. I’ve had the chance to train many campaigners myself over time, spending free time on my weekends passing along that knowledge and experience, passing it forward.

One of these lessons that I learned early on, one that I’ve passed along at many a session, comes down to a matter of ethics and how one campaigns. Inevitably during a session some eager volunteer asks about using some of the darker arts in politics; the topic comes up in various ways, with various ideas about how they could pull one over on the competition and they’d do it so well, so perfectly, that no one would ever know it. My answer to them every single time, without fail was always this; if you’re thinking about doing something like that, don’t. Just stop and use the time you’d waste on your scheme towards campaign activities that will actually help you win; make calls, knock on doors, enter data, etc. I never miss a chance to point out that as good as you think you are, as slick as you think your plan may be, you’ll always get caught. I saw that because that almost always turns out to the be the case. The only thing that is without fail is that the plan will eventually fail because you’ll get caught. A prime example of this advice is playing out in Alberta right now, right at the worst possible time for those who decided to dabble in these dark arts; weeks before a provincial election:

Yep, the CBC story here lays the whole case out very well; allegedly Jason Kenney convinced someone else to be a stalking horse candidate in the Alberta Conservative leadership race, one that he was widely considered to win by a wide margin. But instead of doing things above board and just going out and winning the race on his merits, it’s alleged that Team Kenney did the opposite:

The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.
 
The documents also show Matt Wolf, a senior Kenney campaign staffer and his current deputy chief of staff, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and also on occasion with Callaway’s campaign manager, Randy Kerr.
 
A document prepared by Davies for the office of Alberta’s election commissioner, with whom he is co-operating, alleges the Kenney campaign made a concerted effort to recruit a “stalking horse” candidate for the specific purpose of attacking Jean, the former Wildrose leader
 
The documents include several emails between Wolf, Davies, Kerr and sometimes Callaway. The emails reveal Wolf and the Kenney campaign were providing not just communications support, but also planned, regular strategic political direction throughout Callaway’s campaign.
 
In a telephone interview Saturday, Davies confirmed to CBC News the campaigns had even decided in advance when Callaway would quit the race.
 
Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies said. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”

Folks, that’s amazingly detailed stuff here, and extremely damning. Team Kenney gave them pretty much everything, basically set up the entire campaign for him, right down to the time when he’d bow out and back Kenney. They had it all laid out by date, planning themes and everything for him. This is extremely dirty stuff, especially for the candidate who was a hands-down favourite to win the race. This has all now lead to an RCMP investigation, which is a great illustration as to why you don’t take of the risk of such plans in the first place.

But if the brazenness of this plan wasn’t enough for you, the excuses given by the United Conservatives of Alberta to try to explain this away would be downright hilarious if they weren’t so weak.

An emailed statement from UCP executive director Janice Harrington simply repeated the claim made previously by Kenney that there was communication between his campaign and the Callaway campaign and this was “perfectly normal in a preferential ballot election and was within the rules of the 2017 UCP Leadership Election.”
 
Harrington also included a statement from another leadership contender, Doug Schweitzer, a lawyer, who said he and his campaign team “kept lines of communications open with all other registered, and prospective candidates in the UCP leadership race.
 
Ongoing dialogue across all campaigns is normal throughout leadership races within the same party, especially those with ranked ballots,” Schweitzer’s statement said.

When I read those quotes I had a really hearty laugh, because either they think the public are fools or they really don’t have a better excuse. I’ve worked three leadership campaigns run under preferential ballots, and I can say that yeah you keep talking to other campaigns. It’s true that somewhere down the line that in order to win you’ll need other candidate’s supporters to give you their 2nd place votes, so you don’t want to upset them by crapping on their preferred candidate too hard. But those open lines of communication are really just the basics of being polite to one another, being friendly. They don’t include giving the other campaigns resources like talking points, prepared speeches, videos and attack ads. Oh yeah, they also don’t involve giving another campaign a full-made message calendar or a pre-planned date for their backing out of the race. You don’t need to be a seasoned political expert to understand that.

What makes this story even more damning against Jason Kenney and his team are, as usually tends to be the case, his own words, recorded on tap. You see Kenney was asked about this rumoured scheme back in 2017, and guess what he had to say then?

Yeah, he denied it all, of course. So how can you deny there was nothing there on one hand, while on the other, a couple of years later, say that “hey, this is all normal stuff…. Campaigns talk all the time”? Yeah, you can’t do that, or at least not do it while retaining any credibility of any sort.

It remains to be seen what will come of the RCMP investigation into this and what effect it might have on the Alberta election this spring, but let this story serve as the lesson for everyone out there. No matter how well you scheme, no matter how good you think your plan it, you will get caught someday. That will likely come at the worst possible moment for you, and it will do far more damage than any benefit that you would have gotten by pulling it off. So instead of trying to re-create a scene from “House of Cards” in your campaign, stick to the things that will get you over the line; make calls, knock on doors and talk to voters. It’s not sexy stuff, but it’s what wins campaigns.

Using the Tools in the Toolbox

Back on Wednesday when the Liberal majority in the House of Commons Justice Committee shut down Opposition attempts to call Jody Wilson-Raybould back to testify for a second time, it seemed to be done in an attempt to try to shut this story down. Given how this scandal has hurt the government, it’s easy to understand why they might want to do that. But this story has grown well past the point of being able to be swept under any legislative rugs; there are too many unanswered questions, Wilson-Raybould hasn’t been able to tell her full story and the Liberals are not acting like an innocent party here.

But if the committee gets shut down, what more can the opposition parties do about it? What is at their disposal to try to bring attention to this or pressure the government to back down and change course? Well, it’s a times like these we turn to the procedural rules of the House of Commons and with the next Federal Budget getting tabled on Tuesday, that means there are opportunities to use those procedures to make a point. And let’s not forget that Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre left Wednesdays meeting with this hint of what might come:

Poilievre told CBC that if the Liberals use their majority to “shut down accountability,” the opposition will use every tool in the parliamentary toolkit to force the government to “end the coverup.”
 
“There are a lot of things that become very difficult in all of the committees of Parliament, and in the House of Commons itself, if the opposition is united in a singular focus to get to the truth,” he said. “I also think there will be enormous public pressure if Trudeau decides that he’s just going to cover this whole thing up.”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justice-committee-wilson-raybould-trudeau-1.5052976

So, what might be the opening salvo in a procedural skirmish starting this coming week, budget week? Well it seems like it will involve a lot of standing and sitting:

196 votes, that’s going to make for a long day and into the night in Parliament. You see, procedurally, these votes must happen before the government is allowed to table the budget. By doing this now, depending on how the government and the speaker deals with it, it will drag things out longer, delaying government business for who knows how long. And that would seem to be the first tool to be pulled out. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw a repeat of 2017, when the start of the Finance Ministers Budget speech was delayed by a half hour, with the full attention of the Canadian news media watching, by Opposition procedural tactics. But I guess time will tell.

But with the choices the government members made in the Justice Committee on Wednesday, this is a natural and appropriate reaction from the Opposition parties and a tactic that’s full in-bounds in my opinion. If the Liberals are going to try to skirt responsibility for the SNC/PMO Scandal, then the Opposition is duty bound to use the tools they have at their disposal. The Liberals only saving grace here is that thanks to years of the suppression of these procedural outlets the Opposition have had by previous governments, the tool box is fairly empty compared to how full it used to be.

Come Monday we’ll see how the government decides to respond to these tactics and whatever more comes in the weeks to come. Thanks to a quirk in the Parliamentary calendar, this week is a rare “One and Done”, as the House only sits for the week before taking another week off. We’ll see how much pressure the Opposition can put on the government for these five days and if it will need to continue into April and a third month of this scandal.