Talking Ron MacLean, Prince Andrew & Alberta-Quebec Relations with Evan Solomon

This afternoon I had the chance to join Evan Solomon on “Ottawa Now” with Katlyn Harrison and Shane Mackenzie. Today we talked about Ron MacLean’s apology, the dumpster fire of an interview by Prince Andrew and a week of tense back and forths between Alberta and Quebec. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 20:30 minute mark. Enjoy!

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The Parliamentary Dance Begins

It’s been close to a month since Canadians elected a minority Parliament but really it was this week that we really started to see things go. All week we’ve seen a steady stream of leaders, both federal opposition leaders and some provincial premiers, make their way into Ottawa for meetings with the Prime Minister. And naturally so, this has been everyone’s focus, listening closely to every word uttered and parsing every statement within an inch of its life. Welcome back to life in minority Parliament Canada.

Through out the week many have tried to make a lot out of what every leader has said before and after their meetings, trying to tell us what this will all mean going forward. And really has anything big come out of any of this? Nope, no real new details, news or ideas. Some may look at this as a bad thing but in my view, this really shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone; this is life in minority Parliaments.

Putting that aside, what can we say about what we saw this week and what it might mean going forward. First of all, I would argue that all of the opposition leaders did what they needed to do and no one has overplayed their hand yet, despite what some are saying. That’s being said particularly of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, whose supposed faux pas was to say that his party was not afraid to vote against the Throne Speech. Some in the media scoffed at this, saying that “the party is broke”, “they can’t possibly want to force an election” and so on.

But here is the thing about those comments or at least my gut reaction to them; what exactly do they expect Singh to say? “Ooohh, I’m so powerless…. I can’t do anything but agree to whatever thin offerings the Liberals put in front of me?” Not only wouldn’t that be false, it’s not how anyone negotiates. Who goes into a negotiation downplaying their hand and undercutting themselves in the process? Come on man!

Plus, while many are focusing on the negatives in the NDP’s hand, they’re seemingly ignoring what the party has going for it. Firstly, the party’s financial situation isn’t as bad as some want to believe; the party had a record fundraising haul during the campaign, at a time when honestly the party was probably least able to spend it (i.e.: towards the end of the campaign). That means while the funding situation isn’t fantastic, it’s not that dire.

The second advantage for the NDP is frankly the other opposition parties. Some media yesterday was pointing to the Bloc Quebecois as a potential dance partner for the Liberals but let’s consider that for a moment. Given the tensions that are out there these days in the West, how easily can this government survive solely with the backing of the sovereigntist Bloc? How would that go over over time, with the Liberals being dependent on the votes of Mr. Blanchet’s team, all while he’s poking at western premiers? Furthermore, can you even count on the Bloc to support their agenda in the long term? In past minority governments, the Bloc was always a wild card and if you’re counting on the BQ to be your stable partner, then you’re making a very big gamble that’s not likely to work out so well.

Then add to that the situation with the Conservatives and the leadership of Andrew Scheer. Putting the Throne Speech aside, what are the odds being laid down that Scheer is still leader of his party by the time that the next Federal budget comes down? If the Conservatives take the holiday break to further this narrative that Mr. Scheer’s leadership is in trouble and manages to get him out of that role, that eliminates the chances the Conservatives will force an election until after they have a new leader in place. That would push us into 2021 and takes a lot of pressure off of the NDP.

Finally, in this political environment, there is a space that has been left vacant that Jagmeet Singh and the NDP can fill if they so choose. With all the regional tensions going on and the heat being raised all over, there is a space for the NDP to be the conciliators, the national builders and try to find solutions that speaks to the concerns of all of these sides. There is a space to try to mend that divide, and I’ll be interested to see if they take that chance.

Having said all that, despite those advantages and the potential they could bring, there is also the possibility that it could all blow up, but that’s the nature of minority Parliament. It’s higher stress and every choice holds more importance, so that’s the nature of the beast. For those who have forgotten the experience, this is life in a minority Parliament. It’s not straight forward, it’s more uncertain, it involves more negotiation and but eventually it normally settles down.

Normally that settling comes when we actually have things to vote on, like a Throne Speech. So while everyone is staking out their positions today (regardless of how likely people think they are), it’s all conjecture and assumption until we actually see something to vote on and a vote actually happens. I personally expect this Throne Speech to be rather bland and with minimal details, to make it easy to get passed. But still that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to vote for it; it will not be unanimous and rarely ever is.

With the cabinet being named next week and the Throne Speech coming on December 5th, we’ll keep looking for signs as to what might come and how the parties will react. We’ll see how much of these discussions this week will influence the outcome. Welcome to the minority Parliament Dance; where nothing is straightforward, everyone is wondering what everyone else is thinking and we don’t really know where it will all end.

More Shifting in the Red Chamber

This week in Ottawa all attention has been focused on the various meetings the Prime Minister has been having with Opposition leaders and various provincial premiers before the December 5th Throne Speech. And honestly, rightfully so; that is where a lot of what we’ll see in this minority Parliament is being fleshed out and where some of the fault lines may be. It’s not the only thing that many Ottawa watchers are keeping an eye on. It was just last week that I pointed to one of those things; the Senate and it’s make up. It’s hard not to notice just how different the Canadian Senate looks today than it did back at this time in 2015. It’s a night and day change and the changes just seem to keep coming.

In that piece that I wrote last week, I pointed to another thing that needed to be watched in regard to the Senate; the future of the Senate Liberals. What would become of this group of Senators as they barely had official party status in the Red Chamber and its leader Senator Joseph Day getting ready to retire in January 2020? It was an open question, one of serious consequence in a divide Senate where no group has a majority of the seats. Well this morning we got an answer, and it’s one that I don’t think many saw coming:

Welcome to the world Progressive Senate Group. With their announcement today, the Senate Liberals have formed their own new group, the PSG (as a Paris Saint-Germain fan, I’ll easily remember that acronym). The group says that this is simply not a name change but a whole new group, but the fact that this new group is completely made up of the former Liberal senators make that a bit harder to wash with the public. To join this group, a senator needs to “support progressive politics and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and are committed to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.” They are also saying that they will not be whipping votes to support a Liberal government. Their members are also free to take part in partisan activities, something that the Independent Senate Group wouldn’t allow and now both the Canadian Senate Group and the PSG are allowing. That is an interesting new twist on this.

But for me the other twist on this that is interesting yet confusing is the timing of this announcement and the make up of the group. Creating the PSG was probably a way for this group to continue in the future, but by not bringing any new senators onboard to join this group puts them in the exact same spot they were in as the Senate Liberals. Senator Day will still be retiring in January and if no one else joins them, they will still lose official party status. Furthermore, making this announcement now with no new senators coming onboard, it really undercuts the claims that this is a whole new group and not just the old Senate Liberals under a new banner. Furthermore, I would argue that fact will actually make it more difficult to recruit any new senators to keep them afloat. All told, it’s not a terrible mistake but it makes me wonder what the rush was to do this now instead of trying to find other senators to sign up to this idea and then launching it as a larger group. We’ll see if we hear more about why that didn’t happen at a later date.

In the meantime, it can’t go without being noticed that with this move there are officially no Liberals in the Senate of Canada for the first time since Confederation. Let that sink in for a moment, and then think of what this all looks like now. As of now, here are the seat totals in the Senate of Canada:

  • 50 ISG
  • 25 Conservative
  • 11 CSG
  • 9 Progressives
  • 5 “non-affiliated”
  • 5 vacancies to be filled

Compare that to four years ago in 2015, when it basically was the Conservatives, the Liberals and a sprinkling of Independents. That’s what our Senate looked like for the better part of 150 years, so to see it here now is definitely a shock and a big change. And with that Senate in flux in a way we’ve never seen, we head into a minority House of Commons too. It remains to be seen what effect this new look Senate will have on things but it’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. Interesting times ahead for sure, as the Red Chamber has taken on a whole new look and we have surely seen the passing of an era. If that’s for the better or the worse, we’ll see as we go ahead.

Planning the Return

Since the Federal Election took place close to a month ago (I know, it feels like it’s been longer, hasn’t it?) and Canadians elected a minority Parliament, many have been wondering when we’d see that Parliament at work. There has been a lot of speculation as to when MPs would come back to Ottawa and take their seats in the House of Commons, getting back to the work of the people. Given the minority situation, most of the speculation has revolved around the strategy of when they come back, who it advantages and how. Well this morning we finally got an answer to that question, and it’s an interesting one:

Thursday December 5th, 2019 is the day when the 43rd Parliament of Canada will officially reconvene and kick things off. On that day we’ll see MPs elect the new Speaker of the House of Commons and once that task is done, we’ll see a Throne Speech come. It promises to be a very short sitting of the House, typically the House of Commons rises at the end of the second week of December. That would basically make this a seven day sitting before everyone takes off for the Holidays.

I wouldn’t expect any big drama during those seven days for a big reason; no one wants to trigger an election right now. This short sitting will most likely be all about getting the place set up, getting the functions of Parliament up and running so that they’ll be good to go when the House comes back at the end of January. So yeah, I don’t expect the drama to come from the parties themselves in this sitting.

But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some interesting questions out there. One in particular of a very practical procedural nature was raised by David Akin of Global News; now that the House of Commons and Senate are in different buildings because of the renovations to the Centre Block, how exactly will the logistics of the Throne Speech work? Normally the way it works is that the Black Rod is sent from the Senate down to the House, inviting MPs to come stand outside the Senate chamber to listen to the Throne Speech.

Historically that has involved a short walk down a hallway only a few minutes apart. But with the House of Commons now sitting in the West Block and the temporary Senate now located a few blocks down Wellington Street in the old Ottawa Train station, how exactly will this all work? That’s a new twist as this will be the first Throne Speech since the Centre Block closed. Add to the fact that it’s December in Ottawa and it makes one wonder what they might do. But being the helpful person that I try to be, I come with a suggested solution that involves recreating a unique moment in Canadian history:

Yes remember when Wayne Gretzky got in the bed of that Chevy pick up, hoisting the Olympic flame high as he rolled through the streets of downtown Vancouver as they lit the Olympic torch? I propose we take some inspiration from that moment. Let’s get a similar set up for the Black Rod, and he can ride up the Hill to the West Block in the December snow to invite MPs down the street. Then he could return to the truck, and lead the MPs down the street to the Senate, like the pied piper of Canadian democracy. Okay, that probably won’t happen but hey, we can hope, right?

Anyway, probably more importantly we now have a firm date as to when our Parliament will come and the circus that can be minority Parliament will begin. We’ll start to see the results of what Canadians elected and what they end up accomplishing. The next act of this show is about to begin and this morning we found out when the curtain will rise on it. Get your popcorn ready folks, this will likely be quite the show.

Talking the Firing of Don Cherry & Scheer’s Leadership Issues with Evan Solomon

This afternoon I had the chance to join Evan Solomon on “Ottawa Now” with Katlyn Harrison and Shane Mackenzie. Today we talked the firing of Don Cherry, the comments that got him fired and claims of anti-Catholic bigotry in regards to questions about Andrew Scheer’s Leadership. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 18:30 minute mark. Enjoy!