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Starting the 43rd Parliament

So today was the big day that we’ve been waiting for ever since the 43rd General Election ended. We saw the official return of the House of Commons, the election of the new Speaker in the morning then followed by the Speech from the Throne in the afternoon. Today brought a lot of the ceremony and is usually a day that poli-geeks across the country look forward to.  

But today was a bit different for one very simple logical reason: with the renovations to the Centre Block, the Senate and the House are in two separate buildings 700 metres apart (as CBC so precisely pointed out). That difference made the pomp and circumstance a bit different, as the Black Rod shuttled back and forth between the West Block and the old Ottawa Train Station in a black van, with Parliamentarians and dignitaries in tow. It all made for a different sight, but that was an interesting quirk to be bigger news of the day.

This morning started with the Speakers election, something that takes on greater importance in a minority government. The Speaker not only runs the show in the House, they get an extra $100,000 a year, an apartment on the Hill and use of Kingmere, the official residence of the Speaker in the Gatineau Hills. Those are some nice perks, along with the responsibilities in the job.

MPs cast their vote for that role and the result was a bit surprising to me; Liberal Anthony Rota won, defeating the outgoing Liberal Speaker Geoff Regan. While there was some grumbling about some of Regan’s decisions from the last Parliament, I thought he would be safely re-elected. But it seems that Mr. Regan was the last choice of all the Opposition Parties on their ranked ballots. Amazingly this appears to be the first time Canadian history an incumbent Speaker lost the speakers chair without his or her party losing the election or their own retirement. Surprising indeed.

In the afternoon Governor General Julie Payette delivered the much anticipated Speech from the Throne, telling Canadians what the Liberal governments priorities are for the 43rd Parliament. As expected, the speech was relatively short on details, making it easier for enough of the Opposition parties to support it and keep this government going.

Given that expectation, it is very noteworthy about where the speech did get specific and some of the pledges put forward in it. The government pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, a firm date and a firm pledge, no matter how far out it looks. The government also pledged to cut the cost of cell phone and wireless services by 25% and to also close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities by 2030. All of these firm dates and targets are interesting, but as with any such promises, the devil will be in the details and the opposition parties will have to judge those at a later date when they become clearer. Will they actually follow through on the spirit of those promises and back them up with words? We don’t know that today but that’s a question for another day.

Some promises were made as a clear attempt to curry favour with specific parties too. We saw pledges to start introducing and implementing national pharmacare, introducing new UNDRIP legislation within a year, allowing municipalities to implement hand gun bans and to increase the federal minimum wage. These are all issues that the NDP advocated for in the last Parliament and during the campaign, so it’s interesting to see them contained in the speech.

Interestingly this speech mostly stayed away from the minority parliament tradition of having a poison pill or two in it. The Harper Conservatives made sport of this in the two minority Parliaments, making it clear they were just as interested in making their opponent feel political pain as they were in advancing their agenda. There was next to no reaching across the aisle back then, and that was a model the Liberals could have followed here too. But they seemed to stay away from that approach this time, as there aren’t any real poison pills compared to what the Blue Crew would deploy a decade ago. That fact may help set a good tone for this parliament to work and make it much easier for most of the opposition parties to vote for this speech.

But in the end the real test for the intentions of this speech will be the actions that come after this and what the details look like. The fact is that this speech was designed to be written in such a way that it could get passed with relative ease, and deal with the rest of the details in 2020 when other events might completely change the make-up of the House (namely if Andrew Scheer will still be Conservative leader by the Spring). It would have been foolhardy of the Liberals to try to do what Stephen Harper did after the 2008 election, which lead to the whole coalition crisis.

Getting the tone right today mattered a lot more than the substance of the speech and in that sense, they seem to be on the right track. For the NDP and Bloc, this isn’t the greatest Throne Speech ever written but it’s far from the worst. We’ll see what they end up doing with this, but I suspect that one way or another there won’t be much suspense around the votes on this speech. But in the end, this Parliament has started and the show is up and running again. We’ve got six more sitting days before the Holidays and we’ll get a taste of what this new Parliament will be like.

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Talking the Leadership of the Conservative Party on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We talked about the latest in the ongoing issues around Andrew Scheer, his leadership of the Conservative Party and where this all might be heading. You can listen to it all below. Enjoy!

The Existential Debate on the Right

We’ve got a bit more than a month left in 2019 and as Canadian politicos start to ramp up for the return of the House of Commons and the starting of the new minority Parliament, all Canadian parties are well into their reviews of the campaign that was. It’s a different exercise for everyone and it’s different after every campaign. Sometimes that review is a bit of a higher level exercise and other times it’s a more existential one. And given the minority reality that we have in the House of Commons, these internal discussions hold a higher importance for how we see the country governed for the next little while.

The party that seems to be going through the most public discussion of the past campaign right now is that Conservatives. Despite picking up more seats, they ran a rough campaign and blew probably one of the best chances to win government that we’ve seen in a while. Given some of the issues that hit the Liberals during that campaign, they couldn’t have had much more go in their favour. But instead they ran a campaign that many in Ontario would remember, like ones ran by John Tory and Tim Hudak in the past, where they seemed to have a great shot at winning, only to shoot themselves in the foot. In those cases too, there were leadership changes and talks about how anyone else would have won that campaign, comments that were not off at the mark at the time. But this time in Ottawa we’re seeing something different, deeper and seemingly more consequential going on that’s making people sit up and notice:

Yesterday I talked a bit about this on the Arlene Bynon Show, but after that conversation we saw the last two of those stories come out. While we are seeing the usual calling for Andrew Scheer’s head, the kind of thing you’d see after such a campaign, we are also seeing some deeper fault lines come to the surface. You can see that a bit of a breaking point has been reached here, one that obviously needs to be addressed. That issue comes back to a basic building block of this current Conservative coalition; the role of social conservatives in their party.

Let’s face it, Conservative leaders like Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford and Jason Kenney all owe their leaderships, at least in part, to strong support from various social conservative groups. In the case of Scheer, it was their support that gave him the 51%-49% edge to win his leadership. That’s meant that they’ve had a large effect on party policy and on who has been running for them. That has also created this odd situation that they’ve had since the PC/Alliance merger, where they said they wouldn’t touch social issues as government but haven’t stopped private members from moving these items in the house. Long story short, they kept saying these issues are decided, wouldn’t reopen them, while at the same time allowing individual members to move legislation to do the opposite. It’s a situation that seemed to work for them under the leadership of Stephen Harper, mostly because of how he led that caucus.

But after Harper left, the battles started a new to pick the new leader and something became pretty clear; the social conservatives were active, organized and pushed the more traditional Red Tories aside. With a strong showing by the likes of Brad Trost and the weaker showings by more progressive Conservatives like Lisa Raitt, it seemed that their party took that harder turn to the right.

That lead us to the situation we saw in this last campaign, where Scheer fumbled and bumbled his way through direct, honest questions on his views on Abortion, Same Sex rights and alike. Of course, then the video of his speech on same sex marriage came out to drive home the reason for asking the questions. He made no apologies and raised no regrets for those comments and went pretty far out of his way to avoid doing so. That kind of “performance” raised even more questions and was a big part of the reason why they lost, despite facing a Liberal campaign that was in the process of imploding.

To those of us who are not Conservatives, the reason for that loss and the big deal about Scheer’s non-answers are relatively clear. Firstly it wasn’t believable that his party wouldn’t re-open such issues when groups like Right Now were openly courting and supporting candidates. They were even trying to get anti-abortion staff hired by the Conservative party. They weren’t doing that just for the heck of it; they were doing it to advance their issue so to say that the party isn’t going to respond that just doesn’t ring true.

Secondly when it came to LGBTQ rights, Scheer’s comments about his views on them and same sex marriage rang just as hollow for the same reasons; when you have the likes of Charles McVety and Tanya Granic Allen backing your party, whose supporters helped put you in your job, pushing against equality rights for the LGBTQ community, it’s hard to believe they will have no impact. That’s even harder to believe when you won’t directly answer the question about your own views.

But probably the biggest reason comes down to a more existential issue for the Conservatives when it comes to social conservatives and their issues; society has evolved and moved on. As Melissa Lantsman and Jamie Ellerton pointed out in their Globe and Mail piece last week, Canadians have evolved when it comes to our views on LGBTQ rights and Abortion. To simply say you’re tolerant of LGBTQ people isn’t enough now, and thankfully so. The fact is that the majority of Canadians see our acceptance of the equality rights of LGBTQ people as something that makes us a stronger country. So when you have a party that refuses to embrace that, as they try to straddle this situation to try to make social conservatives happy, it simply isn’t viewed as credible or accepted. For the Conservatives, this is where the existential issue comes into play, because as Canada has evolved you’re seeing that you can’t maintain this position they have for over a decade.

And to that point, you’re seeing both Red Tories and Social Conservatives now calling for Andrew Scheer’s resignation and for a new leadership race. That call for resignation is appropriate by any objective standard in our political history, but the irony is that I have to wonder what this leadership race would become. Would it be the search for the mythical leader how can rise above the basic political physics of this moment, or will it turn into a battle for the soul of the Conservative Party (or to end it as we know it). I lean more towards the latter because Stephen Harper isn’t walking back through that door.

Also I don’t see anyone out there who has the ability to make that marriage between Red Tories and Social Conservatives work anymore. It’s clear that Red Tories are tired of having to apologize and make excuses for the views of Social Conservatives, while the Social Conservatives are not interested in compromising their beliefs anymore to simply win campaigns. Something has to give here and this seems like the moment when it will in some way.

Society is always evolving so it stands to reason that the make up of our political coalitions should evolve over time to stay relevant. Those that don’t evolve become irrelevant and eventually die out. Those that do manage to change with the times while still holding onto the core values that make them who they are. Canadian society has evolved and it seems that when it comes to social issues, the Conservative Party has fallen behind the evolutionary curve. Now we are seeing the battle start between those who want to correct that and those who are fine with it. We’ll see how this all plays out but Canadians are paying attention and the result will have a big say on what our political landscape looks like in the future.

Talking the State of Leadership in #cdnpoli on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We talked about the staffing changes in the office of Andrew Scheer, the general state of Canadian political leadership & the need for it in this time. You can listen to it all below. Enjoy!

What You Need to Know – The New Federal Cabinet

The newest episode of “What You Need to Know” is recorded and now up. In this episode Alyson Fair, Geoff Turner, Neil Brodie and I talk about the new Federal cabinet that was named on Wednesday, the appointments of note, the ministers we’ll be watching and other interesting observations. You can download and subscribe to “What You Need to Know” everywhere you can get your finest podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify. You can also listen below. Enjoy!