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The Morning After: Newfoundland and Labrador Edition

Last night we saw what should be the last provincial election before the Fall general election take place in Newfoundland and Labrador. The eyes of many political watchers were on the province as voters there went to the polls, with polls showing a tight race. And the night didn’t disappoint, with a result that seemed very fitting for 2019 and the current political environment:

Wow, that’s an amazing result folks with quite the reactions from everyone. For the Ball Liberals, they will get a chance to form a minority government as they fell one seat shy of a majority (I’ll come back to that in a bit). The Crosbie PC’s improved their result from the last campaign, but did fall short of getting the 21 seats needed to form a majority. But what was most striking about the night was Crosbie’s reaction and speech after the votes came in. Not only did he refuse to concede the election when it was clear that he wouldn’t get more seats then the Liberals, he decided to take shots at the Lieutenant Governor of the Province, Judy Foote. Not only was that attack a low one, it’s one that made such little sense in my eyes as the result here made this whole thing very clear. The Liberals having fallen just shy of getting the majority and with the PC’s five seats behind them, it made sense that the Liberals would not only get the first crack to form a government but their path to doing so would be much easier. So Crosbie’s reaction, where he basically declared war on the Ball Liberals, not only came off as petulant but he sounded like a very sore loser, something that many other commentators have pointed out.

The big surprise of the night came from the New Democrats of Allison Coffin. Going into this race the NL NDP was in a bad spot; after a sudden leadership change and infighting that came with it, and a sudden drop of the writ, the party only managed to field 14 candidates in the provinces 40 ridings. That was a major set back, one that many (myself included) thought would lead to a very bad night for the Orange Team on the Rock. But that didn’t turn out to be the case. Not only did the NDP hold the two seats they held previously with two new candidates (Coffin and Jim Dinn), they pulled a stunning upset in Labrador West with Jordan Brown knocking off Liberal incumbent Graham Letto. But it wasn’t just the win itself that shocked, but the margin:

5 votes people. 5 votes total gave the NDP that seat. And while there were many other close races in the province, you can argue that 5 votes in Labrador West kept the Ball Liberals from getting their majority. Yes there were two independents who won, but they are both long standing figures in Newfoundland politics so their win was much more expected than Brown’s in Labrador West. So, add this result to the long list of examples of every single vote counting and matter.

Going forward though there promises to be a lot more drama to come out of the House of Assembly in St. John’s and while this situation seems to be very fractious and partisan right now, I actually think this minority government stands a decent chance of lasting longer than most. The main reason for that is the simple math: the Liberals only need to find one Opposition member to become the Speaker of the House of Assembly to assure their agenda can pass. Despite their histories and different comments after their wins, I would naturally peg one of the Independents who won to be the most natural choices to take the Speakers chair. But will one of them? That remains a seriously open question.

If it isn’t one of them, don’t be shocked to see a member of the PC caucus cross the floor or take the Speakers chair. Newfoundland and Labrador in recent years has seen many examples of MHA’s crossing floors from Opposition to Government, Government to Opposition, from Party to Party. So if there is any place where this is mostly likely to happen, Newfoundland and Labrador is at the top of that list.

But regardless of what happens there, last nights results gave a lot more drama than we might have expected. For the Federal Liberals, they maintain another provincial partner, which they desperately need. For the Federal Conservatives, the stronger showing in the province should make the Blue Team feel better although it is a bit of a letdown from not actually forming government. For the Federal New Democrats, somehow this rough situation turned into a gain, holding two seats in St. John’s while grabbing a new toehold in Labrador. With rumours circulating that veteran Jack Harris might try to win back his old seat in St. John’s in the next Federal election, seeing the NDP continue to do well in these hard circumstances must surely put some wind in his sails.

And with that another piece in the Canadian electoral picture is in place. Unless a snap election is sprung on Manitoba, the table seems to be set for the Fall election. Now we have five months to look ahead and read more tea leaves, but if anything can be said for the Canadian political scene today, it’s far from being boring.

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An Idea That’s Time Has Come?

It can be quite amazing to see how quickly some things can move or change in when it comes to policies or ideas. Sometimes it feels like those policies should have moved faster, because it made so much sense to begin with. Other times, the change surprises because it felt like making that change would take a heck of a lot longer. I was thinking of that today when a certain topic came up: charging sales taxes for online businesses. It wasn’t even four years ago when Stephen Harper started to bellow about the dangers of such things, remember?

Oh yes, that evil Netflix tax. It was going to get us all, and how dare anyone suggest such a thing. It wasn’t an issue that turned the campaign by any stretch, but it’s an interesting thing to look back on now given some recent developments:

CBC’s Chris Hall did a very good piece on this today, where he pointed out how this issue has moved over time. Far from being a point of contention over the concept, now it seems that there is such agreement on this issue that the question people are asking isn’t “Why do this?” but “How hasn’t this happened yet?”. That was the thrust of comments from two different experts quoted in the piece. Both John Anderson, who used to be the Policy Director for the NDP for part of my time on the Hill and Jack Mintz, the conservative University of Calgary economist, agreed on this policy. I can’t think of anything that these two gentlemen would agree on, let alone it being a taxation topic.

And folks, that’s where this debate has gotten to. Both of these learned experts point out the crying issue of fairness that exists in the status quo, one that Stephen Harper was cool with. Why should Canadian digital services, like CraveTV or TSN Direct, be forced to charge their customers sales tax while others like Netflix are exempt? Think about it. If you took a day trip across the border to the US and bought about $150 worth of DVD’s, when you came back into Canada and you declared that purchase, you’d be paying sales tax on the cost of those purchases. So why shouldn’t the same principle extend to digital media like that?

That’s a question that more and more people are asking, and we’re starting to see movement on that. Both Quebec and Saskatchewan now charge PST on those services in their provinces. Yes, a Liberal government and a very conservative government, both arriving at the same place. That should be a true sign of just how much sense this makes and the inherent fairness in it. But as it turns out, they aren’t alone in recognizing the inherent issue here:

Yep folks, you read that story from the Toronto Star right; Netflix is saying they have no problem paying sales taxes and the problem here is that no one is asking them. Seriously? What kind of insanity is this? And to add to that insanity, there is only one party actually proposing to take Netflix up on that, which is the NDP.

Look, I get the reaction everyone has to taxes; no one likes them. That’s a fair reaction. But here’s the thing I think that most people can agree on; if you’re charging a tax on one sector, shouldn’t everyone in that sector be treated the same when it comes to who does and doesn’t pay it? That’s a very simply principle to keep to. And to stay within that principle, you could argue that Canadian digital companies should be exempt from paying these taxes too. That would deal with the fairness issue for sure.

But this crazy story is a prime example of the negative effect of chilling debate on issues like this can have. The fact remains that as our economy changes, as we do more business and get more of our services online, our tax laws need to keep up to ensure that the playing field is level and that the treasury is receiving what they should be. In the first three months of imposing their PST on these digital services, Quebec brought in an extra $15 million in revenue, to help pay for nurses, schools, roads and whatever the government of the day decides. When you extrapolate that onto the Federal scene, you can see what that means in lost tax revenue to Canadian taxpayers, who end up having to take up that slack. I hope that during this election campaign this idea won’t be on the agenda like it was back in 2015; not because it’s ignored but because it’s so widely agreed upon by all. That might be a bit much to ask these days, but when you see the consensus that come around this issue, I think we can be hopeful that maybe the time has come to get this right. We’ll see how it all plays out.

The Rock Goes to the Polls

Today we’re going to see another item on the list to the Fall election get checked off as Canada’s youngest province goes to the polls. In Newfoundland and Labrador, people will be going to vote for the next members of the House of Assembly in what is expected to be the last provincial election before the Fall’s big vote, unless the Manitoba PC’s decide otherwise and call a snap election, as has been rumoured for a while. The Liberals of Dwight Ball are the incumbents while the PC’s of Ches Crosbie and the New Democrats of Allison Coffin are offering change. Here is the state of play going into todays vote:

This race is just that, a race right down to the finish. Tonight’s result should be a very close one, due to some interesting quirkiness. For starters, in most of the provinces 40 ridings it will be a straight-up two-party race. The New Democrats have only nominated 14 candidates across the province, which is not good for the Orange Team, while the new NL Alliance has nominated less than 10. That means in most of Newfoundland and Labrador, it will be a straight-up Liberal-PC fight. It will be interesting to see what comes of those normally NDP voters in those ridings where the party is simply absent and to whose advantage it will be.

This election, like all of the previous provincial elections that have happened in the last calendar year, will have an effect on the narrative that we will see go into the Fall. For the Trudeau Liberals, the Ball government is one of only three Liberal governments left standing in the entire country; only Nova Scotia and the Yukon remain outside of that. So if the Liberals fall tonight, that will leave the Federal government with two lone allies in the provinces and a vastly different political landscape than the one he inherited at the start of his term. That could be very bad for the Red Team in the Fall.

For the Conservatives, having a PC government in Newfoundland and Labrador could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you see it. We can all remember the days about how Danny Williams was a strong thorn in the side of the Harper government and given his political lineage, one could easily picture Ches Crosbie being similar. But of course, that’s only an issue for the Scheer Conservatives if they actually win in the Fall, so I doubt they’ll worry about that anytime soon. The blessing for them though would be another blue block in the wall and another ally at the provincial level. If all goes well too, it could mark an end to the Conservatives problems in the province that steamed from those Williams/Harper fights. Maybe that could put a couple seats in the province in play for the Conservatives? If so, that’s a good sign for them getting to government.

For the New Democrats, the whole scene is really a mess right now in Newfoundland and Labrador. Between the last-minute leadership changes and squabbles that came from that, this is not the best foot that the Orange team has to put forward. It’s a far cry from a couple of election ago, when the party was riding high and there was real talk of the NDP rising to government or official opposition. Not being on the ballot in almost 70% of the provinces ridings is just bad, there is no other way to spin that. The best the party can seem to hope for at this point would be to hold a couple seats in St. John’s, but that’s not even a guarantee. Because of the tightness of this race, there is a better than normal chance the New Democrats could get completely swept off the Rock in this campaign. That’s another bad sign for the New Democrats federally, in a region where they are already dealing with falling behind the Greens in New Brunswick and PEI. In that regard, the only saving grace for the NDP is that the Greens have no provincial presence in this province, but I would argue that’s cold comfort right now.

So tonight, we’ll see the results come in and see who the next Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador will be. The race tonight will go a long way to determining what the Fall election might bring and after tonight, we should have a very good idea of who all the players in that autumnal political drama will be.

Are You Saying Boo or Boo-urns?

Politics isn’t always all sunshine and rainbows for those elected to serve. Sometimes politicians have to face upset constituents or voters, sometimes for reasons that are beyond there control and other times for reasons that they are the cause of. So in the grand scheme of things, to go to a public event and face upset or angry folks isn’t a new thing or concept. Yet from time to time, you witness something that shows that things aren’t normal, that the people are very upset, that you might be totally off the mark. Last night one such event happened in Toronto, amazingly live on TSN:

That was Ontario Premier Doug Ford getting booed….. at the Special Olympics. Think about that for a second; when have you ever seen a politician get booed at a Special Olympics event? On top of that, think of the timing of this happening; Doug Ford hasn’t even been Premier for a year yet and he’s managed to create the environment that led to that video. And in this case, those boos were completely earned due to the Ford Conservatives ugly cuts to Autism services in the province, that have devastated so many families.

When faced with such an event, most politicians would take a moment to think about what happened to them. They would reflect, maybe look inward a bit and ask themselves what brought that about and how they might do better. I’ve seen politicians get booed in many environments and places before, but I’ve never seen anything like that before. So you’d think that this would be one of those times for introspection, but folks, to think that would be to ignore who Doug Ford is. And well, Doug Ford shone through in his responses to this event as only Doug Ford and a hand full of others would:

Even now, there is no humility, no introspection, no nothing. Just spouting off easily provable lies. First he says he’s never been booed before, when the truth is that this was far from a new experience from him, as noted above. But that’s not the worst fib by far, oh no, no, no. The worst fib came next, one that was obviously just wrong but flat out insulting to the historical record and those who were subject to it:

Kind of like when dealing with a certain American President these days, I hate to say that we’ve come to expect a fair number of creative mistruths from this Premier, which is a sad commentary onto itself. But what makes this all the worse is this guys gaul to say that he’s “spent his whole life helping children with special needs”, when that’s just not true. We all remember the story from his Toronto City Hall days, that came up again in the last provincial election, about his attempts to close a home for people with autism. Remember he went so far as to say it a “ruined” a neighbourhood, and then blamed the Ontario Liberals for not doing anything about it. He actually berated the staff running the group home, saying that they “ruined the community” and even said he’d personally “buy the house myself and resell it”, effectively closing the home. Yes, don’t you feel that love, care and compassion for people with autism?

Stories like these are just a strong reminder of why elections matter so much. I don’t expect Mr. Ford or his party to learn anything from this episode, nor do I expect the crap lines like those uttered today to stop; it’s not in their MO and this is just who they are. We’ve got another three years of this and I doubt that this will be the last time that Premier Ford will face such a booing that is so well earned by his decisions and behaviour. It’s just striking to me that last nights event happened only 11 months after the last election; that’s how little time it took. You see this kind of thing happening years into a term, long after the bloom has come off the electoral rose. The fact that this bloom died in less than a calendar year is just another striking achievement from this government. It also portends three rough years ahead for the people of Ontario, you know, the same people they say this government is for. But they should have no illusions or confusion; they were saying boo and those are boos that Mr. Ford has earned.

The Wednesday Night Parliamentary Late Show

Our Parliament has many rules, conventions, quirks and traditions. When you work there, you start to learn about all these different bits and some turn out to be quite interesting. As I looked at todays House of Commons agenda, I noticed that one of my favourite ones happens tonight, one that seems to have taken an interesting twist.

Every May, we get to see a very interesting spectacle that really is its own world. It happens after the House of Commons adjourns on two Wednesday nights, and goes for about four hours or so, during prime time. On each night, the Parliament goes into “Committee of the Whole” and the Official Opposition gets to chose two ministers to come and testify before the committee, and basically answer any question that relates to the Main Estimates of that department.

Long story short, if you ask a question that’s related to a budgetary matter, the Minister has to reply. Making the spectacle even more interesting is the fact that by the rules of these nights, the Minister is only allowed to give an answer that is approximately as long as the question that is asked. So, if a member takes 15 seconds to ask a question, the Minister has approximately 15 seconds to answer. Under this format, it really reduces the chance to bloviate and run out the clock, but also tends to lead to many interesting answers and pieces of information coming out.

As with anything that happens in Parliament, there is usually some strategy around these nights. As you get to call two Ministers, normally the Official Opposition tries to pick two Ministers who either hold portfolios that are hot or contentious, you pick a Minister who is, frankly, a poor performer, or some combination of those. I remember the one “Committee of the Whole” I got to be a part of in the last Parliament, we called former Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to testify, and he was predictably awful.

So, in May 2019, with all of the matters that have been taking up the oxygen in the House of Commons, there is a list of names I would have assumed the Conservatives would call before the House tonight. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Finance Minister Bill Morneau or new Justice Minister David Lametti would have all made complete sense, given the attention that the Conservatives have put on their files.

Yet who is the first Minister that they are calling to testify? None other than National Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, a choice that seems to be a bit out of left field. Why Sajjan? He isn’t directly involved in any of the major stories that have been happening and even in the Mark Norman affair, he hasn’t been a central figure.

It’s a choice of witness that leaves a lot of open questions, but also could lead one to believe that the Conservatives think they have something up their sleeve, I would assume on the whole Mark Norman case and the military procurement. Tonight is one of those rare nights where the Official Opposition basically sets the agenda and chooses who they face. It’s a night that the Opposition usually looks forward to and the government dreads. So with this choice, it seems that something is a foot for tonight, assumedly something of note. Otherwise, the only explanation is that it’s a bad choice and some other minister who was probably much more likely to face this scrutiny will be off the hook, a crucial mistake if that is the case. We’ll see how it all plays out tonight after the House rises for the day, starting probably around 7 pm EST/4 pm PST. Will this decision be a stroke of genius or will it be a strike out? We’ll see what happens tonight.