Tag Archives: Prime Minister’s Office

The Red Chamber’s not so red anymore

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In question period on Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau needn’t have uttered a word; the self-satisfied and supremely amused look on his face spoke volumes. It was the sort of expression one adopts when one has eaten somebody else’s lunch and gotten away with it.

The lunch, in this case, was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s who has been dancing around the complex and thorny issue of Senate reform for years; one tends to forget that overhauling the Red Chamber, making it more representative and democratic, was a signature plank in the Tory leader’s campaign for federal office.

But it was Mr. Trudeau who pounced, instead.

“As of this morning,” he said in a statement, “only elected Members of the House of Commons will serve as members of the Liberal Caucus. The 32 formerly Liberal Senators are now independent of the national Liberal Caucus. They are no longer part of our parliamentary team. . . .Let me be clear, the only way to be a part of the Liberal caucus is to be put there by the voters of Canada.”

Furthermore, he said, “I challenge the Prime Minster to match this action. As the majority party in the Senate, immediate and comprehensive change is in Conservative hands. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing. To join us in making Senators independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate.”

Later, speaking with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, he said his timing had nothing to do with an auditor-general’s investigation of Senate expenses, which could embarrass some federal Liberals, calling that a “separate problem from the excessive partisanship and patronage. . .which is what I have moved to eliminate today. . . It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”

All of which left Ottawa reeling, including Grit senators.

“We are the Senate Liberal caucus and I will remain the leader of the opposition and we will remain the official opposition in the Senate,” the former Liberal Leader of the  Senate James Cowan said.

“I’m still and Liberal senator, not an independent,” Senator Mobina Jaffer piped up. “I’ve always been a Liberal.”

Meanwhile New Brunswick Senator Pierrette Ringuette called the move surprising, but not shocking, and a “giant step in the right direction. . .If we want to reform the Senate, senators need to be independent of groups and parties, and that’s what the leader has done today.”

In fact, with this move, the leader has done quite a few things.

For one, he’s grabbed the initiative and stamped the future of Senate reform with the Liberal brand. Even if the momentum shifts back to the Tories, they can never again claim that they lead the charge.

Paul Poilievre, the Minister for Democratic Reform, questions the wisdom of freeing unelected senators from the influence and control of elected Members of Parliament (specifically, the prime minister and opposition leaders).That, however, is a point of process; how, exactly, the selection process will work is not yet clear.

What is clear is widespread, even overwhelming, public support for dramatic Senate reform, without which most Canadians would rather bid the institution a long overdue fare-thee-well.

Mr. Trudeau’s initiative, they will say, may not be perfect. In the long run, it may not even be workable. But at least he’s doing something. And that, alone, stands him head and shoulders above the rest on the Hill.

The move has also upended the Prime Minister’s Office’s strategy of keeping the Senate, with all of its attendant scandals, out of the news as much as possible. According to polls, the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright affair has seriously damaged the government’s credibility.

“What the Liberal Party doesn’t understand is that Canadians are not looking for a better unelected Senate,” Mr. Harper told the House of Commons.  “Canadians believe that for the Senate to be meaningful in the 21st century it must be elected. . .I gather the change announced by the Liberal Leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be Liberal.”

It was a good line. It’s too bad lunch was over when he delivered it.

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How Neil Young gets it right (and wrong) on oil

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Fossil fuels make hypocrites of every environmental activist in the world.

The bright ones know that as consumers in the unavoidable petro-economy, they are just as culpable as anyone for climate change; but they push their planet-saving agenda anyway. After all, why remain silent on strategies for using oil and gas to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future?

The dimmer ones, who never seem to suffer from a loss of words, prattle on about “us versus them” in apparent ignorance of the enormously complex socio-economic web this and other nations have spun with the products of refined dinosaur bones. Forget transforming the world; let’s just shut it down.

Thanks to celebrity big mouths and the media’s even bigger appetite for controversy, the question of the moment is: Into which camp does Canada’s legendary folk-rocker Neil Young fit? Is he a shining light or a broken bulb? A not entirely unrelated question is: Does it matter?

The Prime Minister Office seems to think it does. Why, otherwise, would it have dispatched its spokesman Jason MacDonald to defend Alberta’s curiously vulnerable tar sands against Mr. Young’s vituperative attack on them last Sunday night during the launch of a countrywide tour. At that time, the Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said, using his outside voice:

“To me, it’s a basic matter of integrity on the part of Canada. Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States. It’s lagging behind on the world stage and it’s an embarrassment to Canadians.”

To which, Mr. MacDonald responded: “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy. . .The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund the programs and services Canadians rely on. . .Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

For Mr. Young, overall, so far so good. Whether or not you agree with his characterization of political leaders who are almost giddy at the prospect of selling their country – and First Nations communities in Alberta – down the river for a bag of bucks, you must, at least, acknowledge that he takes a principled stand.

More than this, perhaps, he is keenly aware of his stature, an effective weapon in the public relations battle to win friends and influence people (though methinks the man has already won enough hearts and minds for one life).

But, then, a funny thing happens on Mr. Young’s way to mainstream credibility regarding oil and gas. In his response to Mr. MacDonald’s jab about rock stars‘ reliance on natural resources, “Shaky” gets a little. . .well, shaky.

“Of course, rock stars don’t need oil. I drove my electric car from California to the tar sands and on to Washington DC without using any oil at all and I’m a rock star,” he says. “My car’s generator runs on biomass, one of several future fuels Canada should be developing for the Post Fossil Fuel Age. This age of renewable fuels could save our grandchildren from the ravages of Climate related disasters spawned by the Fossil Fuel Age; but we have to get started.”

He’s right. We do have to get started. But if, as he insists, rock stars don’t need oil, is he suggesting his life is a petroleum-free zone? For, if it is, that would be a neat trick, indeed.

According to one calculation from Ranken Energy Corp., “Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each.”

In fact, oil is in just about everything, from floor wax to bicycle tires to golf bags and purses. “Anything that’s not iron or steel or metal of some sort has some petrochemical component,” West Virginia University chemistry professor Dady Dadyburjor told The Associated Press not long ago.

This, one presumes, includes the chassis of Mr. Young’s electric car.

Of course rock stars need oil. We all do. And owning up to our collective addiction is the first step on the royal road to recovery from hypocrisy.

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The shuffling of deck chairs

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has installed eight new smiles, and plenty of old ones, to greet him at this year’s Conservative Party’s national policy convention, which falls, thanks to the gods of irony, on Halloween.

But Canadians need not wait for the pagan holiday to appreciate the dimension of change the new federal cabinet heralds. The tricks and the treats have been in the works for months; certainly, ever since public opinion polls started granting the youthful, would-be usurper, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, a commanding lead over dear, old Father Harper.

Following the swearing in on Monday, the PM described his shuffle thusly: “I think this is a good mixture of some young and promising talent we have in our caucus and some experienced hands. . .This fall, the government will move ahead with a renewed policy agenda set forward in a speech from the throne. . .And our new agenda will have new faces to bring it forward. The team Canadians elected. . .is deep and it is talented.”

Indeed, it is. It’s also huge – 39 cabinet ministers, in all, will sally forth across the land, preaching the virtues of small government to increasingly skeptical audiences who have, by now, grown accustomed to political spin masquerading as plain speech.

Still, the appointees, themselves, are auspicious picks. Comprising the cohort of newbies are: Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Michelle Rempel,  Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification; Shelly Glover, Heritage Minister; Candice Bergen, Minister of State for Social Development; Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour, Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology; Kevin Sorenson, Minister of State for Finance; and Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Democratic Reform

Standing sturdily, right where they were, are Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Treasury Board President Tony Clement. Meanwhile, some old standbys are moving on, including Peter MacKay, former Defence Minister, who assumes the Justice portfolio.

The question, of course, is what, if anything, do these personnel changes say about the promised “renewed policy agenda.” Many of the federal government’s signature plans and priorities have been stuck in neutral for more than a year.

Trade talks with the Europeans are going nowhere. Relations with Washington remain cordial, but cool. Keystone is but a wish to be contemplated. The new fighter jet project is all but grounded. And, despite Mr. Flaherty’s and his central bank’s best efforts, the Canadian economy, has not rebounded in convincing fashion from the downturns of the past decade.

These items crowd the list of the old agenda, and they are not going away. They are, in fact, the baggage Mr. Harper and his new cabinet must haul during the scant years before the next general election. Worse, the signs that Canadians are increasingly weary of having to watch their elected members carry this burden from one committee room to another, from one public announcement to another, are plentiful.

“A new poll shows the federal Liberals continue to pound the Conservatives, with Canadians saying for the first time leader Justin Trudeau would make a better prime minister then Stephen Harper,” The Montreal Gazette reported in June. “According to a new Léger Marketing poll, 27 per cent of Canadians now think Trudeau would be a better prime minister than Harper, who has a score of 23 per cent. New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair is seen as the best prime minister by 14 per cent. It’s the first time Léger has reached such a polling conclusion since Trudeau took over the party April 14, said Léger vice-president Christian Bourque. ‘It’s the Trudeau phenomenon,’ said Bourque. ‘In our polling it’s the first time that he’s. . .ahead of Stephen Harper.’”

If the prime minister hopes to improve his party’s standing among Canadians, he would be wise to grant both old and new faces around the cabinet table greater authority to offer fresh, even independent, perspectives on the issues that, for the moment, fall within their purview only titularly.

That would be the neatest trick, and a welcome treat, at this year’s Halloween policy gala.

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