Sparring MPs, shifting sides, a scathing report: Can a federal election be far behind?

OTTAWA—What pandemic?Any premise the health and economic crisis created by COVID-19 is the preoccupation of Parliament vanished Thursday with a series of cascading events: allegations the Liberals’ entire agenda is being deliberately driven off the rails, a scathing ethics report, an MP crossing the floor and oh, the story of Louis Riel.Can an election be far off?The Liberals’ House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, who controls the legislative agenda, insisted that’s not what’s happening, at least on their end. All his government wants, he stressed in a morning news conference, was to pass a trio of “progressive” bills crucial to the nation, and which he said the Tories are deliberately trying to stop.“We don’t want an election. We want bills,” he said.Rodriguez threatened to use all the parliamentary tools at his disposable to end the stalling, though with a minority he’d need the support of another party to do that. And even as his words were still hanging in the air the Conservatives began to gum up the day’s agenda, with a mischievous call for a vote on the House to adjourn.It failed, but the political drama didn’t end.Conservative MP Michael Barrett rose to his feet for an oration that took up nearly an hour, reaching back into the annals of parliamentary history to tell tales of those — including Louis Riel — who once upon a time failed to show up at the House of Commons and suffered consequences.The context? His argument that his rights as an MP were compromised, and that the government was in contempt with its refusal to allow certain witnesses to testify before a committee probing the WE Charity affair.Barrett’s point of privilege followed the tabling Thursday of the long-awaited report by the Commons’ ethics committee into how the youth empowerment group won a contract to run a COVID-19 student grant program and to what extent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau’s personal connections with the charity may have helped that along.The ethics commissioner cleared Trudeau of any ethics breach — though he didn’t clear Morneau — but the opposition MPs on the committee were having none of that.“This report is about what happens when friends of the government, Liberal insiders, get access where they shouldn’t have access,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.The report made sweeping recommendations the Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc say would help clean up the procurement process, and also toughen up the ethics requirements for cabinet ministers.The government’s under no obligation to act, and even if it wanted to, there’s little room left on the calendar to add anything else to the pile. Nine sitting days remain before the Commons adjourns for summer, a period of time often referred to as silly season as MPs reach the end of their ropes in dealing with each other, though this year most have spent more time staring through screens than physically sitting in the Commons.One MP Thursday decided she’s switching that seat; the Greens’ Jenica Atwin announced she’s leaving her party and going to the Liberals.She cited infighting lately in the Green party as one of the reasons.“It’s been really difficult to focus on the work that needs to be done on behalf of my constituents,” she told a news conference in her hometown of Fredericton, N.B.The Liberals must hold on to as many seats as they can in the Atlantic Provinces come election time, and that one was a strong three-way fight in 2019. Picking up Atwin was certainly a political win.But her departure is a clear loss for relatively new Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, who has struggled to get momentum going for her party and to bridge a major ideological gap internally over the Israel-Palestinian conflict.She’s not alone in contending with ideological divides.Of three bills Rodriquez mentioned Thursday, one is creating just that sort of problem for the Conservatives: C-6, which would outlaw conversion therapy — the discredited practice of forcing young people into therapy when they’re questioning their gender or sexual orientation.While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he’s supportive of LGBTQ rights, the vast majority of his caucus is poised to vote against the bill — it’s a free vote for them, as a matter of conscience — and many argue it’s overly broad in its reach regarding who can or can’t counsel a young person who is struggling.That vote in turn will feed into the narrative the Liberals are building for the coming election: that O’Toole can say what he likes, but with a caucus who will vote against gay rights — all Canadians rights’ are at risk.The Conservatives have been filibustering debate on the bill, an approach that, when combined with calling for votes on procedural motions, has the effect of delaying the entire legislative schedule. In turn, it’s not just C-6 being held up but also two other marquee bills — one the government says will better level the playing field between web giants and traditional broadcasters, and on

Sparring MPs, shifting sides, a scathing report: Can a federal election be far behind?

OTTAWA—What pandemic?

Any premise the health and economic crisis created by COVID-19 is the preoccupation of Parliament vanished Thursday with a series of cascading events: allegations the Liberals’ entire agenda is being deliberately driven off the rails, a scathing ethics report, an MP crossing the floor and oh, the story of Louis Riel.

Can an election be far off?

The Liberals’ House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, who controls the legislative agenda, insisted that’s not what’s happening, at least on their end. All his government wants, he stressed in a morning news conference, was to pass a trio of “progressive” bills crucial to the nation, and which he said the Tories are deliberately trying to stop.

“We don’t want an election. We want bills,” he said.

Rodriguez threatened to use all the parliamentary tools at his disposable to end the stalling, though with a minority he’d need the support of another party to do that.

And even as his words were still hanging in the air the Conservatives began to gum up the day’s agenda, with a mischievous call for a vote on the House to adjourn.

It failed, but the political drama didn’t end.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett rose to his feet for an oration that took up nearly an hour, reaching back into the annals of parliamentary history to tell tales of those — including Louis Riel — who once upon a time failed to show up at the House of Commons and suffered consequences.

The context? His argument that his rights as an MP were compromised, and that the government was in contempt with its refusal to allow certain witnesses to testify before a committee probing the WE Charity affair.

Barrett’s point of privilege followed the tabling Thursday of the long-awaited report by the Commons’ ethics committee into how the youth empowerment group won a contract to run a COVID-19 student grant program and to what extent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau’s personal connections with the charity may have helped that along.

The ethics commissioner cleared Trudeau of any ethics breach — though he didn’t clear Morneau — but the opposition MPs on the committee were having none of that.

“This report is about what happens when friends of the government, Liberal insiders, get access where they shouldn’t have access,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.

The report made sweeping recommendations the Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc say would help clean up the procurement process, and also toughen up the ethics requirements for cabinet ministers.

The government’s under no obligation to act, and even if it wanted to, there’s little room left on the calendar to add anything else to the pile.

Nine sitting days remain before the Commons adjourns for summer, a period of time often referred to as silly season as MPs reach the end of their ropes in dealing with each other, though this year most have spent more time staring through screens than physically sitting in the Commons.

One MP Thursday decided she’s switching that seat; the Greens’ Jenica Atwin announced she’s leaving her party and going to the Liberals.

She cited infighting lately in the Green party as one of the reasons.

“It’s been really difficult to focus on the work that needs to be done on behalf of my constituents,” she told a news conference in her hometown of Fredericton, N.B.

The Liberals must hold on to as many seats as they can in the Atlantic Provinces come election time, and that one was a strong three-way fight in 2019. Picking up Atwin was certainly a political win.

But her departure is a clear loss for relatively new Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, who has struggled to get momentum going for her party and to bridge a major ideological gap internally over the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

She’s not alone in contending with ideological divides.

Of three bills Rodriquez mentioned Thursday, one is creating just that sort of problem for the Conservatives: C-6, which would outlaw conversion therapy — the discredited practice of forcing young people into therapy when they’re questioning their gender or sexual orientation.

While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he’s supportive of LGBTQ rights, the vast majority of his caucus is poised to vote against the bill — it’s a free vote for them, as a matter of conscience — and many argue it’s overly broad in its reach regarding who can or can’t counsel a young person who is struggling.

That vote in turn will feed into the narrative the Liberals are building for the coming election: that O’Toole can say what he likes, but with a caucus who will vote against gay rights — all Canadians rights’ are at risk.

The Conservatives have been filibustering debate on the bill, an approach that, when combined with calling for votes on procedural motions, has the effect of delaying the entire legislative schedule.

In turn, it’s not just C-6 being held up but also two other marquee bills — one the government says will better level the playing field between web giants and traditional broadcasters, and one that will legislate timelines for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Then there’s the Budget Implementation Bill, chock-a-block full of spending on yes, pandemic programs.

It all needs to pass. Now. Rodriquez said.

“We don’t want to wait for everything. We want to work on our priorities,” he said.

“My hand is extended to all parties. Let’s work together on this.”

Pfft, was effectively the reaction from Conservative House Leader Gerard Deltell.

If the Liberals were so set on advancing their agenda, he said, the bills could have come forward sooner or the government itself could stop stalling at committees, as they have been — 177 hours of talking out the clock, by his count.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, the Liberals are the kings of the filibuster when it’s time to do work in Parliament,” he said.

As MPs debated a motion Thursday to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons to try to get more bills passed — a debate that itself has been extended already — NDP MP Alistair MacGregor gave his own clear-eyed assessment of all the bluster.

“The reason why we’re operating under these circumstances right now, and it’s quite clear to anyone who has the slightest sense of political know-how in Canada, it’s quite apparent to many skilled observers, the Liberals are very much putting everything into place to call an election.”

Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz

Source : Toronto Star More   

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Erin O’Toole is talking about Islamophobia. Has he changed his tune?

OTTAWA — When Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole addressed thousands of mourners grieving the loss of a Muslim family killed in what police say was a hate-motivated attack, he opened by saying “Assalamu Alaikum” — an traditional Arabic phrase meaning “peace be upon you.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave the same greeting during their remarks at Tuesday’s vigil in London, Ont., but O’Toole was the only federal leader whose opening words were met with a chorus of loud boos. It wasn’t the only appeal O’Toole made to Canada’s Muslim community that day. He called the devastating incident — which took the lives of four people and seriously injured a nine-year-old boy — an act of terrorism. He recited a passage from the Quran. And he attributed the attack to a rise in Islamophobia. That word alone used to be controversial for the federal Conservatives. In 2017, almost all of the party’s MPs — along with the Bloc Québécois — voted against a Liberal motion to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism and religious discrimination. Trudeau was not present for the vote.O’Toole, then a contender in the party’s 2017 leadership race, opposed the wording of the motion sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. The motion, known as M-103, referenced a House of Commons petition that called on the lower chamber to recognize “all forms” of Islamophobia.At the time, O’Toole felt the term was being used too broadly. He argued that criticism of the faith could be stifled, and sought to amend the motion to strike a better balance between upholding religious freedom and free speech. Other than Michael Chong, all Conservative MPs ultimately voted against the motion.But observers say the messaging of the past week doesn’t necessarily signal a changing tide within the party.“I just don’t feel like this is this big, monumental shift, where [O’Toole] is suddenly talking about these issues now,” said Alykhan Velshi, a senior aide to prime minister Stephen Harper and provincial conservative leaders who now works for Huawei Canada.“I personally think that he’s been committed to stamping out bigotry and Islamophobia for a long time.”Velshi, a Muslim who backed O’Toole in last year’s leadership race, told the Star he believes the party’s decision to vote against the Liberal motion was a mistake. “That having been said, I think it’s very disingenuous the way that some elected parliamentarians are using M-103 as a political cudgel while remaining silent on Bill 21.”While some federal leaders have criticized Bill 21, the Quebec secularism law that prohibits people from wearing religious symbols when providing public services, politicians across the board have hesitated to weigh in on the law because it falls under provincial jurisdiction. In the early weeks of his leadership, O’Toole was singled out by the National Council of Canadian Muslims for hiding behind that jurisdictional shield, leading him to clarify that he was personally opposed to the law without taking more of an active position.“I hope there are no statues put up of politicians today who are silent on Bill 21, because I think they’re going to be torn down in my lifetime,” Velshi said.But the former adviser also cited some inroads the party has made to make the Tory tent, which is not known for its diversity, more inclusive. “I remember during Ramadan, the amount of iftar invitations that came my way which either Erin was attending, or his MPs or his candidates ... was sort of overwhelming,” Velshi recalled. “They’ve certainly, in my opinion, gone out of their way to reach out to Muslim Canadians.”Conservative human rights critic Garnett Genuis told the Star that the party is also taking steps to “remove any barriers or perceptions” that could hold people back from joining or supporting the party. There are currently no Muslim MPs in the Conservative caucus, although the party says it has identified four Muslim candidates to run in the next election and its efforts are ongoing.Genuis also referenced the party’s caucus retreat following the 2019 federal election, during which members of the Muslim community met with Conservative MPs to discuss combating online hate.Genuis said efforts to bring other Muslim groups onside have only “ramped up” under O’Toole’s leadership.The party has, for example, worked with the Muslim community to gather signatures to table petitions in the House of Commons supporting Uyghurs facing human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province. “[O’Toole] comes from a Greater Toronto Area riding, and the leader has many longtime friends from the Muslim community, some of whom are taking on key roles as part of our team,” Genuis added. One of them is Walied Soliman, O’Toole’s national campaign chair, who told the Star earlier this week that he was “very happy” when he heard the leader mention Islamophobia for the first time. Despite the sentiment from some that the Conservative party has aligned itself with Muslim Canadians in recent years, at

Erin O’Toole is talking about Islamophobia. Has he changed his tune?

OTTAWA — When Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole addressed thousands of mourners grieving the loss of a Muslim family killed in what police say was a hate-motivated attack, he opened by saying “Assalamu Alaikum” — an traditional Arabic phrase meaning “peace be upon you.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave the same greeting during their remarks at Tuesday’s vigil in London, Ont., but O’Toole was the only federal leader whose opening words were met with a chorus of loud boos.

It wasn’t the only appeal O’Toole made to Canada’s Muslim community that day. He called the devastating incident — which took the lives of four people and seriously injured a nine-year-old boy — an act of terrorism. He recited a passage from the Quran. And he attributed the attack to a rise in Islamophobia.

That word alone used to be controversial for the federal Conservatives. In 2017, almost all of the party’s MPs — along with the Bloc Québécois — voted against a Liberal motion to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism and religious discrimination. Trudeau was not present for the vote.

O’Toole, then a contender in the party’s 2017 leadership race, opposed the wording of the motion sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. The motion, known as M-103, referenced a House of Commons petition that called on the lower chamber to recognize “all forms” of Islamophobia.

At the time, O’Toole felt the term was being used too broadly. He argued that criticism of the faith could be stifled, and sought to amend the motion to strike a better balance between upholding religious freedom and free speech. Other than Michael Chong, all Conservative MPs ultimately voted against the motion.

But observers say the messaging of the past week doesn’t necessarily signal a changing tide within the party.

“I just don’t feel like this is this big, monumental shift, where [O’Toole] is suddenly talking about these issues now,” said Alykhan Velshi, a senior aide to prime minister Stephen Harper and provincial conservative leaders who now works for Huawei Canada.

“I personally think that he’s been committed to stamping out bigotry and Islamophobia for a long time.”

Velshi, a Muslim who backed O’Toole in last year’s leadership race, told the Star he believes the party’s decision to vote against the Liberal motion was a mistake.

“That having been said, I think it’s very disingenuous the way that some elected parliamentarians are using M-103 as a political cudgel while remaining silent on Bill 21.”

While some federal leaders have criticized Bill 21, the Quebec secularism law that prohibits people from wearing religious symbols when providing public services, politicians across the board have hesitated to weigh in on the law because it falls under provincial jurisdiction.

In the early weeks of his leadership, O’Toole was singled out by the National Council of Canadian Muslims for hiding behind that jurisdictional shield, leading him to clarify that he was personally opposed to the law without taking more of an active position.

“I hope there are no statues put up of politicians today who are silent on Bill 21, because I think they’re going to be torn down in my lifetime,” Velshi said.

But the former adviser also cited some inroads the party has made to make the Tory tent, which is not known for its diversity, more inclusive.

“I remember during Ramadan, the amount of iftar invitations that came my way which either Erin was attending, or his MPs or his candidates ... was sort of overwhelming,” Velshi recalled. “They’ve certainly, in my opinion, gone out of their way to reach out to Muslim Canadians.”

Conservative human rights critic Garnett Genuis told the Star that the party is also taking steps to “remove any barriers or perceptions” that could hold people back from joining or supporting the party. There are currently no Muslim MPs in the Conservative caucus, although the party says it has identified four Muslim candidates to run in the next election and its efforts are ongoing.

Genuis also referenced the party’s caucus retreat following the 2019 federal election, during which members of the Muslim community met with Conservative MPs to discuss combating online hate.

Genuis said efforts to bring other Muslim groups onside have only “ramped up” under O’Toole’s leadership.

The party has, for example, worked with the Muslim community to gather signatures to table petitions in the House of Commons supporting Uyghurs facing human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province.

“[O’Toole] comes from a Greater Toronto Area riding, and the leader has many longtime friends from the Muslim community, some of whom are taking on key roles as part of our team,” Genuis added.

One of them is Walied Soliman, O’Toole’s national campaign chair, who told the Star earlier this week that he was “very happy” when he heard the leader mention Islamophobia for the first time.

Despite the sentiment from some that the Conservative party has aligned itself with Muslim Canadians in recent years, at least one of the party’s top MPs expressed regret this week over her response to anti-Muslim hate in the past.

“While I’ve since spoken out on it, one of my biggest regrets in my public service was being silent during the 2015 general election campaign on the wrongness of the barbaric cultural practices tip line, and the proposed niqab ban,” Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner wrote on her website Tuesday.

“Those policies were wrong. To the Muslim community, I’m deeply sorry for not fighting it then. I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake again.”

The Conservative health critic also referenced the speech she made in the Commons during that oft-cited debate on M-103.

“If I could give that speech again, I would,” she wrote. “This time I would simply say this; the discrimination the Muslim community faces in Canada is real and must be stopped.”

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

Source : Toronto Star More   

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