And the worst column of the week goes to… it’s a tie!

Column writing is hard. Not finding-a-cure-for-cancer hard but it’s at least harder than it looks. So I usually feel some sympathy when I read a dud column. But at a certain point there’s no excuse, and today I read two pieces so astoundingly thick that I’ve decided to share them for your enjoyment/frustration/schadenfreude.

The first is this post by the Sun’s Brian Lilley. I know, I know, picking on a Brian Lilley column is like criticizing a Ke$ha song for vapid lyrics, but this one really is a doozy. Lilley argues the auditor general et al are lying about the F35 costs because they insist on counting up the full life cycle costs, which include things like fuel and repairs.

My favourite line: “Can you imagine what the cost of your car would be if you calculated its cost over decades, including estimates of every brake job, oil change and fill-up?”

Uh, yeah Brian, it would be the actual total cost of your car.

Lilley: “We don’t do this for other government programs or purchases, yet the opposition and the media demand that this is the only true way to account for military purchases.”

Yeah sort of, except it’s actually the Treasury Board’s own policies that say that. From the AG’s report: “Treasury Board policies require consideration of all relevant costs over the useful life of equipment, not just the initial acquisition or basic contract cost.” Whoopsies.

My other favourite column of the day is this piece by Tasha Kheiriddin saying we should abolish the CRTC because we have social media now. Seriously.

It starts by discussing the recent Supreme Court decision that the CRTC cannot force cable companies to pay broadcasters a fee for carrying their signals. Opines Kheiriddin: “At the same time, why should the CRTC decide the issue, instead of Parliament — or better yet, the free market?”

But the…how would… ok what? I have no idea how she thinks the “free market” can somehow force cable companies to pay for picking up over-the-air signals and packaging them in cable bundles. I’m kinda betting she doesn’t either. But the best part is the ending:

“In a world where a Korean pop music video gets a billion views, a monkey in a Toronto IKEA parking lot becomes a global folk hero, and social media drives the Arab Spring, the CRTC and bodies like it have become anachronisms. As cable goes the way of the rooftop antenna, the most recent CRTC decision will become irrelevant.

Instead of spending endless hours reinventing the institution, only to see change outpace it once again, the government should end its game of regulatory ping-pong, and abolish the CRTC.”

I have no idea what Gangnam Style and the Arab Spring have to do with the CRTC. I’m also unclear on why we should do away with the sole public regulator of our nation’s airwaves – a public resource – because people are using the internet. Also, I guess updating rules is too much of a hassle so we should just not bother regulating things.

I’d like to point out the holes in her argument but I honestly can’t piece together her argument to begin with, so I’ll just call it a day. There may be a reasonable case for reforming or perhaps even doing away with the CRTC, but I doubt it has anything to do with the IKEA Monkey.

Speaker Scheer carves the roast beast, or in this case a controversial government proposal

Following up on my previous post about Government House Leader Peter van Loan trying to strip Green Party leader Elizabeth May of the right to propose budget bill amendments, the verdict is now in. And as far as dry, procedural Speaker’s rulings go, it is an absolute smackdown.

van Loan argued May’s amendments should undergo a test vote to prove they had no support form the House. This would have saved government MPs from the trouble of actually having to vote down her amendments. After all, with a majority government the Speaker can easily “predict the intentions of the majority of Members” so why go through all the fuss?

Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer wasn’t having any of it. “Report stage motions are not, and never have been, selected for debate and grouped for voting on the basis of who the Chair thinks might win the vote on them,” wrote Scheer in a decision released today.

Scheer delves into the balance between the opposition’s responsibility to debate legislation and the government’s need to carry its business through the House in a reasonable amount of time. van Loan’s proposal would essentially destroy this balance, said Scheer. Here’s the key quote:

“The Government House Leader seemed to argue that the existence of a Government majority meant that the outcome of proceedings on the Bill was known in advance, that somehow this justified taking a new approach to decision-making by the House and that anything short of that would constitute a waste of the House’s time.  This line of reasoning, taken to its logical end, might lead to conclusions that trespass on important foundational principles of our institution.”

Scheer also quotes former Speaker Peter Milliken, who said “…neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of the numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.”

He then dropped the mic and strutted out of the House.

Scheer has been quietly controversial in his first year or so as Speaker of the House. Famously the youngest Speaker ever, his rulings have caused grumblings from some opposition MPs. Scheer has ruled he has no authority to tell government they have to provide substantive answers when it comes to question period (that fight was long-since lost before Scheer took the job) or order paper questions (this ruling I personally find both baffling and a dangerous precedent).

In fact, in Scheer’s ruling today he also dismissed a call from NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen to allow all budget amendments to be voted on individually (in 2001 the Liberals, wanting to avoid massive voting marathons, enacted “grouping” of amendments so that one vote could strike down, say, 20 amendments in one swoop). Scheer’s ruling was no surprise: he has consistently rejected attempts by Cullen and May disallow or delay a government’s ability to pass omnibus bills.

On the bright side for the opposition, he’s also mostly left them free to ask whatever they want of the government, except for a few short-lived attempts to limit them to government business.

So what kind of Speaker is Scheer? He’s, well, conservative. Like Milliken before him he takes a very narrow view of his powers and will mostly let MPs do as they like. But that conservatism cuts both ways, and we now see that he’s able to kick back against attempts to override the system, even when they come from his own party.

Scheer’s entire ruling can be read here.

Maritime Union Roundup

The idea is merging Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island into one province (sorry Newfoundland) is once again in the public sphere. This time it’s being proposed by three Conservative senators. For those who haven’t been following the Chronicle Herald’s coverage, here’s all you need to know:

Here is my original story on the proposal and NS Premier Darrell Dexter’s dismissal of it.

Here is my story on Senator Stephen Greene’s speech where he lays out the case for a merger. Or you can read his full speech here.

People have weighed in for and against the idea. Herald columnist Bill Black lays out how voters could achieve a Maritime Union.

Buuuut then there’s the small issue that the large majority of Atlantic Canadians oppose the idea, according to a new poll.

Finally, check out this very cool map of an actual Maritime Union back in 1783 when New Brunswick was still considered part of Nova Scotia, via the Nova Scotia Archives. For more fun historical stuff like this I highly recommend following the archives on twitter at @NS_Archives.

The Revolution Will Not be Amended

It’s hard to know what to make of Government House Leader Peter van Loan’s call to disenfranchise MPs for the sake of “efficiency” this week.

His “test vote” idea seems like a bizarrely anti-democratic thing for a House leader to propose, but I saw part of the speech and I swear, van Loan didn’t seem to be joking, making it up as he went along, or drunk.

BACKGROUND: Parties that have a seat at Parliament’s Finance committee can’t introduce amendments to the budget bill that were already defeated at committee. Elizabeth May is under no such restrictions. She theoretically could have re-introduced, say, all of Scott Brison’s 3,000+ amendments. May told me she was willing to consider working with the other opposition parties on a massive filibuster, but the NDP wasn’t interested and she ended up sticking with her original plan of about 80 substantial amendments.

So Peter van Loan asked Speaker of the House Scheer to allow a test vote wherein the Conservatives vote down all of May’s amendments in one go. Think about this for a second. van Loan’s logic implies,

1) The government is blindly, dogmatically opposed to any change being proposed by an independent MP.

2) A government shouldn’t have to actually demonstrate this knee-jerk opposition through voting down everything May proposes. Instead they should just have to do it once.

3) The substance of the amendments is of zero importance. Even if all 80 amendments span totally different subjects and sections of legislation, they should all be grouped together as one *because of who proposed them.*

4) The age-old principle that members of Parliament have certain basic rights in a Westminster system of government, which includes the right to propose legislation or propose changes to legislation introduced by your colleagues, should be done away with because van Loan doesn’t want to stand up and sit down a bunch of times.

Really what van Loan is arguing is that majority governments have the right to pass what they want, and the archaic procedures of Parliament shouldn’t be used to slow them down. I’m sure a lot of people agree with him, it’s just strange to see it said so bluntly.