A rare moment of cooperation: Politics on TV, Oct. 19 edition

Talking about the changes to MP pensions, Ted Opitz's trip to Ukraine, and the allegations against Joe Fontana

Message of the day

“Passing the MP pensions bill was a rare moment of parliamentary cooperation.”

Questions not answered

  • Will the allegations against Joe Fontana hurt the Liberals?

Omnibus Budget Bill 2:

With this morning’s outburst of cooperation on MP pensions, Power & Politics’ Hannah Thibedeau spoke to an MP panel of James Rajotte, Nathan Cullen, and John McCallum. Rajotte called the swift passage of the hived-off sections as a good example of parliamentary cooperation, but continued to insist that the navigable waters section of the bill were not only part of the budget, but at the behest of municipalities. Cullen said that the Liberals’ original proposal on hiving off the section would have included public service and RCMP pensions, which would have meant huge changes. He wondered why the government wouldn’t be willing to hive off other sections. McCallum agreed with that sentiment, and said that Conservatives took omnibus legislation to a whole new level.

On Power Play, Don Martin hosted an MP panel with Nathan Cullen, Chris Alexander and Massimo Pacetti, where Alexander called the swift passage of the pension measures the first opportunity to move forward on an important aspect of the budget. Pacetti was surprised the PM said yes to the move, but noted that it doesn’t solve any of the bigger problems of the omnibus bill. Cullen said the government is simply trying to push through a pipeline-enabling document.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Kady O’Malley said that the Liberals have claimed there was a typo in their original motion and they only ever intended it to be MP pensions. Rob Russo said the Conservatives likely wanted to stick it to the NDP for their position on sending the pensions to an independent panel. Kelly Cryderman said that this was a piece of low-hanging fruit that allows the opposition to claim a rare victory, while Greg Weston said there is a dread that any party’s MPs may publicly say they don’t want to take a pay cut.

On Power Play’s strategist panel, Gerry Nichols said the monster bills are not democratic but smart politics. Tim Murphy said the government was brazen in how much they were dumping into the omnibus legislation, and Anne McGrath said that this “process story” was getting traction because it was so brazen. Later on, Stephen Maher gave credit to Harper for drastically cutting his own special pension as part of this move without any fanfare.

Bob Rae:

Thibedeau spoke to Bob Rae, who said that the Liberals will be spending the weekend looking at the omnibus budget bill to find practical ways of dividing it further. With regards to the navigable waters section, Rae said that if it simply a matter of changing the levels of jurisdiction, it should be a separate bill so that provinces and municipalities can give input at the committee. Rae called the government’s flouting of the PBO’s deadline for figures as funny but shameful, saying that even if one is spending less, you’re still spending. Rae also recalled his friend Lincoln Alexander, whom he said heckled him vociferously in his maiden speech in the Commons in 1978, and later went on to be the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario when he was premier.

Rae was later on Power Play, where he said the government got the sense that the public doesn’t want to see MPs be too preoccupied with their own pensions. He also said that Harper is taking the “Economic Action Plan” language and using it as a free pass to take any action he wants under that thin justification.

Ted Opitz goes to Ukraine:

Conservative MP Ted Opitz is headed to the Ukraine as an elections observer as the verdict in his case at the Supreme Court is being announced, amidst complaints from former Liberal cabinet ministers that they were kicked off of the delegation. Nichols said that the allegations of wrongdoing were not on Opitz’s part but rather Elections Canada’s, and that the Liberal complaints were just residual entitlement. Murphy thought it bizarre that Opitz would be chosen given that his seat is being challenged, while McGrath also considered the optics problematic, and figured that with the decision coming down this week that he may instead want to remain home to hear it.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Cryderman said that excluding the former Liberal ministers opened the government up to criticism. O’Malley said the choice of sending Opitz on the delegation meant we were now paying more attention to the selection process and the irregularities, while Russo speculated that that the Court may have given the notice of the decision on a Friday – which is a rarity – in order to give Opitz advance notice that he may want to remain behind. Weston opined that only in Canada would you send an MP to observe an election while he may cease to be an MP because of the court ruling on his election.

Joe Fontana:

Martin spoke with reporter Christina Howorun, who recounted that the allegations go back to 2005, when Joe Fontana was minister of labour in the Martin government, and that he allegedly paid for his son’s wedding with funds from Public Works – a first cheque of $1700, then second cheque for nearly $20,000. Fontana gave no justification but wants to check his records and to see the actual documentation. The government says the RCMP is looking into it, but the RCMP won’t comment on investigations.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Weston said that other parties will make hay of anything that connects the Liberals to a scandal involving public money, and Russo noted this was an example of the NDP and Conservatives working together to stamp out the Liberals. O’Malley wondered if this couldn’t be an excuse to reform the way MPs report their expenses, as was just done in the UK. Cryderman noted that you can get Access to Information requests for senior officials and not MPs, but that in Alberta, Premier Redford is moving on getting MLAs to post their expenses every other month.

First Nations:

Thibedeau spoke to Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who said that the changes to the Indian Act in the omnibus budget bill are being done without any consultation with the First Nations communities. There are concerns that the move will lead to the dissolution of reserves into fee-simple land allotments in a unilateral process, when First Nations need to preserve their land base and grow it through the treaty process. When asked about former chief Terry Nelson’s comments in Iran that likened the treatment of First Nations to the Holocaust, Nepinak said that Nelson is free to express his opinions, but that the comparison was problematic, though he should remain steadfast on his message around murdered and missing aboriginal women.

Libya one year later:

To look at what is going on in Libya one year after it was liberated from Moamar Gadhafi’s rule, Thibedeau spoke to an MP panel of Deepak Obhrai, Jinny Sims, and John McKay. Obhrai said that because of the challenge of setting up government institutions such as a judicial system from zero, it takes more time than other transitions of power. Sims said that overthrowing a regime is the easy part, and that the hard work comes after. McKay said he doesn’t see the same level of commitment to reconstruction as to the military mission, and doubts the government has spent the allocated $340 million for the task. He also noted that our embassy there has been keen to protect Canadian interests in the country and has been less keen on nation-building, and that the militias running around with military hardware are a consequence of that.

CRTC decision:

Thibedeau spoke to University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist about yesterday’s decision to turn down the Bell-Astral takeover. Geist was surprised that the CRTC didn’t rubber-stamp the deal as they often do, and that the new commissioner has been sending a strong signal that consumer interests are at the heart of the decision-making process. Geist said this move is good news in an age of vertical integration, and that Bell would have a hard time getting the courts to appeal now that cabinet won’t overturn the decision.

On Power Play, Nichols said he wants the government to overturn the decision and then scrap the CRTC. Murphy said he new populism in the CRTC chair means they can go places the government won’t, and McGrath applauded cabinet’s decision to let an independent body do its job.

Commons Folk:

Don Martin’s “Commons Folk” feature returned, and the MP he profiled was NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin. Boivin lost her seat as a Liberal in 2006, and thought her career in politics was over by 2008, when she was back at her law practice and hosting a TV show. She said that she was contact by Jack Layton at Thomas Mulcair’s urging, and that Layton noted she always voted with the NDP when she voted against Liberal lines. As a lawyer, she says that the government needs to beware the tendency to make policy on the basis of headlines because it leads to discrepancies in criminal law that later gets struck down in the courts. She said that what people don’t know about her is that she is a fan of video games, and that her favourite game is “Golden Eye,” also outing herself as a big James Bond fan. For the record, Daniel Craig is her favourite Bond.