Conservative MP Peter Penashue is staying put: Politics on TV, Nov. 2 edition

Talking Peter Penashue, the Ashley Smith inquiry, and Harper's trip to India

Message of the day

“Correctional Services is to cooperate fully in the Ashley Smith inquiry.”

Questions not answered

  • Will potash become an issue when negotiating trade with India?

Peter Penashue’s donations:

After a number of questions in the Commons regarding Peter Penashue’s election donations in the wake of the CBC’s ongoing investigation, Power & Politics hosted an MP panel of Pierre Poilievre, Ryan Cleary, and Roger Cuzner to give their thoughts. Poilievre said that Penashue had indicated that he directed his campaign not to accept corporate donations (which would seem to be common sense, as they’re illegal), and that his Official Agent is working with Elections Canada. Poilievre added that the best thing is to wait for Elections Canada to look at all the facts and report back. Cleary noted that Penashue has not yet addressed the allegations on the floor of the Commons. Cuzner noted the mounting controversies around Penashue – the no-interest loan, the overspending, the $17000 in free flights, and now this incident. He also said that Penashue’s former Official Agent was a 30-year political veteran, and not a rookie.

P&P’s Power Panel then took a look at the issue, where Rob Russo wondered if Elections Canada has the staff, resources, and legislative mandate to do what it needs to in these instances. Kady O’Malley noted that Elections Canada is not as empowered as the Auditor General’s office when it comes to what they can request from the parties. Greg Weston said that there will come a point when we need to determine if the Elections Act is a farce or if Elections Canada can’t do its job, but also noted that while laws can change, it won’t seem to matter if nobody takes responsibility when they’re caught breaking them. Marie Vastel said that adding these cases with the Supreme Court decision on Etobicoke Centre is starting to make electors feel frustrated that nothing can change.

Later, Power Play’s journalist panel of Stephen Maher and Aaron Wherry weighed in, where Maher noted that Penashue is in trouble in terms of perception, and that Penashue used to be a very dynamic figure in Labrador Innu politics. Wherry said that the government is handling this in the same way they always do – someone else does a dance for the cameras while the minister – in this case Penashue – sits there. He said that it’s effective to a point, but the questions still remain.

Ashley Smith case:

Power Play opened with the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, Candice Bergen, who said that the PMO has ordered Correctional Services Canada to fully cooperate with the inquest into Smith’s death, and that they have trained 8000 front-line officers to deal with mental health issues including self-harm. She also said that there are some good local initiatives in cities like Calgary and Vancouver to work with provinces at the local level to do prevention, and that the government want to support that work.

Later on, Power Play’s strategist panel of Gerry Nicholls, Anne McGrath and Tim Murphy weighed in. Nicholls said that Harper did the right thing, and that hopefully they can get to the bottom of what happened. Murphy noted that the government systematically tries to undermine due process rights in the legal system, and Smith’s case is a result of that. Murphy said that this one retreat on Harper’s part is pure politics. McGrath said that the government has played with the scope and jurisdiction up to this point, but now needs to ensure that the eventual recommendations from the inquest are actually followed up on.

Harper’s trip to India:

In advance of Harper’s six-day trip to India, Don Martin spoke with Acting Indian High Commissioner Narinder Chauhan. Chauhan said that while Canada is an energy super-power, India is an energy-deficient country, which is why our countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy. Chauhan said that there have already been five rounds of free trade agreement negotiations to date, and that trade between Canada and India has reached the $5 billion mark. Chauhan said that India’s Prime Minister is focused on priority areas like energy security, food security, and innovation.

Chauhan was on P&P later, where she added that that the deal to ship Canadian uranium to India is still ongoing, and that India’s aggressive interests for trade include the services sector, where Canada’s interests are more in the goods sector.

P&P’s Power Panel later weighed in, where Russo noted the big difference between our interests in India and China are the fact that India is a democracy while China is not. Weston said that this is a market we can’t afford to overlook, with the economies in Europe and the US still volatile. O’Malley wondered if after this trip we will begin to question the usefulness of these kinds of trade missions.

When Power Play’s strategists were asked about it, Nicholls noted the absurdity that Harper appears to be a free-trader until someone tries to invest in Canada, but that India is a win-win. Murphy said that it looks like the old Team Canada trade missions, while McGrath noted that India’s interest in potash is a touchy subject, and that investors have to be wondering how we can promoting trade and yet have the situation as with Petrnoas decision.

West Block renovations:

Don Martin went out of the studio with NDP public works critic Linda Duncan to talk about the new $1.2 billion figure for the West Block renovations. Duncan said it’s hard to say where they’re at in the project or where the costs are going, because they can’t get answers. She said that they want to conserve the most important buildings in Canada, but wonders if there aren’t places that could be slowed down or cut back during this time of austerity. Because she’s not sure what figures are included, Duncan wondered if it might be time for another Auditor General’s review.

Canada-China FIPA:

Hannah Thibedeau had Carleton University professor Ian Lee and CAW economist Jim Stanford explain aspects of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Lee noted that this is not a free trade agreement, but one that protects investors from having their businesses expropriated in another country. Lee added that this is especially necessary in countries that don’t have the rule of law or an independent judiciary, but that it makes it hard to pass protectionist legislation. Stanford said that it won’t make us equal in a de facto sense, and he characterised the arbitration framework as a “kangaroo court” that subverts democratic powers.

Supreme Court decisions:

Power Play’s strategists also took note of the Supreme Court decision today that said that current laws against drunk driving place too much onus on drivers when challenging Breathalyzer readings. Murphy said that as a former prosecutor, the law has migrated to the point where you have to create reasonable doubt in the machine, which is an attack on due process. McGrath said that while there is major public support for taking action on drunk driving, there has to be an acceptance that laws need to be consistent with the Charter. Nicholls said that this can be spun as a victory for the law-and-order agenda that was just fine-tuned, but that there is the underlying concern that these laws erode the notion of the presumption of innocence.

Robert Ghiz:

Martin spoke with PEI premier Robert Ghiz, who noted that the province’s unemployment’s rate is always higher because of reliance on seasonable industries, but that they are continuing to try to create year-round employment. Ghiz said he is not satisfied with EI changes, which are detrimental to those seasonal industries. When asked about the fate of the Liberal brand, Ghiz said that it’s not in trouble, but the pendulum is swinging and will swing back, and added that there’s nothing wrong with renewal and rebuilding.

“Brainwashing” students:

After a trip by an Ottawa-area Catholic school trip to help Barack Obama’s campaign was cancelled after pressure from anti-abortion groups, Martin spoke with Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, the director of Developing A Global Perspective for Educators. Ng-A-Fook said that getting grade 10 students involved in civic engagement would have been a good exercise that should have happened. When asked about the Maclean’s cover story about political stances being made in education, Ng-A-Fook noted the example of a grade three class participating in a pipeline protest as an example of how the Ontario science curriculum asks students to look at human impacts on environment. He said that his organization stresses to teacher candidates that they run a contentious issue by school administration and then decide whether or not to send a letter home to parents.