Must-see QP: Pierre Poilievre makes the opposition's case

Must-see QP: Pierre Poilievre makes the opposition’s case

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.

The must-see moment

Patrick Brazeau might be a suspended senator and failed journalist who’s in a heap of legal trouble, but he still knows the power of a tweet. The federal ethics commissioner’s ruling that Public Works Minister Diane Finley breached ethics rules in 2011 had Brazeau tapping away at his keyboard. The one-time Tory accused Finley of playing politics with funding for the Centre Jean Bosco de Maniwaki, a community centre in his hometown that sits 90 minutes north of Parliament Hill.

The tweets did the trick. Reporters filed their stories and NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat, the man who toppled Lawrence Cannon, asked Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to investigate Brazeau’s claims.

Yesterday, Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre rushed to Finley’s defence in question period. “Mr. Speaker, internal and external assessments determined that the organization in question was not eligible for the requested subsidy, regardless of the lobbying done by Patrick Brazeau. We respect the taxpayers’ money,” he said. Today, Poilievre padded his talking points. “We protect taxpayers’ money by choosing to make good investments and by … spending responsibly,” he told Ravignat.

Poilievre’s public statements produce two key takeaways:

1. The government bases funding decisions on internal and external assessments.
2. The government makes good investments.

Dawson’s report, which concluded that Finley broke ethics rules in 2011 when she personally intervened to grant funding to the Markham Centre for Skills and Independence, casts serious doubt on those claims—even though Poilievre intended them as a direct defence of his cabinet colleague’s conduct.

The Chabad Lubavitch of Markham’s proposal sought funding under the government’s Enabling Accessibility Fund, but Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s internal assessment gave the project a failing grade.

The Office for Disability Issues had identified a number of weaknesses with the Markham proposal. Program officers suggested that the proposal was not aligned with the objectives of the program because it did not identify any existing barriers requiring reduction. They also suggested that community support letters for the project were not very strong and that the application did not demonstrate the organization’s capacity to manage the project. Only three other proposals of the 167 that were given an internal assessment scored lower than the Markham proposal.

An external evaluation, which only came at Finley’s urging, offered a passing grade—but expressed reservations.

On August 18, 2011, the external evaluator submitted his evaluation of the Markham proposal to the Department. The external evaluator considered that, with a rating of 51 out of 80 possible points, the Markham project could be funded, but with the reservation that some elements required by the Department had not been fully substantiated.

Eventually, Finley approved the project. But was it a good investment? Dawson’s report did some digging.

The Department ultimately withdrew its funding for this project. Information provided to my Office indicated that the Chabad Lubavitch of Markham was unable to obtain the necessary construction permits required for the work to be completed within the timeline negotiated with the Department, and there were significant increases in costs to deal with building deficiencies. It appears that approximately $50,000 of the federal funds was spent and the remainder of the funds allocated for this project was returned for future projects.

In other words, the project went off the rails and all those ministerial approvals were for naught. Forget, for a moment, the conflict-of-interest investigation and think about that value-for-money defence. The government hopes to convince a country, in an election year, that Conservatives are the people to trust with the public purse. If that’s the goal, perhaps its ministers should stop making the opposition’s case in the House of Commons.

The recap

The context

Seldom does a sitting government anywhere admit it’s wildly off in the wrong direction; the confident gang in Ottawa serves only as the most strident example of a government that always knows that everybody else is always wrong. But even at their least receptive, the Tories tend to let their loudest opponents sit at the same table. Parliamentary committees are where criticism goes to die in Ottawa but, hey, there’s a table, and everyone sits at it.

It’s hard to know where to start listing all of the people and groups opposed to the current wording of Bill C-51, the anti-terror bill now under the scrutiny of the House public safety committee. No matter where you start, you’ll find many of them in front of the committee. Take this morning, for example, when the committee heard from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association’s Carmen Cheung, Greenpeace Canada’s Joanna Kerr, former Security and Intelligence Review Committee head Ron Atkey, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group’s Paul Champ. They all came out strongly against C-51. Even Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary political science professor who broadly supported the bill, found problems with the legislation. This evening, the committee hears from Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, a pair of university professors who think the bill is a failure, as drafted (catch a recap of our C-51 live chat with Forcese). Tories may not take the criticism seriously…

… but it’s there, on the record.

Which is why the committee’s refusal to hear from Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien is so bewildering. CBC’s Kady O’Malley has diligently reported that, even though Therrien was top of mind for New Democrat and Liberal committee members who wanted to hear from him, he didn’t end up on the witness list—and the Tories wouldn’t agree to tack him onto a special meeting where he could respond to questions. They argued that he’d been consulted during the bill’s preparation, but even that is apparently a stretch.

Therrien’s opposition to C-51 is unequivocal, to be sure.

In my view, Bill C-51 in its current form would fail to provide Canadians with what they want and expect: legislation that protects both their safety and their privacy. The proposed legislation does not strike the right balance.

The scale of information sharing between government departments and agencies being proposed in this bill is unprecedented. The new powers that would be created are excessive and the privacy safeguards being proposed are seriously deficient.

All Canadians – not only terrorism suspects – will be caught in this web. Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analysing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians in order to find the virtual needle in the haystack. To my mind, that goes too far.

But the privacy commissioner’s extensive critique is published for every Canadian to read. Newspapers have published his op-ed. He’s the privacy commissioner, and privacy rights are at stake in C-51. Sure, blocking his appearance might save the government a couple of bad headlines, but going to all this trouble is making all kinds of new ones. The witness list is already full of critical voices. What’s one more, between parliamentarians?

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