Sunday, October 25, 2015

On ticking clocks

Governing inevitably involves a combination of setting the agenda to the extent possible, and responding to events to the extent necessary. And while there's a great deal of doubt as to where the Libs' priorities will lie, it's possible to identify the areas where they'll have little choice but to make decisions very quickly.

To be clear, we shouldn't confuse urgency with importance - and in later posts I'll discuss the issues which deserve the most sustained action over a four-year term. But let's start by quickly surveying a few of the policy areas where the Libs will face external deadlines from the moment they take power.

Climate change

Most obviously, the Paris climate change conference in November will require the new government to take a seat at the international table to deal with the most important issue facing our planet (where the Harper Cons did nothing but obstruct any progress during their time in office). And the voters looking for meaningful change will surely want to see Canada become a leader rather than a fossil.

Unfortunately, the odds of this one resulting in anything positive based on any Canadian contribution look rather low. So far, Trudeau is using the conference as an opportunity to showcase process over substance - crowing about who else he's inviting, while taking no steps to actually bring targets or plans to the table. And that means Harper's pattern of denial and delay stands to win out barring some major change in course. 

Long form census

While there's likely no official end date to decide what to do with next year's census, this week's news suggests that time is running out to administer anything but the Cons' more costly, less effective version. And there have been at least some rumblings about using a different mechanism to collect public data.

In the longer term, we should absolutely expect a review as to how best to collect the information needed to make policy choices for Canadians. But if there's just enough time to implement a functional long-form census if a decision is made immediately - and not enough time to sort through other a myriad of other possibilities first - then we should expect a new government to go down the former road and resume illuminating as much as possible.

Union rights

The Libs have promised to undo some of the Cons' attacks on Canadian trade unions, including the draconian (and probably unconstitutional) reporting requirements under Bill C-377. But they haven't yet signalled that the promise is going to be a priority - which could cause serious problems for Canadian unions.

After all, Bill C-377 requires unions to be able to report on its activities in for the time period starting on January 1, 2016, and to start making that information available for public dissemination six months after that. So if there's any doubt at all whether the Libs will follow through immediately on their promise (including pushing legislation through a Conservative-dominated Senate), unions will face plenty of cost in the meantime developing internal processes to comply with a law which the Libs themselves recognize as undesirable.

Assisted suicide

It was on February 6, 2015 that the Supreme Court of Canada declared the existing Criminal Code provisions on assisted suicide to be unconstitutional, while suspending the effect of that declaration for 12 months to allow the federal government to develop alternative legislation. Which means that once again, there's a legislative timeline looming.

But in this case, the Libs could buy themselves some time by relying on the terms of the Supreme Court's decision. The existing provisions have been struck down only to the extent a patient consents to assisted death based on intolerable suffering - and that standard could be applied as a stopgap until such time as the issue is considered in more detail by Parliament.

Of course, there are plenty of other areas where there are immediate imperatives to act which aren't so clearly tied to specific dates - from the humanitarian crisis giving rise to the need for refugee settlement, to the long-overdue nature of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, to the potential for widespread civil rights abuses by a secret police force under C-51, to the numerous areas where the Cons' cuts to regulations and services have put Canadians at risk. And in that context, the Libs' apparent focus on tax tinkering and political symbolism looks like a questionable place to start.

But we should pay particularly close attention to the Libs' inclination (or lack thereof) to act in the areas where they're facing timelines which have been well known in advance.


  1. Anonymous11:17 a.m.

    How about an 'anti-omnibus omnibus bill' to nullify the most egregious elements of conservative legislation (e.g. C-24, C-38, C-45, C-51, C-377). The last section of this last ominbus bill should contain a section to outlaw omnibus bills. I am not a lawyer, but I think something like this might be possible.

    But first, partisan political ideologues must be cleared from senior ranks. Otherwise, they will work against any efforts to clean-up the mess. This could be done discretely and with respect.

    1. I'd be concerned about outlawing future omnibus bills in what itself would be exactly that - and would hope concerns about the omnibus process will be dealt with as a matter of parliamentary procedure rather than legislation.

      That said, my concern with lumping in issues which don't involve urgent deadlines is that they may preclude action on ones that do - e.g. I'd hate for C-377 to take effect because of the Libs (or the Senate Cons) hemming and hawing over amendments to C-51 which are in the same "nullification" bill.

    2. Anonymous11:40 a.m.

      If we don't legislate omnibus bills and rely on parliamentary procedure, what will stop a Harper 2.0 from abusing parliamentary procedure?

    3. Nothing binding. But nor would anything stop a Harper 2.0 with a majority from reversing any legislation against omnibus bills - and I'd rather set the precedent that responsibility lies with all MPs to protect the legislative process than treat it as something which changes based on the whims of the government of the day.

  2. You wrote: "there's a great deal of doubt as to where the Libs' priorities will lie."

    Maybe so, but some have expressed little doubt as to what Liberal promises were -- cf Danien Gillis post here

    What reason would prevent any of us, as a FIRST good step, from urging whoever got elected in our own ridings to get moving on these 10 Liberal promises?!

    1. None whatsoever, and I'd hope people will indeed press the Libs to live up to those among other key promises. But the point of this post is to note that there are some areas where there are factors beyond bare political judgment and pressure which demand action in the near future.

  3. Apparently, Greg, you expect Trudeau to enact measures before he's sworn into office. Got some ideas on just how he does that? I think I would want a prime minister to get the informed advice of his top civil servants before proclaiming anything. Now I know you New Dems have never held power and are licking some pretty nasty wounds at the moment but you might consider letting Trudeau come into office before you sink your teeth into him. Just a thought.

    1. I don't see this post as sinking my teeth into him at all, nor expecting the impossible or unreasonable. And my hope is that he'll know and act on the issues before they go south.

      But surely you can't think we're better off if he believes he has the luxury of time in the face of hard deadlines set by factors beyond his control.