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:: PoliticsWatch Legislative Update

Harper faces rising caucus discontent

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:00 p.m. December 8, 2006]

 

OTTAWA —  Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent his first months in power with a certain swagger, but a surging Liberal party coupled with dissent from within are threatening the PM's hold on power and will change the dynamics in Parliament.   

The Liberals left their weekend leadership  convention more united than in recent memory and in an upbeat mood. And if that was not enough the party's chief financial officer told delegates last Friday that the party was in the black and was financially ready to fight an election.

In addition, having moved ahead of the Tories in the polls without a leader last month, the election of Stephane Dion and the bounce from the five-day Liberal infomercial has put the Liberals in front of the Tories. 

A Decima poll has the Grits at 35, four points ahead of the Tories. A Strategic Counsel poll had the Liberals at 37, six points ahead of the Tories. And in Quebec, the Liberals under Dion are polling at 35 per cent, compared to 17 per cent for the Tories. 

Harper has spent much of his time as prime minister trying to position the Tories to win a majority in the next election, primarily by picking up more Mulroney-era seats in Quebec. 

Right now that plan is looking more and more like a fantasy than a real  strategy. But then again, so did the Tories winning 10 seats in Quebec at the outset of the last federal election. 

The Tory failure to move up in the polls this fall and Dion's strong early polling results are the first two steps in a potential problem for Harper's leader-oriented government. 

Most of the Conservative caucus have been willing to go along or put up with Harper's PMO control of communications and policy because it has the intended goal of delivering the Conservatives their first majority government in a generation. 

But if the Tory slide in support continues, more and more MPs may be less concerned about Harper winning a majority and more concerned about saving their own seats, especially as an election approaches.

And already private grumbling about Harper's style has become more and more public in recent weeks. The fortress around what goes on behind the scenes is slowly being penetrated with non-flattering leaks from inside. 

PoliticsWatch has learned that regional caucus meetings have become weekly venting sessions for MPs and even cabinet ministers frustrated at the centralized control of Harper's PMO. 

One cabinet minister has complained to his colleagues about a two-week delay he faced in delivering a straightforward, positive speech because he had to wait for PMO approval. 

Discussion at Alberta caucus is said to be dominated in recent weeks with complaints about the government's income-trust flip-flop. 

MPs are more reluctant to voice complaints at national caucus in front of the prime minister. That could be due to past heavy-handed tactics from Harper. 

According to sources, when the government announced $1 billion in spending cuts in September, caucus learned about it after the cuts had been made. Harper then told MPs that specific MPs would be designated to speak about the cuts and any MP that publicly voiced criticism about cuts affecting their riding would do so at their own peril. 

There is also a general sense from MPs that unelected party officials are exerting too much influence and are disrespecting caucus and elected officials.

This is in addition to other recent leaks from the inside to the media. 

On November 17, a communication director for a Tory cabinet minister told the Globe and Mail about a plan by Harper's communication director, Sandra Buckler, to have ministerial communications directors provide private assessments of their ministers. The move is said to have created friction between the PMO and some ministers. 

That same day, National Post columnist John Ivison reported that Tory "insiders say that doubts over the communications strategy have been raised at caucus and Cabinet. A number of caucus members spoke of their frustrations yesterday, an indication MPs are losing the fear of speaking out that has been their hallmark since coming to power."

Last week, Tory MP Michael Chong, who had just resigned as Harper's intergovernmental affairs minister, told reporters that Harper did not consult with him on a motion to recognize the Quebecois as a nation. This was after it was revealed that former Liberal intergovernmental affairs minister Stephane Dion had received a call from the PM to discuss the motion before Harper told his caucus. 

Chong's revelation seemed to confirm suspicions about cabinet ministers having very little say in government policy and strategy. 
 
However, this week the leaks coming from Tory insiders reached a new high.  

On Thursday, the Canadian Press based a story on details from two government sources of a cabinet debate that painted the PM in an unflattering light. 

The story suggested that for months three of Harper's top ministers -- Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, Justice Minister Vic Toews and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay -- have been pressing Harper to fire RCMP Commissioner Giuliani Zaccardelli to no avail. 

One insider gave CP a rare account of an exchange between Harper and Day at a recent cabinet meeting where Day pressed Harper again to fire Zaccardelli. 

"Harper just changed the channel," the source told CP. "He said, 'Now, moving along to the next subject.' He just cut (Day) dead." 

Harper called the CP story a "ridiculous rumour" and Day said in question period on Friday it was an "utter fabrication," which coincidentally was the same language Harper's communications director used to describe the story. 

The week ended Friday with the Vancouver Sun reporting that Tory MP John Cummins has gone public with his opposition to a plan by Harper and Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to sign an aboriginal land treaty. 

Cummins is not expected to be disciplined, like former Tory MP Garth Turner who was kicked out of caucus earlier this fall. 

But in a minority Parliament with the Tories trailing the Liberals Harper appears to have few options. 

After last week's byelections that added to the ranks of the Liberals and the Bloc, the loss of another Tory MP would make it extremely difficult for the government to stave off a non-confidence vote with the support of the Bloc and the Liberals. 

And that would change the essential dynamic from the spring where it was Harper who was the one who held the best cards.

Knowing that the Liberals were embarking on a lengthy leadership process, the PM threatened to force an election no fewer than three times during the spring.  

The most egregious use of this threat was after the NDP put forward a motion of no-confidence in Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. Harper warned that it would be a matter of confidence if it came to the floor of the House of Commons. Fearing an election, the Liberals voted to against the NDP motion, killing it at the committee level. 

Knowing the Liberals could not defeat the government, Harper was able to threaten and intimidate his opponents. 

But not any more. 

Dion and the Liberals are probably not ready for an election just yet after fighting a marathon leadership battle (in fact Dion isn't even ready for opposition either as he doesn't plan to have his shadow cabinet introduced until next month), but there is no doubt that he wants one soon. 

So how soon could Canadians be going to the polls if it were up to Mr. Dion? 

"Liberals, we need to get back to power as soon as possible," Dion told party faithful at the leadership debate in Toronto in October. And among Dion's first words to delegates upon winning the Liberal crown on the weekend, "Stephen Harper, we are counting the days until the next election." 

Harper's springtime threats to go to the polls were part wishful thinking, mostly bluff. However, if Harper were to make the threat again, he could have in Dion a willing accomplice in ending this session of Parliament . 

The Legislative Update is posted every Friday afternoon when the House is sitting. To stay informed on all the political events read PoliticsWatch's  Morning Briefing updated at 9:30 a.m. ET Monday to Friday and the Daily Agenda updated at 6:00 p.m. ET Monday to Friday.
  
______________

The government plans to deal with the following bills next week

Bill C-37, tax convention; 
Bill C-12, financial institutions; 
Bill C-36, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.
Bill C-28, budget tax measures.
Bill C-40, sales tax; 
Bill C-32, impaired driving; 
Bill C-33, technical income tax; 
Bill C-35, bail reform

____________________

Committee Highlights

Monday, December 11

> Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is scheduled to appear before the Commons environment committee. 

> Dr. Charles McVety and a representative from the group REAL Women of Canada are among those who will appear before heritage committee's examination of the government's cancellation of the Court Challenges Program. 


Tuesday, December 12

> Canada's next Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, will appear before the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee.

> International Cooperation Minister Josée Verner discusses the mission in Afghanistan during appearance before the national defence committee.

> The public accounts committee examines the controversial relocation contracts that were included in the latest report of the auditor general.

> The environment committee continues its study of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. 


> Full Schedule


____________________

Bills the Tories have tabled in this Parliament 

C-2 An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability

Status: Passed by the Senate, December 7

This is better known the Federal Accountability Act, which a number of new measures and a massive list of amendments to current laws aimed at cleaning up government. The bill is the government's No. 1 priority.

C-3 An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act

Status: Passed in the House June 22

C-4 An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act

Status: Royal Assent May 11

C-5 An Act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and amending certain Acts

Status: Passed by Senate November 3

C-6 An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Referred to transport committee November 7

C-7 An Act to amend the National Defence Act

Status: Introduced April 27

C-8 An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2007

Status: Royal Assent May 11

C-9 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment)

Status: Passed in the House November 3

C-10 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status: Referred to justice committee June 13

C-11 An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Referred to the Transport committee September 21

C-12 An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts

Status: Third Reading December 7

C-13 An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006

Status: Royal Assent June 22

This is the budget implementation bill. The bill was accidentally given unanimous consent in the House on third reading when none of the opposition parties objected after confusion over who would speak to the bill.

C-14 An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption)

Status: Referred to citizenship and immigration committee June 13

This bill makes it easier for parents to obtain citizenship for children they adopt from overseas.

C-15 An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act

Status: Royal Assent June 22

C-16 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act

Status: Passed in the House November 6

C-17 An Act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts

Status: Passed in the House November 17

This bill sets salaries for federally-appointed judges at a lower rate than that recommended by an independent panel. The panel wanted 10.8 per cent increase plus cost of living. The government is offering 7.25 per cent in the bill plus cost of living.

C-18 An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification

Status: Sent to justice committee October 4

C-19 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act

Status: Passed in the House November 1

This bill toughens punitive measures against convicted street racers. 

C-20 An Act respecting airports, airport authorities and other airport operators and amending the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act

Status: Introduced June 15

C-21 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (non-registration of firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted)

Status: Introduced June 19

This bill we effectively kill the long-arm registry.

C-22 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act

Status: Referred to justice committee October 30

C-23 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments)

Status: Referred to the Justice committee October 16

C-24 An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence

Status:
Passed in the House December 6

This is the implementation legislation for the softwood lumber deal with the U.S. This bill is considered a matter of confidence for the minority government. 

C-25 An Act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and the Income Tax Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status:
Passed in the House November 10

This bill toughens money laundering and terror financing laws and would give the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada the power to monitor money wiring and travellers cheques services. 

C-26 An Act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and the Income Tax Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status:
Referred to the industry committee November 6

This bill toughens money laundering and terror financing laws and would give the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada the power to monitor money wiring and travellers cheques services. 

C-27 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace)

Status:
Special legislative committee struck November 9, Liberal MP Bernard Patry named chair of special committee on November 10

This bill places the onus on three time sexual and violent offenders to prove to the Crown they are not deserving of dangerous offender status.

C-28 A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006 

Status:
Report stage December 7


C-29 An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act 

Status:
Introduced October 18


C-30 An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act) 

Status:
Referred to special legislative committee December 4

All three opposition parties say they will vote against the government's main plank of its Green Plan.  

C-31 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act

Status:
Referred to the procedure and house affairs committee November 8

This bill will require voters to present photo ID at polling stations. 

C-32 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status:
Introduced November 21

This bill will impose penalties for those convicted of driving under the influence of drugs 

C-33 An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act 

Status:
Introduced November 22


C-34 An Act to provide for jurisdiction over education on First Nation lands in British Columbia

Status:
Passed in the House December 5


C-35 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences) 

Status:
Introduced November 23

This bill requires those charged with gun crimes prove why they should be granted bail before trial.

C-36 An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act 

Status:
Introduced November 27


C-37 An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters

Status:
Referred to finance committee December 7

This bill, among other things, lowers the legal mininum mortgage downpayment consumers have to make on a home.

C-38 An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2007 (Appropriation Act No. 2, 2006-2007) 

Status:
Passed in the Senate December 6

Main estimates

C-39 An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2007 (Appropriation Act No. 3, 2006-2007)

Status:
Passed in the Senate December 6

Supplementary estimates

C-40 An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act, the Excise Act, 2001 and the Air Travellers Security Charge Act and to make related amendments to other Acts 

Status:
Introduced December 5

C-41 An Act to amend the Competition Act 

Status:
Introduced December 7

: Related Links

> Check out last week's legislative update

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