Ask Kady Anything: Decoding political “movements”
Greetings, VICE News readers, parliamentary nerds and people who landed on this page by mistake and are now wondering what on earth is going on! Let’s get to this week’s batch of questions.
1% Guru asks:
— 1% Guru (@bilongma) April 10, 2017
First off, no, this isn’t a cunningly disguised re-run: As regular readers may recall, last week’s instalment of Ask Kady Anything included an extensive overview on the all-party panel that controls the purse-strings for everything from MPs’ office budgets to operating costs for the Commons chamber itself.
Anyway, as I wrote at time, the Board of Internal Economy, or BOIE, currently conducts virtually all of its business behind double-sealed doors, with the only publicly available record being the frustratingly minimalist minutes that generally aren’t published until weeks — sometimes months — after the meeting has taken place.
During his tenure on the opposition benches, and then again while on the election hustings in 2015, Justin Trudeau promised to change that, and this week, he — or, at least, his government — finally got the ball rolling by introducing legislation that would, if adopted, make all future sessions open to the public by default. Although the board will still be able to move in camera (off-the-record, without the public or journalists in the room) when dealing with sensitive information: staffing and employment matters, security concerns and issues related to contracts and tenders, for instance, and with the unanimous support of all members.
One niggling problem: Those changes are buried in a 307-page budget implementation bill, which means MPs likely won’t have time to plug (unintended) loopholes or spot any other unintended consequences.
On the other hand, there’s also an advantage to being part and parcel of a budget bill: The government really, really needs it to pass in reasonably short order, which means it won’t be left to languish on the order paper like so many lower-priority stand-alone bills.
In any case, it looks like the end result will be a far more check-balanced board: Not only will members of the public be able to attend meetings in person, but the minutes should, in theory, be far more detailed and informative — and since proceedings will take place in public, the members will have more freedom to discuss what went down at the table.
So, the short answer, as far as checks and balances on the BOIE: Not yet, but soon! Really! There’s a bill before the House, even.
John Ryerson asks:
@kady The PM and CPC now use the word “movement”, likely NDP too – what does that mean in Cdn politics?
— John Ryerson (@jryerson1) April 10, 2017
Oh, this is such an interesting question, since as it turns out, there’s no motivation behind the trending status of “movement” within the political community and, more specifically, amongst established, old-guard political parties.
For Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, it seems directly linked to the decision to move — no pun intended — away from the whole idea of card-carrying party members, which began with the creation of the “supporter” class in 2012, which extended leadership voting rights to anyone willing to fill out a free registration form.
At the 2016 convention, the party eliminated the $10 membership fee in favour of creating a new status: “Registered Liberals,” which automatically included all those who registered as supporters under the previous system. The Liberal.ca webpage now exhorts visitors to “join the movement” — which, in this context, means “register with the party,” but sounds distinctly less bureaucratic and more next-gen millennial-friendly, which is, presumably, pretty much exactly what is intended.
All of which is to say, in the Liberal context, “movement” refers to everyone from life-long big L Liberals who turn up at riding association meetings and help plant signs during campaigns to someone who filled out the registration form once on a whim, and may or may not even remember doing so.
Over on the Conservative side, though, it gets a bit more complicated.
Unlike the Liberals, the Conservative party still has members — dues-paying members, at that — who are the only ones eligible to vote in leadership races and other party matters.
The conservative movement, on the other hand, includes not just big-C Conservatives, but also any and all politically engaged individuals who hew to the right end of the political spectrum, but aren’t necessarily affiliated with the Conservative Party: Libertarians who may or may not belong to the Libertarian Party, for example, or those whose socially conservative views puts them more in sync with, say, the Christian Heritage Party, which is why organizations like the Manning Centre, whose goal is to appeal to all small-c conservatives, tend to emphasize the small-c movement rather than the capital P Party.
Finally, for the New Democrats, “movement” usually refers to the broader progressive (a similarly chameleonesque word, but that’s another column) community, but usually positioned so as to suggest that the New Democrats — who, like the Conservatives, still claim card-carrying, dues-paying members — are right there in the thick of the battle for social and other forms of justice, fighting alongside labour unions, environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, Black Lives Matter and the rest. Make no mistake, they’d love to convert those fellow travellers into New Democrats, not that one has to make a choice between one and the other, but in the interim, they just want to make their presence felt within that broader wave.
— art neufeld (@NeufelaArt) April 10, 2017
So, I get the sense that this isn’t so much a question as a complaint phrased in the form thereof, Jeopardy-style. But that’s okay, because it gives me the perfect opening to address a perennial gripe: namely, the “Why are MPs wasting time/money/etc talking about X when Y is happening?!”
The answer to this traditionally rhetorical question is: Because in most cases, X is something that is actually before the House — a bill on, say, legalization of marijuana, to use Art’s example — and Y is a topical current event over which MPs and, indeed, Parliament itself, may have limited, if any authority or control, such as the situation in Syria.
That doesn’t mean the subject is verboten — it can (and does) come up in question period, of course, either as an open-ended query to allow the prime minister to update the House on the latest developments, or as a challenge from the opposition side over government policy (or lack thereof), or even form the basis for an emergency or take-note debate, which gives MPs from both sides the opportunity to put their views and concerns on the record.
Meanwhile, the government — by which we mean the executive, namely the prime minister and his cabinet — can keep tabs on developments and discuss how Canada should respond, which is generally done during closed-door meetings, with the resulting decision — extending the current anti-ISIS military mission, say — announced publicly.
All of which is to say, fear not: Even as the government introduces legislation to legalize marijuana — which, for the record, was a campaign pledge, so it’s not like they pulled it out of thin air to distract the populace — it can simultaneously be coming up with a NAFTA renegotiation strategy and updating the official policy on Syria at the same time. Multitasking! It’s a pretty basic requirement of government.
Finally, two less political quickies, starting with Kate:
— Kate (@Mlle_Anglais) April 11, 2017
Well, I’m not writing this up in real time, so I’m not sure how to deal with the “right now,” but luckily, I am such a creature of snacking habit that I can be fairly certain that, at any given moment, the most likely snack suspect in my bag would be a date square from either the parliamentary cafeteria, or the bakery I pass on my way to the Hill. There’s something about the blend of delicious, crumbly oatmeal and sick-sweet date that keeps me going through even the most tortuously long committee meeting.
And finally, Jeff Pappone:
— Jeff Pappone (@jpappone) April 6, 2017
You have no idea how often I get variations on this question, so I’ll answer the same way I always do: I just have really small thumbs that are almost preternaturally suited to the Blackberry keyboard, but based on years of field research, I can tell you that my limit for tweeting/liveblogging/otherwise typing without a break is four hours or so. And yes, to preempt your next question: I am absolutely still a Blackberry loyalist, and I love my PRIV.
Don’t forget to hit @kady or @vicecanada with questions via Twitter using the #AskKady hashtag.