Parliament returns — with a lot of ‘unfinished business’ on its plate
When I spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December, he said “there’s a lot of unfinished business.” He was speaking about his decision to stay on as leader of the Liberal Party. But that statement also describes the parliamentary year that begins on Monday when MPs convene for the first time in 2023.
Last year was a reasonably productive one for Parliament. But those 12 months also left behind a sizeable pile of work that remains to be completed. And while the Liberal government has much left to do if it hopes to be re-elected, the major opposition parties can’t quite claim yet that they’ve done all they can to make their own pitches to voters.
For those reasons, an election in 2023 seems unlikely. But it should still be a consequential year — and it will start with the legislation that was still in progress when MPs and senators broke for the holidays.
What’s old is new again
Before the break, the government’s newest firearms legislation (C-21) was stuck at the public safety committee as critics accused it of overreach. In the face of that criticism, Liberals said they were willing to consider feedback; it remains to be seen what kind of changes will be necessary to move the bill forward.
Bill C-11, the government’s contested attempt to bring major Internet platforms under Canadian broadcast regulations, was still in the Senate in December. The upper chamber seems poised to send it back to the House with amendments — the Senate committee that studied the bill recommended a dozen changes.
If senators agree to some or all of those amendments, C-11 would become the 24th government bill the Senate has amended since Justin Trudeau began appointing independent members to the chamber in 2016.
Legislation to create a new disability benefit, meanwhile, is nearly through the House and there are three other pieces of government legislation before House committees — bills that would enact new environmental protections, reform the Official Languages Act and create a new public complaints and review commission to oversee the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Senate, meanwhile, is in possession of bills to create a new national council on reconciliation (which would report to Parliament on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples) and establish the Online News Act, which would facilitate payments from major Internet platforms for the use of content from Canadian media outlets.
What’s new is significant
Another dozen government bills are at second reading in the House — but perhaps the most interesting of those items was only just tabled in December.
Bill C-35 sets out how and under what conditions the federal government would fund child care and early learning programs at the provincial level. In effect, it would put into law what the Liberal government started when it negotiated a series of bilateral child-care funding agreements with each province. If C-35 passes Parliament, it will make it much harder for some future government to abandon the program.
But if C-35 isn’t the most closely watched legislation of the spring, it will be because of what Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is expected to table in the next several weeks: the government’s “just transition” (or “sustainable jobs”) legislation.
Nothing the Trudeau government does on the question of energy and the future of the oil and gas industry in Canada is ever allowed to pass quietly. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has tried to start a fight with the federal government already over the mere name of the bill. But beyond the partisan politics, Wilkinson’s bill should serve as a jumping-off point for a very real discussion about where the Canadian and global economies are headed and how Canada will get there.
The opposition agenda
With each of these bills, the Liberals will be putting some pressure on Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to either support the government’s agenda or explain what he would do differently. But the Conservatives will have their own moves to make, particularly at various House committees.
The government operations committee was already investigating the creation of the government’s ArriveCan app and it will begin hearings Monday on the federal government’s use of private contractors and consultants like McKinsey. Conservative members of the ethics committee are also pushing for hearings into Trade Minister Mary Ng’s breach of conflict-of-interest rules.
The NDP has shown little, if any, reluctance to go along with such investigations — and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has rivalled Poilievre lately in his willingness to denounce the Liberal government. But the New Democrats also have other things to play for lately — namely, that confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals.
Singh surely wants to be seen holding the government to account. He also no doubt wants to show that the NDP was able to achieve something with that deal. And he may need at least another year to do that.
The new dental benefit the government promised the NDP is still a work in progress and New Democrats have given the government until the end of this year to table pharmacare legislation, which would at least set out broad parameters for what eventually could be a national program.
Beyond Parliament Hill
And then there is merely everything else on the agenda.
Justice Paul Rouleau has until February 6 to present cabinet with a final report from the public commission probing the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to end the convoy protests that snarled downtown Ottawa and multiple border crossings a year ago. (Cabinet will then have until February 20 to release that report.) On Feb. 7, the prime minister is scheduled to meet the premiers to discuss a grand bargain on health-care funding.
Even if Trudeau and the premiers broadly agree on what to do with health care, the prime minister is signalling an increasing willingness to engage in the fight over the notwithstanding clause. And even when Trudeau’s not looking for a fight, Danielle Smith will be trying to start one ahead of what could be a very consequential election in Alberta sometime this spring.
Even if that’s the biggest election in Canada this year (Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are also due to go to the polls), the next 12 months will be full of the sorts of debates and challenges that leave a mark and will shape the next national vote.
Judge Ron DeSantis By His Actions – The Atlantic
After Donald Trump sabotaged the 2022 midterm elections for Republicans by endorsing unelectable extremists, a comforting narrative took root among GOP elites. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would offer a return to “normal” politics, continuing Trump’s aggressive, unapologetic defense of traditional American culture and values but without all that pesky authoritarianism. He would continue to wrap himself in an American flag, but he wouldn’t invite people to dinner who preferred wearing the Nazi one.
Many on the political left drew the opposite conclusion. DeSantis was the real threat, a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. Whereas Trump believed in anyone or anything that believed in him, DeSantis was a dangerous ideologue. Trump would tweet like an autocrat; DeSantis would act like one.
Is DeSantis an authoritarian? The governor is the political equivalent of an overly greased weather vane, twisting to follow the winds within his party. In the post-Trump GOP, those winds are blowing in an authoritarian direction. Whether he’s an authoritarian at heart or just a cynical opportunist, what matters is how DeSantis behaves. And as governor, he has repeatedly used the powers of his office in authoritarian ways.
Several political words have taken on an expansive meaning in recent years, drifting from their intended use to serve as a linguistic cudgel against any opponent. On the right, many people have misused the word woke as a lazy shorthand to mean anything they classify as “bad cultural change.” A smaller group on the left has misused authoritarian to describe right-wing policies that are perhaps objectionable but nonetheless compatible with democracy.
Authoritarian, in the political-science sense of the word, usually refers to two broad kinds of political action within democracies such as the United States. The first is antidemocratic politics, where a politician attacks the institutions, principles, or rules of democracy. The second is personalized rule, in which the leader uses their power to target specific groups or individuals, persecuting their enemies while protecting their allies.
Wooden rather than magnetic, DeSantis doesn’t engage in the impulsive, stage-based showman authoritarianism of Donald Trump. His antidemocracy politics are calculated and disciplined. In Florida, he has engaged in legislative authoritarianism, replacing rule of law with rule by law. His playbook is now familiar to Floridians: He uses attention-grabbing stunts or changes formal policies to target individuals, groups, or companies he doesn’t like. Then he holds a press conference to tout his ability to take on all the people the Republican base loves to hate.
In functioning democracies, the law is a great equalizer—political allies and adversaries are treated the same. But in “the free state of Florida,” that’s not true. After DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” bill, Disney denounced it. That’s part of democratic politics; citizens and companies are free to speak out against legislation without fear of retribution. But DeSantis retaliated forcefully, using his formal political power to punish a perceived political enemy. He signed a law revoking Disney’s control over a special district in the state.
DeSantis made clear that the legislation specifically targeted Disney because of its political speech. “You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California,” DeSantis said before signing the bill. “And you’re going to marshal your economic power to attack the parents of my state? We view that as a provocation, and we’re gonna fight back against that.” Lest anyone misread his intent, he also assured his supporters: “We have everything thought out … Don’t let anyone tell you that somehow Disney’s going to get a tax cut out of this. They’re going to pay more taxes as a result of it.” This was legislative authoritarianism in action.
Last summer, DeSantis developed a flimsy pretext to remove a Democratic prosecutor, Andrew H. Warren. In a subsequent lawsuit, a judge reviewed an extensive array of evidence and concluded that DeSantis’s goal had been “to amass information that could help bring down Mr. Warren, not to find out how Mr. Warren actually runs the office.” The judge suggested that this was a political move. Decide whom to fire first; figure out how to justify it later.
More broadly, DeSantis has repeatedly used the law for purely political ends. In one instance, DeSantis used state funds to fly a group of bewildered migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. He wasn’t advancing a broad-based policy change. He was targeting a specific group of vulnerable people to score headlines that would benefit him personally, which isn’t how legal authority is supposed to operate in a democracy.
DeSantis has also taken aim at freedom of the press, hoping to weaken existing legal protections for reporters. And he has signed legislation that reduces legal liability for drivers who injure or kill protesters with their cars on public roads. Critics say the legislation, which has been blocked by a judge, could expose protesters to the risk of prosecution.
Of course not everything DeSantis does merits the authoritarian label. He has proposed that hospitals be required to collect data on patients’ immigration status. This, as critics argue, is likely to worsen public-health outcomes and put an undue burden on doctors and nurses to become Florida’s frontline immigration police. But it’s not authoritarian. It’s just a run-of-the-mill bad policy idea.
Sometimes, context determines whether a political action is authoritarian. Cracking down on voter fraud is certainly not authoritarian; it’s just enforcing the law. However, if the crackdown is supposed to undermine public confidence in democracy while targeting a specific group of people who are unpopular in your own party, then it may deserve the label.
What should we make of DeSantis’s high-profile task force to tackle voter fraud in Florida? Twenty-six cases of voter fraud have been verified in the state since 2016. In that time frame, voters have cast roughly 36 million ballots in general federal elections. That’s a nonexistent problem, but the Republican base, thanks to Trump’s lies about fraud, believes it’s widespread. DeSantis was likely trying to score political points while diminishing faith in the democratic process. Last summer, this stunt culminated in a Black man being arrested at gunpoint for illegal voting. (He had cast a ballot because he mistakenly believed that Florida’s restoration of felon voting rights applied to him. Similar cases have been dismissed when they reach the courts.)
In Florida’s public schools, DeSantis has sought to make book-banning easier. Again, governors have the legal right to sway educational policy, and doing so is not authoritarian. What’s worrying about DeSantis’s role in education is that he’s trying to muzzle classroom speech that differs from his worldview. House Bill 7, sometimes referred to as the Stop WOKE Act, prohibits educators from teaching students about systemic racism. This has had the predictable effect of eroding freedom of expression in the classroom. One publisher even removed references to race in a textbook entry about Rosa Parks. Parks’s story became about stubbornness, not racism. “One day, she rode the bus,” the post–H.B. 7 text reads. “She was told to move to a different seat. She did not.” Why was she asked to move? For Florida’s students, that will remain a mystery.
In higher education, similarly, DeSantis has tried to make it easier to fire professors who teach material that a conservative like him might find objectionable. Palm Beach Atlantic University has already fired a professor who taught about racism, after a parent complained.
Those who argue that DeSantis is not an authoritarian have pointed to his evasive refusal to echo Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. But before the 2022 midterm elections, DeSantis actively campaigned for some of the GOP’s most prominent election deniers, such as Kari Lake of Arizona and Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania, even though Mastriano had prayed that Trump would “seize the power” on January 6 and was at the Capitol rally before the attack began.
But would President DeSantis be worse for American democracy than President Trump: The Sequel? To answer that question, you have to understand why DeSantis is behaving like an authoritarian.
DeSantis started his career when the Republican Party was dominated by George W. Bush and John McCain. He was first elected to Congress in 2012, when Mitt Romney defined the GOP. DeSantis, unlike Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, wasn’t drawn to politics by Trumpism; he was comfortable making the case for Romney Republicans.
That party is now dead, its former darlings turned into pariahs. Like so many Republicans, DeSantis recognized the death of the old party in 2016. He enthusiastically rebranded himself, going so far as to make his toddler “Build the Wall” with toy bricks in a cringeworthy 2018 campaign ad.
DeSantis understands that after years of Trump dominating the party, its base has changed. Core Republican voters now crave an authoritarian bully, a culture warrior who will pick fights. DeSantis may not have always been an authoritarian political figure, but he has made clear that he will behave like one to pursue power.
This makes DeSantis dangerous for American democracy. On the political left, opinion is divided as to whether DeSantis is more dangerous than Trump. My take is that DeSantis is more dangerous than Trump was when he became president in 2017, but less dangerous than Trump would be if he took office in 2025.
That’s because Trump changed the Republican Party, winnowing out any remaining principled prodemocracy conservatives, either through primaries or resignations. Many of those who stayed underwent the “Elise Stefanik conversion,” morphing from Paul Ryan supporters into Trump disciples, willing to torch America’s democratic institutions if it aligned with their self-interest. As evidenced by the so-called sedition caucus, many elected Republicans will use their power to undermine democracy.
By contrast, Trump faced some pushback in 2017, when his legislative agenda, including his health-care plan, stalled in a Republican-dominated Congress. DeSantis, a more methodical politician, would face fewer constraints. He could undercut American democracy with a legislative scalpel, all with his party’s fervent support in Congress.
But Trump in a second term, with the Trumpified Republican caucus in Congress, would take a wrecking ball to our institutions. Since leaving office, he’s become even more erratic and unhinged. His current social-media posts make his 2017 tweets appear statesmanlike by comparison.
If you put a gun to my head and forced me to vote for one of these two authoritarians, I’d vote for DeSantis. But his track record in Florida should make us wary. He may not be Trump, but he’s a danger to American democracy nonetheless.
How Trump's indictment interlude has changed America's political landscape – The Globe and Mail
One of the axioms that commentators in the United States live by is that a year is an eternity in American politics. In one of his trademark overhauls of the principles of politics, Donald Trump has shrunk eternity to a week.
As a result, the tumultuous week since the former president disclosed that a New York grand jury was preparing charges against him has been transformed from an operatic overture into an indictment interlude.
And in that interlude – one in which the themes have changed markedly – several of the principal elements of the political and legal dramas surrounding Mr. Trump have been altered.
New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg meets with his grand jury again Monday to examine Mr. Trump’s role in presenting a porn star with US$130,000 in hush money after an alleged sexual encounter.
By announcing earlier this month that he expected legal action against him to proceed to the next, consequential level, Mr. Trump set in motion two contradictory developments. He fortified his profile as a victim even as he baked in the assumption that a former occupant of the White House was about to be indicted. In a week’s time, the astonishing became the assumed.
And in that brief time much of the American political landscape was transformed. Here are some of the effects of the indictment interlude:
The emergence of a new Republican litmus test
For months, Mr. Trump’s putative rivals for the party’s presidential nomination have performed an awkward rumba with the 45th president, their subtle side-to-side movements providing them with distance from him. Now the apparent imminent indictment has forced them into a gavotte, the 18th-century kissing dance that in its 21st-century version required Mr. Trump’s opponents to deplore Mr. Bragg’s legal tactics and to dismiss the notion of indicting him for actions after an alleged sexual incident as nakedly political and patently revengeful. All of these announced and probable candidates have conformed to this pressure.
The development of an uncomfortable consensus among Mr. Trump’s supporters and his opponents
The criticism from the Trump corner of conservatism over indicting Mr. Trump for the alleged payment to Stormy Daniels was unremarkable; his base marches in lockstep with him.
But the qualms among progressives were notable; the gathering concurrence in that corner of liberalism is that, in the spectrum of Trump crimes – debasing democracy, trying to overturn the 2020 election, inciting insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – the Daniels episode is peripheral.
Moreover, the progressives argue, indicting Mr. Trump for a relatively insignificant action has the potential of removing the power of the legal action that may follow, growing out of investigations in Washington (Justice Department examinations of his harbouring of classified government documents) and Georgia (inquiries into his efforts to “find” sufficient votes to swing the state from Joe Biden’s column to his).
The changes in the architecture of the 2024 presidential election
For months the GOP nomination fight has taken the character of a Sunshine State struggle between Palm Beach (site of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat) and Tallahassee (site of the governor’s mansion where Ron DeSantis resides, in part because of the boost of the 2018 gubernatorial endorsement from Mr. Trump himself).
For weeks, Mr. Trump had taunted Mr. DeSantis, calling him an ingrate, assailing his character, labelling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” The Florida Governor’s political potential – he led several public opinion polls – became a Trump preoccupation. Mr. DeSantis’s failure to engage Mr. Trump was seen for a time as prudent if not brilliant.
In recent days Mr. DeSantis bowed to party pressure and joined the criticism of the New York District Attorney. At the same time doubts about Mr. DeSantis’s restraint grew as Mr. Trump made discernible gains in the polls, consolidating his position as the Republican Party leader and nomination front-runner. The gap in the RealClearPolitics running average now is 15 percentage points.
Caveat: The Iowa caucuses, the first test in the GOP nomination fight, are more than nine months away. Many swings in political support are inevitable. At this point in the 2008 presidential race, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a commanding 24-percentage-point lead in the Republican race and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had a 14-point lead in the Democratic race, according to the USAToday/Gallup poll. Neither became the nominee, and the distant second-place candidates (senators John McCain and Barack Obama) advanced to the autumn general election.
The even further solidification of Mr. Trump’s profile as a defiant warrior against conventional political comportment
Mr. Trump’s recent steps into once-forbidden rhetorical territory promoted the New York Post, the onetime Trump ally owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to label him, in a tabloid front-page headline, as “deranged.”
Saturday night Mr. Trump told a raucous crowd in Waco, Tex., that “when they go after me, they’re going after you.” Earlier in the week he threatened “death and destruction” if he is indicted, an unsettling reprise of his remarks before the Capitol insurrection. He labelled Mr. Bragg, who is Black, as an “animal,” calling him a “degenerate psychopath.”
Responding to Republican congressional efforts to investigate his investigation Saturday, Mr. Bragg said, “We evaluate cases in our jurisdiction based on the facts, the law and the evidence.”
The German Greens and the ills of green party politics
Earlier this month, the European Union was expected to vote on a law banning the sale of combustion-engine cars by 2035. But the legislation, which had been months in the making, was blocked by the German government which had initially supported it.
The about-face was yet another major disappointment for environmentalists coming from a government, which paradoxically includes a green party as a coalition partner.
While it was the liberal Free Democratic Party pushing for this position within the coalition in order to get a concession favouring the car industry (which it succeeded in doing), this development demonstrated yet again how the Greens are struggling to push through an adequate climate agenda in Germany.
Just several weeks earlier, the leadership of that same Green Party watched on as the German police brutally cleared climate protesters trying to prevent the razing of the village of Lützerath to make way for the expansion of a lignite coal mine.
Worse still, that leadership participated in striking a deal with the coal mine’s owner, energy company RWE, which happens to be Europe’s single largest carbon emitter. They claimed the deal was good for the climate, as supposedly it was going to accelerate phasing out coal and thus help meet Germany’s climate goals.
Studies, however, have shown that this is not the case; if Germany is to meet the 1.5C temperature increase limit set in the Paris Agreement, which the German government has signed and said it will abide by, then it must stop burning coal within the next two or three years, not 2030.
Last summer, the Greens also worked to open liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals with contract terms of at least 15 years. The party leadership justified their actions with the “gas shortage” following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but many of us environmentalists wondered why we need such long-term gas contracts that run way past the period necessary to expand renewable energy production to meet demand.
Looking at the policies the Green Party is supporting these days, one may think that it lost its ways and succumbed to realpolitik when it came to power at the federal level in 2021. But these “Einzelfälle” (isolated cases) – as the party leadership likes to frame them – of striking deals and making compromises on the climate agenda are not isolated at all.
Even before the Green Party joined Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, we were used to their leadership taking decisions that directly clashed with the party’s own political platform.
In the summer of 2020, for example, I was among the hundreds of protesters who protested the clearing of part of a 250-year-old forest in the German state of Hesse to make way for a highway.
Although the Green Party was not involved in the decision to build the road, as part of the Hesse state government, it could have blocked the project on account of violations of the German and EU water law. But it chose not to.
The Green Party’s minister of transport in Hesse, Tarek Al-Wazir, justified the decision to go forward with the construction by saying that it was taken democratically and was not the party’s responsibility.
Indeed, there is quite a track record of “isolated cases” in the Green Party’s recent history.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that even with a green party in power, Germany is nowhere near fulfilling its plan to reduce emissions in order to meet the 1.5-degree target. According to Wolfgang Lucht, a sustainability science professor at Humboldt University, Germany is currently planning to emit about twice more CO2 than it could afford to within its Paris Agreement commitments.
The disappointment and frustration that many climate activists are feeling are hard to describe. Perhaps it suffices to say that after Lützerath, offices of the Green Party were attacked, occupied and decorated with “traitors” graffiti.
Many climate activists like myself believe that the top leadership of the party have grown too pragmatic and lost sight of their original goals of promoting climate justice. Indeed, it is difficult to see how green party politics in their current form can lead the way in ending Germany’s and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and take the radical climate action needed to avert a climate apocalypse.
The question many of us are asking is whether we should give up on green politics, stop voting for the party and focus our energy on the climate movement, which is unrestrained by narrow partisan interests and corporate pressure. Some members of the Greens already have made that choice by leaving the party.
But, as emotions run high, it is important to think strategically. If we give up on the Green Party, wouldn’t we lose an important tool – one of just a few at our disposal – to affect change at the political level? And wouldn’t that play into the hands of the “enemy” – the big corporate polluters?
It is clear that green parties are unlikely to follow the same radical agenda as the climate movement. They face harsh dilemmas when in power, as they navigate the complexities of policymaking and balance the demands of their voters with the realities of governing in a coalition.
But that does not mean that we should give up and stop pressuring them to live up to their electoral promises. And it does not mean that we should close our eyes to the fact that many within the party itself disprove of striking deals with big corporations and succumbing to pressure from various lobbies.
Young members of the party, called the “Green Youth”, have been speaking up and criticising the leadership for their controversial decisions. They seem quite eager to change the course the party has taken and have been conspicuously present at climate protests, including at Lützerath.
“We wouldn’t be Green Youth if we didn’t put pressure within the party and in parliaments – that’s why we’re taking to the streets”, Luna Afra Evans, the Berlin spokeswoman for the youth branch of the Greens, said in an interview in January, as the organisation mobilised its members to go protest in Lützerath. She called the deal with RWE “a rotten compromise” and said that a “significant part of the Green Party does not support it”.
There has been open dissent even within the higher ranks of the party. MP Kathrin Henneberger, who ran for office on a platform of saving Lützerath, was the only member of the party to abstain during the vote on the resolution to demolish the village.
“Since Lützerath, debates have been conducted differently. Many have recognised that when the climate movement draws a red line, this must also be taken seriously. Nor must we allow the interests of fossil fuel companies like RWE to prevail,” she told me in a private exchange.
As much as we are disappointed and frustrated with the Green Party, we should not give up on it. We need to recognise that there is potential for radical change from within the party’s own ranks and encourage it. We also need to continue scrutinising the party’s policies and hold them to account whenever they veer away from their own declared environmental goals.
Indeed, if the climate movement, strong as it has been in Germany, continues to build pressure from the outside and from within the party, there is a good chance that we can prevent other “isolated incidents” from happening.
As we battle the formidable enemy that corporate polluters are, we must learn from them. As the noose around their fossil fuel profits tightens, they have employed every tactic, every opportunity to fight back; and they have definitely not given up on trying to influence global and national politics.
We, too, should be strategic in our fight. While I absolutely understand the frustration and have felt it myself many times over the past years, I believe that we still have a long way to go before we achieve real climate action. And until then, we will need to work strategically with all the allies we can get, even if they are sometimes swayed by realpolitik.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
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