Thanks for reading Ottawa Playbook. I’m your host, Kyle Duggan, with Nick Taylor-Vaisey. Today we have a dust-up over keeping a foreign interference study alive into the summer and survey results showing lower confidence in senior managers at Finance. And a spate of committee reports that include calls to end fossil fuel subsidies and conduct a sweeping review of access to information.
A SIMMERING SUMMER? — Environment Canada’s summer outlook says we’re in for hotter-than-normal temperatures for the next few months.
But the political heat is about to die down.
The House is counting down the days and hours before it closes shop for summer.
It could stretch through Friday, especially if the House is about to enter vote-a-thon mode. But it may even rise today, if we’re lucky.
Government House Leader MARK HOLLAND was vague on the subject when asked in a scrum Tuesday: “We’ll have to watch and see what progress can be made over the next day or two.”
The opposition faces a unique problem: It won its last big battle on foreign interference, the hottest issue of spring.
There’s no pending public hearings by DAVID JOHNSTON, who recently stepped down from his role investigating the matter, following calls from the House of Commons to resign. No public inquiry has been called, and no one named to lead one. So, how does the issue stay alive during the sleepy summer months?
The Conservatives pressed Tuesday to keep the procedure and House affairs committee running for another two months and change.
A motion put forward by MICHAEL COOPER included a list of witness names such as former Privy Council Clerk IAN SHUGART and other key PCO figures, ZITA ASTRAVAS, chief of staff to the minister of emergency preparedness, along with a host of former deputy ministers.
Some other familiar faces: Johnston, plus political communications consultants BRIAN TOPP and DON GUY. Also unnamed officials from Navigator Ltd.
But then the committee spent part of its evening in camera and the demand seemed to vanish with it, at least for the moment — like the temperate summer we all hoped for.
— Only scratching the surface: At any rate, Parliament is still only an inch deep into the subject after months of probing, according to one former spy boss.
Former CSIS director WARD ELCOCK, who has raised concerns about the issue of foreign interference becoming too politicized, told the committee Tuesday it’s a “very large problem” and the public debate has so far only covered a “relatively narrow part” of it.
“There is a lot more to do with foreign interference than so far I have seen in any public discussions,” Elcock said.
— One example of something missing: Scrutiny of foreign media.
“Why is it that Chinese-language media in this country largely follows Beijing’s line on Ukraine and a variety of other issues? We would not tolerate that with RT in the case of Russian reporting.”
He said Canada needs to do counter-intelligence work in general. And CSIS needs more funding.
But he said there’s still too little public information, or enough accurate information, at this point for him to offer up any sage advice for the PM.
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10 a.m. Deputy Prime Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND attends caucus; at 2 p.m., she’ll participate in a roundtable with Indigenous leaders in finance, tech and energy.
12 p.m. NDP Leader JAGMEET SINGH will be in Thunder Bay to attend National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremonies.
1:30 p.m. The Bank of Canada will publish a summary of the deliberations that took place before its June 7 interest rate decision.
4 p.m. Justice Minister DAVID LAMETTI, Crown-Indigenous MARC MILLER and Northern Affairs Minister DAN VANDAL will hold a presser related to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
— Trade Minister MARY NG will meet virtually with USTR KATHERINE TAI.
CONFIDENCE ISSUES — While Deputy Minister of Finance MICHAEL SABIA prepares for his next professional chapter as head of Hydro-Québec, the department he leaves behind is working through an apparent rank-and-file dearth of confidence in senior managers.
That trend was clear in the results of the most recent Public Service Employee Survey, a biennial taking of the temperature in the federal bureaucracy that offers an enormous sample size of insight.
Fifty-three percent of public servants — 189,584 in all — filled out the Treasury Board-run survey between Nov. 22 and Feb. 5. More than 500 employees at the Department of Finance answered most of the questions. (The department planned to employ 929 full-time equivalents in 2022–23.)
— A notable drop: Sixty-eight percent of respondents “have confidence in the senior management of my department or agency,” compared to 85 percent in 2020 and 88 percent in 2019. The public service average was 64 percent. (In 2021, the department was hit with a spate of senior official departures.)
The department’s decline ran across every age group except the 60-plus crowd — and was most pronounced among those aged 40-44, only 58 percent of whom expressed confidence in Finance brass.
In 2020, 80 percent of responding employees believed senior managers made “effective and timely decisions.” That dropped to 56 percent in 2022, still a tick above the public service average. Again, only the 60-plus set gave higher marks than two years ago.
— Mental health concerns: A small majority of 57 percent said their department “does a good job of raising awareness of mental health in the workplace,” a 20-point drop since 2020. Only 38 percent of employees aged 25-29 either somewhat or strongly agreed with that statement, and only 44 percent of those aged 30-34 said the same.
Again, a clear generation gap emerged: 85 percent of those 60 and over approved of the department’s mental health awareness.
— The official response: Asked if the department has taken any steps in response to the findings, a spokesperson replied with this statement: “Every person working at the Department of Finance plays an essential role in delivering for Canadians. The Department is extremely thankful for all their hard work.”
PROXY FIGHT — The House environment committee is calling for an end to federal fossil fuel subsidies by the end of 2023.
A report that dropped Tuesday attempted some nuance on the controversial public money for the oil patch, recommending Ottawa wind down remaining subsidies “with careful attention to and mitigation of any potential social and economic impacts.”
Want more nods to industry? We got ‘em. MPs also urged the government to “ensure that the competitiveness of Canada’s oil and gas sector is considered when it makes decisions related to climate change measures.”
— “Climate change is real”: Those were the first four words of a blistering rebuttal from Conservative MPs, who argued the report was unable to clearly define what counts as subsidies and amounted to “nothing more than aimless virtue-signalling.”
Tories took the opportunity to call for an end to carbon taxes and clean fuel regulations, champion the sector and tut-tut the Liberals for not unlocking more natural resources for export to global markets.
The CPC solution: “fiscal incentives” for the private sector, and a regulatory regime that encourages fossil fuel development — including “low-emissions LNG.”
— From the left: The NDP called on the Liberals to withdraw a signature investment tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage — a key plank in the budget 2023 response to JOE BIDEN‘s Inflation Reduction Act. The NDP also wants the government to ban fossil fuel subsidies via legislation.
— Also hot off the presses: A report by the House natural resources committee advises that to better manage a net-zero transition, governments, industries, workers and communities must better understand what it is and where it is taking them.
And the House ethics committee is calling for a review and overhaul of the federal government’s access to information system.
‘I AM FRUSTRATED’ — Lobbying Commissioner NANCY BELANGER appeared before the Commons ethics committee Tuesday to be quizzed about former Cabinet Minister NAVDEEP BAINS taking on a new gig at Rogers.
But what they got was a full-throated appeal to fix flaws in the Lobbying Act.
“I feel like a broken record,” she told MPs,urging them once again to address the “gaps” and “loopholes” in the law.
Elected officials cannot lobby for five years after leaving public office. But the rule is different if they work for a corporation.
“The issue here is not Mr. Bains,” she told MPs. “He has said publicly he will not communicate with federal officials. But the act would allow him to, up to 20 percent of his time. So, one day a week during a month. That’s a lot of phone calls. That’s a problem.”
NEW YORK, OLD SWANK — Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU stayed at the Intercontinental New York Barclay Hotel during his late-April trip to New York, according to documents submitted to Parliament.
Conservative MP DAN ALBAS put in an order-paper question asking for details on the trip’s expenses.
The room rate at the 1920s-style hotel was $562 a night, with the total tab for the Canadian delegation, which at its peak had rented out 40 rooms, amounting to $61,383 for April 25-29, according to the Global Affairs Canada response submitted to Parliament. The department did not respond by Playbook’s deadline about whether it was paid in Canadian or American dollars, nor about the size of the delegation.
An office was also rented out for PMO and PCO, standard practice for such trips, at $1,137 a night.
The PM gave a stump speech of sorts at the Council on Foreign Relations in the Big Apple, following a series of meetings that notably included the Global Citizen NOW summit (where Trudeau was snapped meeting actor HUGH JACKMAN), a roundtable with U.N. sustainable development advocates, and bilats with “other government leaders.”
Those included Barbados Prime Minister MIA MOTTLEY and European Commission President URSULA VON DER LEYEN.
— CBC NEWS reports: Trudeau is preparing a summer Cabinet shuffle — and all eyes are on Mendicino.
— National Post’s CATHERINE LÉVESQUE has this on the scrutiny of Conservative strategy and performance following Monday’s by-election results.
— SEAN SPEER wrote a lengthy Twitter post rebutting the idea the CPC needed to “destroy” the PPC in the wake of the Portage-Lisgar race, where MAXIME BERNIER lost but netted 17 percent of the vote.
— What happened to the 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court? POLITICO’s JAMES ROMOSER says the next two weeks will tell us.
— Meanwhile in Canada, The Canadian Press flags that you have until July 21 to apply to become a new Supreme Court of Canada justice. Qualified candidates must be functionally bilingual and demonstrate a relationship with Western or Northern Canada.
— The Hub features TAYLOR OWEN on why imperfect online news legislation is necessary right now.
— Here’s the 2023 edition of Canada’s Energy Future.
Our latest policy newsletter for Pro subscribers: End fossil fuel subsidies, House study advises.
In other news for Pros:
Birthdays: HBD to Sen. ROSA GALVEZ, Heritage Minister PABLO RODRIGUEZ and former Nova Scotia MLA BROOKE TAYLOR.
Spotted: Ontario Premier DOUG FORD declaring his choice for Toronto mayor. Like his lawn sign says, it’s MARK SAUNDERS.
At the going away party at the Met for JOHN IVISON and DANA CRYDERMAN: National Post Editor-in-Chief ROB ROBERTS, Star columnist SUSAN DELACOURT, the Logic’s JORDAN TIMM, Conservative Deputy Leader MELISSA LANTSMAN, political insiders KARL BELANGER, KORY TENEYCKE and ANDREW BALFOUR, journalists RYAN TUMILTY, ANJA KARADEGLIJA and the rest of the post’s Ottawa bureau, along with CP’s JOANNA SMITH and former broadcast hosts PETER VAN DUSEN and DON NEWMAN.
The PATENTED MEDICINE PRICES REVIEW BOARD (PMPRB), launching a 60-day notice and comment period on its proposed Interim Guidance. The deadline to fill out this form is Aug. 21.
GINETTE PETITPAS TAYLOR’s Bill C-13 receiving Royal Assent.
Movers and shakers: Sandstone Group is launching a new crisis comms and reputation management service helmed by senior associate GEORGE YOUNG, a longtime Liberal staffer. Young will be joined by public affairs consultant TAMARA CONDIE, most recently an adviser at the Department of Justice.
Vancouver-based Earnscliffe principal DON STICKNEY is launching a new venture: Playbook (sounds familiar) … Universities Canada President and CEO PAUL DAVIDSON is packing up his office on his way to retirement.
Send Playbookers tips to [email protected].
— It’s caucus day on the Hill.
4:30 p.m. The House citizenship and immigration committee meets to continue its study of an exploitation scheme targeting certain international students.
4:45 p.m. Michel Bédard, the Commons interim law clerk and parliamentary counsel, will be a witness at the House government operations committee’s meeting to dig into the federal government’s contracts for McKinsey. Other witnesses include Finance Interim Deputy Minister Nick Leswick and Trans Mountain Corporation’s Kevin Thrasher.
Behind closed doors: The Senate audit and oversight committee meets to discuss “internal and external audits and related matters.”
JOIN US IN WASHINGTON — Calling all Canada-U.S. geeks in D.C. Join us to play Ottawa Playbook Trivia on June 26 at Penn Social’s Little Pen Coffeehouse.
Doors open at 7 p.m. First question at 7:30. We’ll have a special guest quizmaster: Ambassador KIRSTEN HILLMAN. RSVP via this Google Form.
Tuesday’s answer: The late Canadian Ambassador ALLAN GOTLIEB represented prime ministers Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney in Washington.
Quips reader GEORGE SCHOENHOFER: “Of course, it was his wife Sondra who was the real power for Canada in D.C.”
Props to JOANNA PLATER, JOSEPH CHAMOUN, LAURA PAYTON, BOB GORDON, GREG MACEACHERN, ADRIAN LEE, ROBERT MCDOUGALL, CHIP SMITH, JEFFREY VALOIS, ALLAN FABRYKANT, R. REMILLARD, GORDON RANDALL, JOHN SLONIMSKI, PATRICK DION, JOHN DILLON, DOUG SWEET, JOHN ECKER, RYAN HAMILTON, GUY SKIPWORTH, MAUREEN MACGILLIVRAY, RALPH LEVENSTEIN, and NANCI WAUGH.
Think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best.
Wednesday’s question: Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day. In what year was it announced by the governor general?
Answers to [email protected]
Playbook wouldn’t happen: Without Luiza Ch. Savage, Sue Allan and Emma Anderson.