Twenty questions from Parliament Hill that need answers

Here’s Nick Taylor-Vaisey on what politicians left hanging

<p>The Peace Tower is seen in Ottawa, Friday September 25, 2009. Adrian Wyld/TCPI/The Canadian Press</p>

The Peace Tower is seen in Ottawa, Friday September 25, 2009. Adrian Wyld/TCPI/The Canadian Press

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Every time Ottawa’s gang of politicians gets outta dodge, questions inevitably linger. During the most recent stretch of parliamentary merriment, every day seemed to bring bucket loads of questions about this or that personal cheque, expense claim,  disgruntled backbencher, former staffer, embattled senator—well, you get the point. Aaron Wherry came up with 20 questions that, as Ottawa empties out until autumn, still deserve answers. We catch you up with plenty of background reading. If you see a beside any photo below, that means the question’s been answered.

The real reason this election will go down in history














What were the details of the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy? Were any laws broken? Will the RCMP press charges?

On May 14, the world learned that the prime minister’s then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy a personal cheque for $90,172. The money covered repayment of Duffy’s improperly claimed Senate expenses. The exchange set off a firestorm of controversy. On May 16, Duffy quit the Conservative caucus. On May 19, Wright resigned his position as chief of staff.

Tom Mulcair confronts Stephen Harper on the Wright-Duffy affair. 

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair assumed a prosecutorial tone in Question Period, pelting Prime Minister Stephen Harper with direct questions about the Wright-Duffy arrangement. Harper bobbed and weaved. Eventually, Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson opened separate investigations into the affair, and the RCMP suggested it might also launch its own probe. On June 4, Ricard suspended her inquiry, and Dawson did the same on June 13—both deferring to the RCMP. The Mounties officially announced a probe on June 13.

That investigation gave Harper and his front bench a way out. No matter how often the opposition asked them about the details of the Wright-Duffy arrangement, the government side deferred to the ongoing investigation. Now, anyone who’s following the Senate expenses scandal, and particularly the Wright-Duffy affair, waits for the Mounties to conclude their work.

CLUES: On July 5, CTV, the Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail reported a few important things: that the Conservatives initially planned to cover Duffy’s improperly claimed expenses, until the amount owed was simply too onerous; three people in the Prime Minister’s Office knew of Wright’s payment to Duffy, including a former legal adviser who’s denied any involvement in the payment; and a Mountie is accusing Duffy, in court documents, of breaking the law by accepting the cheque. (Aaron Wherry sorts through those revelations.) When the story first broke, CTV reported that Duffy described some of the details of the arrangement in an email dated Feb. 20. On July 16, CTV reported that the Prime Minister’s Office was withholding a copy of that email from the RCMP. The PMO subsequently denied the accusations. On July 23, Postmedia reported that the RCMP had officially asked the PMO for information related to the Wright-Duffy affair.

Who is responsible for fraudulent calls made during the 2011 election? Was the Conservative party database used to make those calls?

On Feb. 23, 2012, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Glen McGregor and Postmedia‘s Stephen Maher reported that Elections Canada had launched an investigation into supposed ‘robocalls’ that misdirected voters during the 2011 election. The automated phone calls allegedly directed voters in Guelph, Ont., to the wrong polling stations. The ensuing investigation led to complaints streaming in from dozens of other ridings. The imbroglio culminated in the arrest of a campaign worker in Guelph, former Conservative staffer Michael Sona; and a Federal Court case launched by the Council of Canadians on behalf of voters in six ridings. The court ruled that the Conservative Party wasn’t the culprit, but Justice Richard Mosley also concluded that fraud did occur, and the likely source of information used to make the calls was the Conservative voter database—the Constituency Information Management System, or CIMS. Rumours swirled that the party’s database may have been hacked.

The opposition pelted the government with questions about the party’s involvement in any electoral fraud. On the government side, Pierre Poilievre consistently rose to defend his party’s honour. Liberal MP Judy Foote was among those asking questions of the government. Here’s a characteristic exchange on the matter, from June 3.

Foote: Mr. Speaker, the Federal Court confirmed that there was fraud, so the fact is there was fraud. Additionally, the court found that the most likely source of the information used to commit fraud was the Conservatives’ secret database. Why would Conservative MPs object to the Federal Court’s fraud findings if they were not trying to protect the criminals responsible?

Poilievre: Mr. Speaker, I would encourage my hon. colleague to actually read the judgment, which found that there was no evidence linking the Conservative Party or its officials, or its candidates in fact, to any wrongful activity in this regard. In fact, the ultra-partisan group that brought forward this case failed to produce a single solitary voter in all of Canada who was prevented from voting by a robocall or a telephone call.

What’s left unanswered is whether or not the Conservative database was actually accessed by the people who initiated the robocalls. We also don’t know who was behind the calls.

What will the audit of Pamela Wallin’s expenses find?

Senator Pamela Wallin quit the Conservative caucus on May 17, amidst an external audit of her expenses by Deloitte. Wallin had claimed some $321,000 in travel expenses dating to September 2010, many of which were questionable. She’s already paid back $38,000, might pay back another $20,000, and has since apologized to Canadians—in a June 13 interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge—for filing shoddy paperwork.

Wallin apologizes to Canadians 

Wallin’s contrition made things difficult for the prime minister. He’d come to her defence on Feb. 13, after Mulcair claimed Wallin’s expense travel was devoted to Conservative Party fundraisers. At the time, Harper asserted the following.

In terms of Senator Wallin, I have looked at the numbers. Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time. For instance, last year Senator Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do.

 Immediately, the opposition capitalized on those words. On June 17, when the House was steaming toward a summer recess, NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie continued to ask about Harper’s earlier defence of Wallin.

Mr. Speaker, so many Conservatives under police investigation and yet, so little contrition. Let us stay on the topic of criminal investigations involving the Conservatives. In February, the Prime Minister claimed that he had personally reviewed Pamela Wallin’s spending and found nothing unusual about it. However, in August 2012, the Senate administration found problems with Ms. Wallin’s expense claims. Why did the Prime Minister choose to ignore this information?

As you might imagine, no further answers came from the Conservative side. In his response to that particular question from Leslie, Heritage Minister James Moore took potshots at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s paid speaking engagements. As for the audit into Wallin’s expenses, Deloitte’s work likely won’t be finished before the Senate rises for the summer. That means the audit might not become public until the fall, though there’s some disagreement on that point. (Although reports aren’t generally tabled in Parliament while it’s not sitting, Senator Elaine McCoy says a committee can still table a report if the Senate grants explicit permission).

That’s all moot until Deloitte finishes its work. Until then, everybody waits.

When will the Prime Minister shuffle his cabinet? Who will get promoted? Who will get moved? Who will get kicked out? What new faces will join cabinet?

No cabinet shuffle escapes rampant, uncontrollable speculation about who’s in, who’s out, who’s up, who’s down, who’s happy, who’s sad and, ultimately, what it means for the government’s performance. Last year, Harper told Dave Rutherford, a Calgary radio host, that he planned a major shuffle at his government’s midway mark. His director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, confirmed in March with the Hill Times that the PM’s plans remain on track. That means some movement this July.

Apart from that, little is certain. What we do know is that Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield, who’s 61 years old, was recently recovering from a heart attack and has just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s requested to be shuffled out of cabinet. The Hill Times points out that four ministers are somewhere around 70 years of age: Government Whip Gordon O’Connor, 74; Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, 73; International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino, 70 years old; and Environment Minister Peter Kent, 69. Oliver is recovering from heart bypass surgery earlier this year. Minister of Finance Flaherty is combatting bullous pemiphigoid, a skin condition. Will the relative age and health of these ministers determine their future? Impossible to know.

For years, a group of Conservatives on the rise has waited outside of cabinet while their luckier colleagues are behind closed doors. Shelly Glover, Candice Bergen and Michelle Rempel are atop the list. Glover brings law-and-order credentials to a party that wants to be tough on crime. Bergen killed the long-gun registry. Rempel’s a forceful public performer who brings a lot of youth and energy. Chris Alexander, a star recruit for the party and a staple of the evening talk shows, also cracks that list. He was once ambassador to Afghanistan. Will the rising stars, with their various talents, finally get their chance? Impossible to know.

Will the shuffle even change anything in Ottawa? The National Post‘s John Ivison says this one might. Scott Reid, a past communications director to former prime minister Paul Martin, says it won’t.

In any case, place your bets about future cabinet picks in the comments, if you so desire. We’ll see just how wrong you all are.

ANSWER: Yes, the Prime Minister shuffled his cabinet. He scooped reporters at Rideau Hall by tweeting his new ministry before the ceremony. He promoted eight new faces to cabinet, including four women. He moved Peter MacKay from defence to justice, and Rob Nicholson from justice to defence. He moved Kerry-Lynne Findlay to national revenue. He moved Gail Shea to fisheries. He moved Lisa Raitt to transport. He moved Shelly Glover to heritage. He moved James Moore to industry. He moved Christian Paradis to international development. He moved Julian Fantino to veterans’ affairs. He moved Steven Blaney to public safety. He promoted Chris Alexander to citizenship and immigration. He moved Jason Kenney to employment and social development. He moved Diane Finley to public works. He moved Rona Ambrose to health. He moved Leona Aglukkaq to environment. He booted Peter Kent from environment. He kept Jim Flaherty at finance, Tony Clement at Treasury Board, John Baird at foreign affairs, Ed Fast at international trade, Gerry Ritz at agriculture, Joe Oliver at natural resources, Denis Lebel at infrastructure, and Bernard Valcourt at aboriginal affairs. He elevated Michelle Rempel, Candice Bergen, Kellie Leitch, Kevin Sorenson, Pierre Poilievre, Greg Rickford and Rob Moore to ministers of state. Alice Wong, Bal Gosal, Tim Uppal, Gary Goodyear, Maxime Bernier and Lynne Yelich all remained ministers of state. Peter Van Loan remained Government House Leader.

Who was promoted? What does the shuffle mean, broadly speaking? John Geddes had some thoughts. Aaron Wherry had some thoughts. Paul Wells had some thoughts.

Can the tensions within the Conservative caucus be eased? Will more Conservatives follow Brent Rathgeber’s lead?

The last session of Parliament wasn’t a happy one for the Conservative caucus. The Canadian people were introduced to the likes of Mark Warawa and Brent Rathgeber, a pair of government backbenchers who chose to step outside of their party’s mainstream and speak out for MPs’ rights.

Warawa, from Langley, B.C., planted his flag on the issue of sex-selective abortion—citing polling data that suggested 92 per cent of Canadians condemned the idea that women should have abortions based on the gender of their expected child, Warawa introduced a motion to ban such procedures. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to raise the issue in the House of Commons before Question Period. The government whip, Gordon O’Connor, controls the list of MPs who speak during the time allotted for the 60-second members’ statements—enshrined by Standing Order 31, and known colloquially as S.O. 31s—and he blocked Warawa from talking about abortion. In retaliation, Warawa launched a question of privilege, asserting that he had a right to express whatever views he wished in the House. Eventually, House Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled that no fundamental changes to party lists were in order, but that he maintains the right to recognize MPs who rise without the consent of their parties. After the ruling, anticipation mounted about how Warawa would respond. He signalled that he would rise to be recognized. Then, immediately before members’ statements, Warawa appeared to be granted a spot on his party’s list. Aaron Wherry recalls the scene:

From the government lobby, Mark Warawa, having announced to reporters hours earlier that he might take the Speaker up on the invitation to stand and be recognized, shuffled in tentatively with the aid of a cane, apparently having recently suffered a back injury of some kind. He took his seat and was soon visited by Tom Lukiwski, the government’s deputy House leader. Some kind of consultation ensued.

Following that consultation, Warawa rose and made a statement about a talent show in his riding.

Rathgeber, who’s blogged since August 2009 and occasionally written things out of step with his government masters, caused an even greater stir than Warawa. Late in the evening on June 5, the MP for Edmonton-St. Albert quit his caucus. He was furious about the government’s handling of his private members’ bill, C-461, which would have forced salary disclosure of senior federal public servants. The ethics committee was charged with debating the bill. All seven Conservative MPs on that committee, many of whom aren’t permanent members, voted to raise the disclosure bar to $444,661—a salary earned by only the most senior public servants. The bill, so amended, was sent back to the House of Commons. Rathgeber, duly frustrated, tweeted his resignation. The Prime Minister’s Office responded by demanding that Rathgeber quit his seat and run as an independent in a by-election—a suggestion roundly mocked by the government’s critics. Undaunted, the government repeated the line in Question Period the next day.

Rona Ambrose challenges Rathgeber to run in a by-election

Rathgeber was celebrated by government critics for escaping the iron grip of the governing party. He said he quit so he could exercise his right to hold the government to account and, eventually, was afforded that opportunity. On June 18, he rose during Question Period and asked about reforms to the government’s temporary foreign worker program.

Rathgeber rises during Question Period

Now, Rathgeber sits in the back corner. Will other Conservatives eventually join him? Murmurs of continued unrest endure. Backbenchers like Brad Trost, of Saskatoon-Humboldt, occasionally criticize the government. Stephen Woodworth and Leon Benoit and Maurice Vellacott, a cadre of ardent pro-life Conservatives, don’t appreciate the government’s silence on abortion. There’s no outright mutiny, to be sure, but that caucus unrest has taken root is undeniable.

How will the Supreme Court rule on Senate reform?

The federal government referred several questions related to Senate reform—including how to abolish the chamber—to the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s rare for the government to look to the courts for clarity on constitutional matters, but it happens. In 1996, Jean Chrétien’s government asked the court about the legality and mechanics of secession, a reference that led to the Clarity Act. In 1980, Pierre Trudeau’s government asked the court about how it could repatriate the Canadian Constitution.

The current government asked the court for an opinion on four matters related to Senate reform: term limits; the appointment process; qualifications; and abolition. The court is currently accepting arguments. Every province and two territories, Yukon being the sole exception, are listed as interveners. Liberal Senator Serge Joyal and Independent Senator Anne Cools are also interveners, as are the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick. The court will hold hearings over three days in November, from the 12th to the 14th.

The court will send down its ruling at some point after the November hearings. When? That’s up to the court.

Who will be the new Parliamentary Budget Officer? Has the selection process been tainted?

Kevin Page was appointed the first Parliamentary Budget Officer on March 25, 2008. His five-year term expired earlier this year. When he left the post, the government didn’t immediately replace him. Given the almost constant state of friction between Page and the government, the opposition and others warned that the government would appoint a lapdog that would shy away from criticizing the government’s books. Sonia L’Heureux, the Parliamentary librarian, was appointed on an interim basis. She quickly proved she wouldn’t bow to the government’s wishes—continuing to seek budget documents that Page doggedly sought; and sending a strong message after Federal Court ruled on the PBO’s right to such documents.

More recently, it came to light that a top government staffer sat on the three-member committee that recommended prospective successors to Page. The staffer is Adam Church, chief of staff to Government House Leader Peter Van Loan.

The NDP cried foul. Mulcair stood in the House on June 12 and challenged Van Loan to justify Church’s place on the committee. Van Loan dutifully responded.

Mulcair: Mr. Speaker, we know why the Conservatives find it so difficult. There are no Conservative role models of an accountable prime minister to imitate. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is there to provide non-partisan information to all parliamentarians. The law states that the selection process has to be independent. We have just found out that another Conservative Party hatchetman, the chief of staff to the government House leader, has been named to the committee to choose the next PBO who will finally be acceptable to the Conservative Party. Does he really think Canadians will put up with that?

Van Loan: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite wrong. The process that has been followed is exactly the same process that was followed before. In fact, it is a process that is set out in law in the Parliament of Canada Act. It requires that the selection committee be formed and chaired by the parliamentary librarian. That is the requirement of the law. Our government put in place the position of parliamentary budget officer and we look forward to the appointment of an objective Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide the advice to parliamentarians on the legislation that is before us so we can make reasoned decisions on the proposals with which we are dealing.

What exactly Mulcair was “quite wrong” about is unclear, and it remains an open question whether or not Church’s place on the committee was justified. There will be another budget officer, but that’s about all we know for now.

Will the Prime Minister prorogue Parliament during the summer?

Plenty of conventional wisdom in Ottawa suggests that Harper, who’s set to shuffle his cabinet at the end of a painful, scandal-driven few weeks in the House of Commons, will prorogue Parliament this summer, wiping the legislate slate clean (with some exceptions, including private members’ bills). That’ll allow him to ride back into the nation’s capital this fall with a refreshed agenda that could carry the government through to the next federal election.

If the prime minister does prorogue, the parliamentary refresh would be the least controversial of his time in office. Recall the hurried prorogation in December 2008, after the opposition parties threatened to form a coalition to wrest power from the Conservatives. The government’s critics protested loudly, and even if the government’s supporters stuck with the home side, no one could characterize that as a conciliatory move. Just a year later, Harper prorogued again as his government faced questions about whether or not the Canadian Forces were complicit in torture of detainees in Afghanistan. Liberal MP Ralph Goodale called the move “almost despotic” at the time. This summer, the opposition will inevitably accuse Harper of attempting to change the channel from its current scandals—d’uh—by shuffling cabinet and proroguing, but the prorogation itself makes sense for a government empty of new policy, searching for an agenda to sell to voters.

Will the Canada Job Grant come to fruition and, if so, in what form?

From the very beginning, the government’s Canada Job Grant was fraught with criticism. The measure, introduced to the world in Budget 2013, was intended to help employers train prospective employees as a means of filling skills gaps in the workforce. It would require re-negotiated labour market agreements with all provinces. Immediately, Justin Trudeau pointed out that those required negotiations with provinces would give Harper headaches because, in Trudeau’s words, the government has “completely removed itself from any sort of productive relationship with all provincial premiers.”

Trudeau wasn’t wrong. Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario were all wary of the skills program. Atlantic premiers released a joint statement that expressed “significant concerns with the recent unilateral decisions of the federal government regarding skills, training and employment supports.” At the same time, the government released TV ads touting the program—even though it didn’t yet exist, and much to the delight of opposition parties looking to embarrass the government.

The grant remains in limbo, for now.

(Meanwhile, economist and Maclean’s contributor Stephen Gordon wondered on Budget Day if the program is necessary in the first place. He’s skeptical, suggesting that it fixes a problem that doesn’t exist.)

CLUES: There’s a new minister on this file. Jason Kenney, formerly of citizenship and immigration, is now Minister of Employment and Social Development. His job is to convince the provinces that the program’s worth their time—not an easy gig, given those provinces’ collective desire to shelve the program in advance of their summer summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

What new fighter jet will the government purchase, and how much will it cost?

In 2010, the government announced its intention to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets with 65 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II aircraft at a cost of $16 billion. The cost of each plane was subject to heated debate in the House of Commons, and the 2011 election was fought partially on the government’s refusal to table documents related to the F-35 procurement. Officially, last year, after a critical auditor general report on the F-35 program, the government pressed “reset” on the whole procurement. That marked the end of a long stretch where the government supported unequivocally the purchase of the F-35. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, and MacKay’s associate minister, Julian Fantino, spent years praising the plane to high heaven.

MacKay was emphatic on Sept. 15, 2010.

“If we don’t make this purchase there is a real danger we’ll be unable to defend our airspace, unable to exercise our sovereignty or unable to share our responsibility to both NORAD and NATO.”

By March 2012, however, Harper had backtracked.

Obviously at some point, the [CF-18] planes will reach the end of their useful life. At some point we will have to make a final decision, but obviously we have not signed a contract so that we can retain our flexibility in terms of ensuring the best deal for taxpayers.

Last fall, a KPMG report pegged the cost of the F-35 program at $45.8 billion over the life of the aircraft. The government “reset” the procurement, started to investigate alternatives to the F-35, and appointed an independent panel to assist it in the process. The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat says the panel “is ensuring that all the work supporting the evaluation of options is both rigorous and impartial, and that the results to be made public are comprehensive and understandable.”

No results have been made public, as of the end of the parliamentary session. Canada’s fighter pilots wait with bated breath.

Will a free trade deal with Europe ever be completed?

Just ask Paul Wells, Maclean’s resident nonstop constant pessimist on matters related to Canada-E.U. trade. Wells has been a skeptic for about six years, repeating over and over and over and over and over and over why he thinks a deal hasn’t happened. The very brief Coles Notes: Canadians and Europeans have been at a series of bargaining tables—the government counts nine rounds of negotiations—for the past three years, hoping to hack out a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

The trade department’s latest update on negotiations is couched in all kinds of words like “well-advanced” and “pending” and “further development” and “narrowed down” and “key differences” and “actively explored.” But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself how the feds tie all of those hopeful words together.

The negotiating text is now well-advanced, with many chapters closed or parked pending further development, and issues in the remaining chapters narrowed down to key differences where solutions are now being actively explored.

Who would a free-trade deal benefit in Canada? The government lists just a couple of sectors: aerospace, chemicals, plastics, aluminum, wood products, fish and seafood, automotive vehicles and parts, agricultural products, transportation, financial services, renewable energy, information and communication technologies, engineering and computer services. In other words, everything but the kitchen sink—and, then again, kitchen-sink makers probably belong on the list, too.

What’s gotten in the way of a deal? Wells told us, in three sentences, last November: “A Canada-EU CETA would be much more ambitious in opening markets in services, investment and government procurement than the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement. A broad range of domestic interests on both sides would rather keep those markets closed. And the opponents of CETA have been far more effective at mobilizing opposition than its proponents have been at mobilizing support.”

The Council of Canadians, a left-wing advocacy group that famously opposed the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement when it was inked in the 1980s, stands opposed to the CETA. For their own reasons, Canada’s cities are also nervous.

In early 2012, Harper set a deadline of the end of the calendar year to wrap up negotiations and sign the CETA. The new hope, since passed, was that a deal could have been reached in time for this year’s G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland. Negotiators on both sides have lately complained about one other, though, and a deal remains undone. Wells points out a list compiled by Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa whose interests lie in internet and e-commerce law, that runs down that number of stories predicting a deal being oh-so-close to done. You can imagine the nonstop constant pessimist’s reaction.

There’s still a good chance that at some point Canada and the EU will sign some kind of agreement that increases bilateral access for market access, investment protection, public-sector procurement, patent protection and all that other good stuff. On that day, I’ll have been wrong once, while all my friends who’ve predicted a deal every several weeks for three years like Charlie Brown kicking at Lucy’s ball will be vindicated.

Will the Keystone XL pipeline be approved by the Obama administration?

TransCanada hopes to build a pipeline that links Alberta’s oilsands to refineries on the American gulf coast. During the most recent G-8 summit in Northern Ireland, Harper urged U.S. President Barack Obama to approve the application. That lobbying effort came on the heels of a months-long stream of federal ministers—here, here and here—visiting Washington, D.C. to sing the praises of the pipeline. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, arguing the extraction of supposedly dirty oil in northern Alberta threatens Canada’s ability to meet its emissions reduction targets. American protesters continue to demonstrate against pipelines, chaining themselves to construction projects. Keystone’s prominent opponents are myriad. Tim Kaine, a Virginia senator, opposes the pipeline on the grounds that Americans could be achieving energy independence without so-called dirty crude. He explained his two-prong opposition to a manufacturing executive:

First, we may not be able to control what other nations do, but that’s no reason to embrace a lowest-common-denominator approach. Second, if release of the oilsands oil were inevitable, the pipeline wouldn’t be such a big deal. If it were just as easy to ship this oil via road or rail, proponents wouldn’t be pushing so hard.

Billionaire Tom Steyer also opposes the project. Greenpeace has lined up a cadre of celebrity critics in Hollywood. In Canada, the NDP opposes the pipeline, arguing it would export thousands of jobs.

The effect the pipeline would have on Canadian exports is subject to some disagreement: some analysts suggest Keystone wouldn’t drain the glut of oil currently forcing down crude prices in Alberta; meanwhile, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, told a Washington, D.C., audience earlier this month that oilsands crude will get to market with or without Keystone.

On June 25, Obama delivered a significant address launching a climate-change policy. In it, he set the conditions for his approval of the pipeline.

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

The U.S. Department of State, which denied an earlier Keystone application in January 2012, is currently reviewing the revised application. Obama is expected to make a decision following the department’s recommendation.

Will Northern Gateway be approved by the National Energy Board?

In 2006, Enbridge first proposed a pipeline that would ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to a port in Kitimat, B.C., and then on to overseas customers. From the beginning, the project’s opponents have formed a long, winding line. They’re mostly concerned about the potentially disastrous consequences of oil spills along the pipeline or in the sensitive Pacific coastal waters. Aboriginal groups along B.C.’s coast, which all abandoned the federal review process in February, are universally opposed to the pipeline. B.C.’s provincial government also announced its opposition to the project at the end of May, days after the B.C. Liberals won re-election. The federal and provincial NDP oppose the pipeline. Speaking in Calgary earlier this year, Mulcair called the project a “non-starter.” Currently, the National Energy Board is reviewing Enbridge’s application.

Not all aboriginal groups and provincial governments oppose Northern Gateway. The Canadian Press reports that 15 out of 18 aboriginal groups in Alberta, and 11 of 27 aboriginal groups in British Columbia, have signed on to an equity offer from Northern Gateway that could amount to around $70,000 a year. The province of Alberta supports the pipeline, and both B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford have occasionally butted heads over the proposal—though they’ve apparently mended fences more recently.

The federal review hearings in B.C. have begun their final phase.

Can Justin Trudeau maintain (or even improve) the Liberal party’s sudden polling advantage?

Two years ago, anyone who suggested the Liberals could win the next federal election would have been told to go sit in the corner. The party was all but dead, said its harshest critics. Anyone who believed the party was just a charismatic leader away from victory was foolish, they continued. Nothing could save the former natural governing party from obscurity, they concluded. And now, today, The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson says the Liberals can win in 2015. The voter bloc that will be key, writes Ibbitson, is the 905 belt of Toronto suburbs. And if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who’s commanding a lead in recent polls, wants to win, he needs to do one big thing.

[The 905] will not switch their vote from the Conservatives to the Liberals simply because they want change. It will have to be change they can trust. Justin Trudeau’s greatest challenge is to earn that trust. tracks polls and averages their rolling tallies. Currently, the Liberals are in the lead at 38 per cent. The Conservatives follow at 29 per cent, and the NDP trails at 22 per cent. In Quebec, the Liberals command 43 per cent of the vote, and the NDP’s fallen just shy of 28 per cent. During the 2011 election, the NDP secured 42.9 per cent of the vote in the province. The Liberals garnered just over 14 per cent. Abacus Data’s latest poll tempers the third party’s momentum somewhat: the Grits still lead with 23 per cent of decided voters, but the Conservatives and NDP are close behind at 21 per cent. One in five respondents was undecided. That suggets a tight race heading out of the spring session. In any case, to say that the current polls are a turnaround is probably an understatement. As the summer barbecue circuit commences, and Trudeau continues his parade of positivity, can anything slow him down?

Can Thomas Mulcair reassert himself, or is the NDP again doomed to third-place?

Tough times could be ahead for the NDP, even if the party thrived on Parliament Hill during the spring session as Conservative scandals sprouted like the tulips that fill the nation’s capital. Through it all, Maclean’s John Geddes says no matter what Mulcair pulled out of his hat in the House of Commons—particularly his command of Question Period—he just couldn’t gain traction in polling.

Geddes’ take on Mulcair’s prospects begins at 1:23

Mulcair’s primary foe could end up being Trudeau, a fellow Quebecer who’s stolen the NDP’s formerly commanding lead in Quebec. How each fares as they shake hands in front of barbecues this summer will play heavily into how the polls look when everyone comes back to Ottawa in the fall.

When will the government table greenhouse gas regulations for the oil and gas sector, and how will the provinces and industry respond?

The feds have set regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for the transportation and coal-fired electricity industries. Next up is the oil and gas sector. Environment Minister Peter Kent told parliamentarians in March that regulations would be announced by midyear— that is, right about now—and that the rules were delayed by his department’s workload.

In April, the National Post‘s John Ivison teased what the regulations might eventually look like—and why the government needs to start enforcing them.

Eventually, even this most skeptical of prime ministers will have to move if he wants to get anywhere close to the emission targets his government has signed up for – a 17% reduction on 2005 levels by 2020. At the moment, even by Environment Canada‘s own estimates, Canada will only be halfway to meeting its targets by 2020.

And eventually, the deal that Mr. Kent is currently negotiating will be released for public discussion. What is it likely to look like? One thing is certain – Ottawa will not be imposing directly anything that walks, talks or quacks like a carbon tax. The most likely scenario would see Ottawa set a target for large emitters across the country. Then, provincial governments would create mechanisms to meet those targets, via a carbon tax or cap and trade system.

Aaron Wherry picked up on that last sentence.

So, under this scenario, the Conservatives, who promised and advocated for cap-and-trade while opposing a carbon tax, but then decided that cap-and-trade was the same thing as a carbon tax and proceeded to loudly and repeatedly criticize the NDP’s proposal of cap-and-trade, will soon introduce greenhouse gas emission regulations that will lead the provinces to implement carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, but then the Conservatives will maybe still spend the next election campaign criticizing the NDP’s interest in cap-and-trade.

It all amounts to a farce that Wherry has meticulously chronicled for several months (and counting). Perhaps the government will take the plunge this summer.

Will the Idle No More movement rekindle?

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence inspired a generation of aboriginal leaders and activists when she embarked on a liquid-only diet on Ottawa’s Victoria Island. She launched the protest Dec. 11, 2012, and the ongoing Idle No More movement—which stood opposed to a raft of government legislation related to aboriginal issues—coalesced around her. Spence sought an improved relationship with the federal government that respected existing treaty rights. She called for a meeting with Harper and Governor General David Johnston. On Jan. 4, Harper offered a meeting. Johnston did not, a position supported by constitutional scholars who said the Governor General has no place negotiating treaty rights. On Jan. 11, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo led a delegation of aboriginal leaders into that meeting with Harper. Spence did not attend, and she was supported by a number of chiefs who were at odds with Atleo. (Eventually, on Jan. 24, Spence ended her hunger strike and signed a declaration of commitment that also received the support of federal New Democrats and Liberals.) The Harper-Atleo meeting produced commitments to future high-level discussions about aboriginal issues and treaty rights.

The broader Idle No More movement, which Maclean’s tracked in a rough guide, comprised a weeks-long series of blockades, flash mobs, vigils and demonstrations that highlighted the apparent ills of omnibus budget bills and other legislation that disrespected existing aboriginal treaty rights and harmed the environment. When Atleo secured commitments from Harper, and Spence’s fast ended, the Idle No More movement faded from headlines.

Months later, Atleo met for a second time with Harper. The Prime Minister’s Office signalled that progress is being made on the file. On National Aboriginal Day, Atleo expressed supportfor a renewed series of aboriginal protests that “make the point that the [federal-aboriginal] relationship is not working. A new series of demonstrations, dubbed Sovereignty Summer, are described on the Idle No More website as a “campaign of co-ordinated non-violent direct actions to promote Indigenous rights and environmental protection in alliance with non-Indigenous supporters.” Whether or not summertime demonstrations achieve the same media saturation as last winter is an open question. Mulcair has warned that “frustration is palpable” in aboriginal communities.

Will the Liberals hold onto Bourassa and Toronto Centre?

Bob Rae is quitting Parliament to help First Nations in northern Ontario secure a stake in the region’s economic development. Denis Coderre is quitting Parliament to run for mayor of the scandal-ridden city of Montreal. Their ridings—Toronto Centre and Bourassa, respectively—are relatively safe Liberal seats (so far as that’s still possible). In 2011, Rae locked up 41 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the NDP’s Susan Wallace. The Liberals have held the riding since 1993. Coderre secured 40 per cent of the vote, eight per cent ahead of NDP challenger Julie Demers. The Liberals have held that riding for most of the past few decades, with the exception of two terms from 1998-1997.

  • Most of the talk in Toronto Centre, which a poll says is leaning heavily toward the Liberals, is about who will replace Rae on the Grits’ ticket. Broadcast journalist Seamus O’Regan, who’s a friend of Trudeau, hasn’t denied a potential run for the nomination and called the riding “auspicious.” Former Ontario cabinet minister and mayoral candidate George Smitherman, who ran a business in the riding for many years, is also considering a run. Sacchin Aggarwal, a former Michael Ignatieff staffer who ran the municipal campaign of former Smitherman foe Rocco Rossi, is “seriously thinking about the move”, according to a local radio station. Ignatieff wished his former aide would pursue politics. “I hope he’ll be doing something political, but you can never tell with Sachin,” he said during a 2010 interview. “He’s a moving target.”
  • The Liberals haven’t chosen their replacement for Coderre. But Jennifer Crane, vice-president English for the Liberals’ Quebec wing, told QMI Agency the party has been “inundated” with potential candidates. The Globe and Mail wrote a mini-profile of the NDP’s Demers, who will attempt to add another Montreal riding to her party’s caucus. The by-election, whenever it’s called, is billed as an historic showdown between Trudeau and Mulcair, two politicians with deep roots in Quebec and a burning desire to lay claim to the island of Montreal.

In sum: Toronto Centre looks like a tentative, possible lock for the Liberals. Bourassa looks like a Battle Royale in the making.

What agenda will Stephen Harper present to the House in the fall?

Harper will likely shuffle his cabinet and prorogue Parliament, which paves the way for a Speech from the Throne and a fresh legislative agenda. The Maclean’s Ottawa bureau wonders what the prime minister, after a challenging few months in the nation’s capital, will do next. Three snippets from the conversation about Harper’s next plan between John Geddes, Paul Wells and Aaron Wherry:

Wells: “At the beginning of 2012 in Davos, [Harper] described several “major transformations” he’d undertake to ensure long-term prosperity. Today it reads like a graveyard of lost ambitions. Trade pivot to Asia? Canada-EU trade deal? Policy overhaul to encourage industrial innovation? All gone bye-bye. I can find no mention of China in any speech he has given in 2013, except when he took delivery of the pandas, a stunt I suspect he may now actually regret.”

Geddes: “I know some NDP strategists thought [Harper] would go into next fall hoping to sell himself as a winning economic manager, by highlighting how he got beef into Europe (an EU trade deal) and oil into the U.S. (a favourable Obama decision on Keystone). What if neither of those things come to pass, though? Or only one of them? I think Harper needs to establish new, achievable goals.”

Wherry: “Does he need to be bold now? I’m not sure. I think Mr. Mulcair has learned from Mr. Harper’s success in ‘Don’t worry, we’re not going to do anything too interesting’ approach. And Mr. Trudeau doesn’t seem about to propose anything like raising taxes. So maybe now Mr. Harper can be bold. Or maybe he can just stick to what’s worked: slow, steady governance and sharp, vicious attacks on his rivals and their ideas.”

Will Stephen Harper resign over the summer?

Probably not. You could speculate, along with a lot of Ottawa pundits, that the prime minister will step down and let his party rebuild in time for the next federal election. Or you could listen to Paul Wells.

I suspect we’ll have Stephen Harper around for a while yet. Whatever trouble the Conservative Party is in, it will be in worse trouble if he quits. And to a greater extent than most leaders, Harper’s pride is bound up with the long-term success of his party: if he left the leadership and the Conservatives were routed, he would take this, not as proof of his irreplaceable greatness, but as evidence that he’d failed to construct a durable conservative political movement. So I won’t be writing my Farewell Harper column anytime soon.

CLUES: Still, probably not. Wells gloats.