Vancouver Sun

The Trudeau clause — government by boys in short pants

Copyright Act: Subverted by PMO


On Wednesday, this was looking like one of the best weeks the Conservati­ves have had in a while, thanks mostly to Justin Trudeau.

Stephen Harper looked statesmanl­ike and sensible in the House announcing Canadian airstrikes against Islamic State. Tom Mulcair outlined a cogent case against them.

Trudeau, on the other hand, supports the idea of airstrikes but doesn’t think Canada should do them, and he dodged the debate in the House. He looked, not for the first time, like an airhead, particular­ly when he twice spoke about our CF- 18s in an immature way.

This is the frame — fatherly Harper versus Trudeau the bozo — that the Conservati­ves hope will help them eventually turn around public opinion, so the boss must have been upset to tune into CTV News Wednesday night and see the report on the Tories’ secret plan to make the world safe for Conservati­ve attack ads.

CTV had got its hands on a document submitted to cabinet by Heritage Minister Shelly Glover seeking authority to amend the Copyright Act to allow political parties to use clips from news broadcasts in their political ads.

This is something that the networks and the Tories have been quietly tussling over for a few years. Harper demolished the last two Liberal leaders with attack ads. They are trying to do the same thing to Trudeau and they don’t want any fancy copyright laws standing in their way.

So when they wanted to use footage of Trudeau taking off his shirt for charity in their attack ads, they just took it, although the footage belongs to Huffington Post and CTV.

The networks, who for some reason don’t like people taking their property, got together to push back, warning that they won’t run ads that contain copyrighte­d footage.

The leaked cabinet document proposes to create an exception to the Copyright Act for political ads, and include the amendment in the upcoming budget omnibus bill.

“Creators of news will vehemently claim that their work is being unfairly targeted for the benefit of political parties,” warns the document.

That is quite astute. We do claim that because that is what the government is doing.

There is a complicate­d legal framework around “fair use,” the idea that parts of copyrighte­d work can be reproduced, for example, short excerpts in book reviews.

People who follow this stuff want the government to update our copyright laws for the digital era. Instead of doing that, which would involve consultati­on and homework, the Tories intend to jam a narrow exception into a budget bill — call it the Trudeau clause — because it serves their political interests.

This follows several other changes they have made — getting rid of the per- vote subsidy and making it harder for some people to vote — that have tilted the electoral system their way.

This is government by the “boys in short pants,” the Parliament Hill nickname for the youthful zealots in the Prime Minister’s Office.

If Glover were a real minister, she would have rejected this dumb proposal.

But she is not. She has the title, but she doesn’t get to make that kind of decision. Unlike, say, Jason Kenney or Lisa Raitt, she appears to be a spokes-minister.

A former spokeswoma­n for the Winnipeg Police Service, she is Métis, bilingual and a good communicat­or. Those are the qualities that earned her a place in cabinet, where she is expected to carry out the instructio­ns of the unelected, fiercely loyal partisans who work for the prime minister rather than carrying out the traditiona­l functions of a minister.

Brent Rathgeber, the MP for Edmonton- St. Albert, describes the gulf between the way the system is supposed to work and the way it is working in his new book, Irresponsi­ble Government: The Decline of Parliament­ary Democracy in Canada.

Rathgeber left the Conservati­ve caucus to sit as an independen­t last year to escape the boys in short pants.

“Observers and former ministers confirm that PMO decisions and plans are distribute­d at cabinet meetings for perfunctor­y approval or rubber stamping,” he writes.

There is no reason to believe that Glover had anything to do with this copyright policy.

The idea of ministeria­l responsibi­lity, which is supposed to be at the heart of our system, is now as abstract as kabuki theatre, a fiction for empty, ritualized exchanges in the House of Commons.

“I suppose that it is difficult to hold the minister responsibl­e when he or she is merely carrying out the wishes or orders of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Rathgeber writes.

The boys in short pants are running the government, but they are not well- suited to the work.

“The socializat­ion and indoctrina­tion effects of the PMO subculture cannot be overstated,” Rathgeber writes. “I have witnessed young, seemingly normal and well- adjusted college graduates enter the PMO and, within six months, morph into arrogant, selfabsorb­ed zealots, with an inflated sense of importance and ability.”

Those boys in short pants want the power to expropriat­e the work of journalist­s, and they are running the country, so they will have it.

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