Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Parliament in Review: November 3, 2011

Thursday, November 3 saw another day devoted largely to the Cons' seat reallocation bill and associated motion to shut down debate. But perhaps more important was a stark set of contrasts on the economy which the Cons now seem to be trying to undo.

The Big Issue

Peter Julian and Hoang Mai teamed up in question period to hold the Cons' feet to the fire on the economy. Julian started off by pointing out the potential for disaster in Europe as well as continued inequality and uncertainty in Canada, then noted that the availability of jobs has been degrading under the Cons and is projected to get worse. Mai then focused in on Canadian household debt - only to hear from Shelly Glover that the plan to reduce personal debt is to give free money to rich Canadians. But when Mai followed up seeking any explanation for the failure of the Cons' corporate tax slashing, Glover had nothing left in reserve but a "continue with our plan" loop.

Operation Shutdown

Again, Peter Van Loan moved to limit debate on government legislation - this time the seat reallocation bill. Joe Comartin questioned why the Cons were so determined to break the Libs' record on that front, while Charlie Angus suggested it made for just another form of contempt of Parliament. Massimo Pacetti wondered whether future debates might be reduced further from hours to seconds. Mauril Belanger pointed out that MPs had received effectively no chance to discuss a new seat allocation formula with constituents before having it rammed through Parliament. Mylene Freeman and Kevin Lamoureux highlighted the irony in the Cons shutting down debate by democratic representatives in the name of democratic representation. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe questioned the Cons on their constant spin that opposition parties should support their every bill and public statement without question - with Wai Young making no effort to defend the message track when challenged on it. And Elizabeth May offered a modest proposal that time limits not be used as a matter of course.

Meanwhile, there was also plenty of debate on the substance of the bill. Charlie Angus pointed out the difficulty faced by MPs representing ridings the size of major countries, while Claude Gravelle worried the problem would only get worse based on the Cons' failure to take into account the needs of rural ridings. Peter Julian and David Christopherson questioned why their home provinces were receiving less additional weight than in previous incarnations of the Cons' legislation. Linda Duncan and Megan Leslie questioned why the Cons insist on limiting debate to their own narrow idea of democratic reform, while Bruce Hyer and Lamoureux challenged each other to work toward proportional representation. And after years of his party working tirelessly to prevent any MPs from scrutinizing public spending, Chris Alexander shed crocodile tears over a need for greater accountability before his party pushed the bill forward.

Finally, in a development which seems to have gone unnoticed elsewhere, Comartin sought to accommodate Steven Fletcher to allow him to participate on the vote on time allocation - only to have Fletcher himself veto a unanimous consent motion. Which wasn't the only effort at conciliation to be rejected by the Cons, as Comartin's attempt to secure consent for the Bloc and Greens to comment on veterans in advance of Remembrance Day was again shouted down.

In Brief

Chris Charlton presented a petition for a national pharmacare program. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet lamented the continued presence of hunger in a country with Canada's wealth, with a particular focus on "food deserts" where it's not possible to find fresh and healthy food. Francoise Boivin and Comartin slammed the Cons for their attacks on defence lawyers, while Jasbir Sandhu and Sylvain Chicoine noted that the Cons have been making Canadian prisons less safe. Denis Lebel provided a classic example as to why MPs need to word their questions carefully to overcome a preoccupation with form over substance - effectively refusing to answer John McCallum's written question about the effects of extending stimulus funding due to the mention of a specific report which didn't include the requested study. Hyer introduced a private member's bill to ensure that cell phones could be unlocked for a consumer's benefit. Charlie Angus and Scott Brison challenged Tony Clement to answer for some of the more damning revelations to come out of his committee appearance. And Kirsty Duncan's direct question as to how the Cons would close the gap between greenhouse gas reduction promises and policies was met with Michelle Rempel's typical pablum.

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