Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 29 saw debate at third reading on the Cons' omnibus crime bill. And with even some Cons starting to recognize the desperate need for amendments, the government's obstinate refusal to allow for any real consideration of the bill stood out all the more.

The Big Issue

At the start of debate, Andrew Scheer ruled as to the validity of a number of amendments to C-10. And notably, the amendments which he ruled out of order included some originating with the Cons after they carelessly voted them down at committee - providing a rather compelling indication that everybody recognized some need to improve the bill rather than ramming it through.

Which naturally means that Peter Van Loan took the opportunity to announce his intention to once again cut off debate on the bill. This time, his motion was met by a reply from Jack Harris seeking the study which the bill so obviously needed - but naturally that effort to favour intelligent policy-making was shot down.

Meanwhile, Harris noted that the Cons' bill is actually even more strict than the U.S.' failed tough-on-crime legislation in allowing no flexibility on minimum sentences. Elizabeth May observed that the main effect of mandatory minimums would be to force parties toward plea bargains on lesser counts. Irwin Cotler pointed out the obvious danger in allowing governments to determine as a matter of political calculation which groups to expose to lawsuits under the terrorism lawsuit provisions of the bill (which as he noted had never been debated before). Dany Morin challenged the Cons' determination to force provinces to cut social programs to pay for prisons. Jean Crowder highlighted research showing that we can get seven times as much crime prevention (to say nothing of additional social benefits) by investing in social development rather than burning the same money on prison construction, while Bruce Hyer compared the costs of incarceration to those of education. Isabelle Morin challenged the Cons' position that the public is uniformly behind it by pointing to several specific constituent concerns about the bill. Anne-Marie Day asked Kyle Seeback whether he honestly considered a citizen growing 6 marijuana plants to be a drug lord who should be subject to the same mandatory minimum as a major cocaine trafficker; remarkably, Seeback answered with a resounding "yes". Linda Duncan raised concerns about the disproportionate effect a dumb-on-crime policy will have among aboriginal communities. And Daryl Kramp lamented the state of Canadian prisons, while conspicuously failing to mention how tossing thousands more inmates into them for no particular reason would help matters.

Resentment as Policy

Dick Harris spoke to his private member's bill to eliminate an EI access period for convicted criminals. Needless to say, the bill epitomizes the Cons' focus on taking away from people they don't like rather than ensuring more equitable access for people who need it - as Claude Patry promptly pointed out.

In Brief

Chris Charlton proposed that public holidays be harmonized between industries under federal jurisdiction and the home province of workers. Crowder called on the Cons to finally act on Parliament's long-held unanimous agreement to put an end to child poverty. Peter Julian wondered whether the Cons were willing to acknowledge the reality of deteriorating economic forecasts. Brian Masse pointed out that Con negotiations with the U.S. have led to disastrous results, and wondered what nasty surprises were in store for Canadians' privacy. Justin Trudeau criticized the Cons for spending less to deal with climate change at the federal level than Quebec alone invests as a province. Don Davies noted that over half of the primarily-Con-appointed members of the Immigration and Refugee Board either failed the qualifying exam or were screened out for incompetency; Jason Kenney replied by saying the Cons are apparently proud to have rejected many better applications than the ones they accepted. John Williamson managed to ask a question that had so little to do with government administration that even Scheer couldn't allow a Con minister to deliver a scripted answer. Anne Minh-Thu Quach wondered why the Cons were missing in action in a global conference on the social determinants of health. And Megan Leslie's adjournment questions on ozone were met with the same bare-bones talking points Michelle Rempel would normally deliver in question period when the response time is actually limited - serving perhaps as an indication that Rempel's hype as the Cons' new up-and-coming female is destined for the same fate as that which once surrounded the likes of Rona Ambrose and Lisa Raitt.

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