Friday, April 27, 2012

Parliament in Review: March 27, 2012

Tuesday, March 27 saw a day dominated by the type of serious discussion about the role of the financial sector that we should expect in the years to come - even if the basis for that discussion was less than we should have hoped for.

The Big Issue

The main topic of debate was Bill S-5, a bill on financial regulation which originated in the Senate. And it's surprising to me both how little disagreement there was on the bill, and how petulant the Cons were about the NDP's small attempt to improve it.

While otherwise noting his party's support for the bill, Peter Julian proposed an amendment on the hot-button issue of...the compellability of employees in the Superintendent's office with respect to knowledge acquired while enforcing the legislation at issue. Jean Rousseau worried that without the amendment, an "iron curtain" could hide real issues discovered by the Superintendent. Scott Brison expressed his support as a matter of transparency. But the Cons first stuck to their talking points about "trying to strengthen our banking system" rather than actually addressing the idea in substance, then tried to put on the record that secrecy is everywhere and thus to be supported.

Meanwhile, in much more substantive debate, the Cons went out of their way to highlight that the list of matters put under political control includes bank acquisitions (which will now be subject only to ministerial approval), a point which was duly criticized by Alain Giguere and Hoang Mai. Robert Chisholm pointed out the continued lack of consumer protection after multiple banks decided not to cooperate with an ombudsman's office once touted by the Cons, a point which was then echoed by Glenn Thibeault. Chisholm, Jinny Sims and Libby Davies all noted that something more than technical amendments might have been appropriate to deal with the financial sector. Giguere expressed what strikes me as the due level of alarm about having financial-sector rules set by an unelected, patronage-based Senate. Helene Leblanc suggested that the public have some say in what's done with financial-sector rules, with Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet offering the example of high credit-card rates and Mathieu Ravignat pointing to hidden fees as issues that demand action. Sadia Groguhe expressed concern about the harmful effects of debt and speculation on Canadians' financial stability, while Francine Raynault discussed the need to regulate speculation and derivatives. Elizabeth May pitched a financial transactions tax. And Olivia Chow lamented the recent imposition of account fees on seniors by two major banks.

Predictably, though, the Cons insisted that the bill absolutely had to pass by April 20, leaving no time to seriously debate whether it was worth passing in the first place as they voted down the amendment and pushed the bill forward. But while any actual gap in legislation created by that time frame would have been a severe problem (and several NDP speakers seemed to accept the premise), as far as I can tell the supposed deadline was itself supported by little more than the Cons' own PR. And if it's true that the Cons are indeed setting up legislation with a time bomb set to explode again 2017 as part of a standard five-year cycle, then that should raise a serious question about their motives in doing so - particularly since Harper's gang of Senate cronies will likely be able to block the passage of any replacement legislation under another party's government.

In Brief

Apparently Nycole Turmel's stint as NDP leader wasn't seen by the Cons as demanding quite the same level of message control as, say, Remembrance Day. And so Peter Van Loan actually moved to allow Bloc and Green speakers to join the official parties in saluting her performance as interim leader of the Official Opposition.

Meanwhile, Jasbir Sandhu called on the Cons to confirm Canada's opposition to the death penalty which was about to be applied in India for the first time since 2004. Romeo Saganash and Chisholm both offered their own statements about the NDP's leadership campaign. Matthew Kellway pointed out that though requirements were apparently drawn up to match the F-35s' specifications, the Cons "bungle(d) this file so badly they cannot even cheat properly" as the F-35s still fell short. Alexandre Boulerice called out Robocon as the electoral fraud that it was, while Niki Ashton noted that the last set of Cons behind an illegal electoral scheme were punished with appointments to the Senate. Jean Crowder asked why upwards of a quarter of EI claims don't receive a response within a month. Linda Duncan rightly slammed John Duncan for describing the very communities for which he bears ministerial responsibility as "socially dysfunctional" while eliminating programs to improve their conditions. Louis Plamondon introduced his motion to make the Governor General's salary subject to the general tax regime. That was met with Shelley Glover's response that the Cons are all in favour of royalty which doesn't play by the same rules as anybody else, while Mai and Stephane Dion offered less histrionic takes. And Irene Matthyssen asked once again about the Cons' failure to do anything meaningful to reduce seniors' poverty.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

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