Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 27, 2012

Friday, April 27 saw another day of relatively non-contentious debate on the main bill up for discussion in the House of Commons. But there was plenty of reason to question why the focus would be as narrow as it was.

The Big Issue

That main bill was the Cons' elder abuse legislation, intended to add a new factor in criminal sentencing where the victim was vulnerable due to age. And both of the opposition parties fully endorsed the bill in substance.

But once again, the Cons' focus on sentencing raised larger issues as to why they wouldn't put more effort into preventing crime in the first place. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet noted that the justice system itself may be intimidating for seniors, Laurin Liu highlighted the effects of poverty and social exclusion in making seniors vulnerable, Elizabeth May expressed her concerns about institutional abuse and Francois Lapointe discussed how telemarketing and pressure sales tactics could target seniors. Liu contrasted the Cons' criminal-based philosophy against her own bill to automatically enroll eligible seniors to receive the GIS. Judy Sgro criticized the Cons' focus on ad campaigns rather than community organizations.

Meanwhile, the debate also led naturally to talk of the Cons' efforts to slash OAS benefits. Alain Giguere rightly observed that exactly the same issues were raised during Brian Mulroney's stay in power with Mulroney claiming that the system we can afford today absolutely had to be slashed back at that time. And Robert Goguen provided a remarkable answer to Wayne Marston's question on that point:
Mr. Wayne Marston: 
Mr. Speaker, when the government gave its reasons for the changes to OAS, $36 billion a year is what it cost, escalating to $109 billion, there is no argument there. We agree with the government on that, but the assumptions the Conservatives are using do not take into account an average of 2% growth in the GDP, as projected by their own Minister of Finance over the next number of years. That would pay for it.

Mr. Robert Goguen:
That is very interesting, Mr. Speaker. According to the hon. member, this system is sustainable. The question I would ask him is, in the following 20 years, how many people will have dialysis? How many people will have cancer treatments? How many people will have medical treatments which will go well into the future because Canadians continue to live longer and health care goes up?

 
These two things run in tandem. We have no way of predicting exactly how much medical treatment will be needed. We know it will increase. We know the demography of the Canadian population is becoming significantly older. With age comes medicare. With age come health costs. We are taking steps to protect seniors in the future.
So rather than relying on actual forecasts as to the costs of Canada's retirement system (which take into account exactly the costs that can be reasonably projected), Goguen's argument was based on two premises: first, that the future is constantly in doubt; and second, when in doubt, slash benefits. Which doesn't offer much reason for confidence that more needed programs won't be gratuitously attacked in the future.

Predictable

While the media paid plenty of due attention to the mocking response to Stephen Harper's "soft on Hitler!" gaffe, it largely missed an even more telling exchange in members' statements. After reading off some of the more hilarious #harperhistory Tweets, Dan Harris offered this suggestion to the Cons:
I hope the Conservatives take this humour in stride and do not respond with more of their humourless anger.
Needless to say, Scott Armstrong followed with...about the most humourless and angry statement one could imagine, which deliberately repeated Harper's ludicrous message.

In Brief

Peggy Nash, Kirsty Duncan and Elizabeth May opened what's become a major debate about the elimination of environmental protection in the Cons' toxic budget, while Guy Caron pointed out the failure of the Cons' much-touted CCS projects in the oil sands. Rosane Dore Lefebvre questioned the Cons' decision to eliminate the CSIS inspector general, while Dennis Bevington wondered why funding for the aboriginal justice strategy had been allowed to expire. Francoise Boivin challenged the budget bill's attacks on employment equity. Alexandrine Latendresse pointed out how many municipalities had already expressed justified concerns about the secretive CETA negotiations. And Joy Smith's bill on trafficking in persons passed with all-party support.

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