Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parliament in Review: April 30, 2012

Monday, April 30 featured discussion of two opposition motions dealing with the federal government's responsibility to ensure the safety of Canadians. And on both fronts, the Cons went out of their way to disclaim any such role for our public servants.

The Big Issue

Jack Harris started off the safety theme with a motion to the effect that Canada's search-and-rescue capability should meet an international standard of 30-minute readiness. But perhaps Harris' most important point (particularly in light of recent developments) came in response to a typical Con "why'd you vote against our budget? huh?" straw man:
I hope all Canadians are listening to that kind of nonsense. We are getting a little sick and tired of hearing those kinds of remarks. We voted against our own salaries. We voted against your salary, Mr. Speaker. When we vote against the budget on a matter of confidence, which is what we do, it because we do not agree with the Conservatives' approach to the whole running of government. We vote against every item in that budget. It has nothing to do with picking out a particular thing and voting against it. The government and the member, I am sorry to say, have fallen into that same trap of illogic and disrepute, frankly, by trying to accuse the opposition of not supporting things that are good for Canadians, when people know full well that we want to see search and rescue given sufficient and better priority than it has been given. Nobody puts that on the floor for a vote, except we are doing it right now and we will see how that member votes when the time comes.
Chris Alexander answered by claiming that the international standard pointed to by Harris doesn't exist, and suggesting that it's not the place of Parliamentarians to question whether our search and rescue system can be improved. And that debate - continued by Ryan Cleary and Mark Strahl - made for the less contentious of the two safety discussions.

What came next was Bob Rae's motion on food safety comparing the Cons' CFIA cuts to the reckless slashing that led to Ontario's Walkerton debacle - with Hedy Fry discussing the parallels in detail, while Andrew Cash expressed his amazement that the Harper Cons were defending the Harrisites' failures (when as Kirsty Duncan noted, even Harris himself apologized after the fact). And Guy Caron nicely summed up the Cons' own sorry history of regulatory demolition by reviewing their listeriosis outbreak.

But the discussion expanded to general regulatory issues - with the Cons looking even worse on those. Elizabeth May noted that the Cons see the federal role in environmental protection as being limited to fish and migratory birds, while Pierre Dionne Labelle highlighted the fact that a reduced set of criteria will inevitably lead to important points being missed. Pierre Nantel mused about the sheer naivete behind the Cons' belief that corporate self-regulation would address safety concerns. Peggy Nash pointed out the Cons' plan to simply adopt "industry regulations" without anybody looking at the public good. Ted Hsu met the Cons' attacks on research and data collection by pointing out that "what gets measured gets done". And on the Cons' side Pierre Lemieux nicely echoed the difference in schools of economic thought, suggesting that the real issue is whether the public has confidence in our food supply whether or not that confidence has any basis in fact, while claiming that eliminating services and forcing provinces to build up regulatory systems of their own isn't actually a "cut".

Us vs Them

The Cons have regularly made it clear that mere ordinary Canadians arrested abroad can expect as little legal assistance as they can get away with providing. But in response to Paul Dewar's question about corruption and fraud charges against key officials at SNC-Lavalin, Bob Dechert clarified that corporate criminals have his government's full support.

In Brief

Nathan Cullen gave notice of the NDP's intention to raise the standard of debate in the House of Commons, while Charlie Angus slammed the Cons for making Parliament subservient to the whims of a controlling executive. Hoang Mai questioned cuts from the Canada Revenue Agency when it has an obvious need for internal investigation to go with its responsibility in revenue collection. Romeo Saganash was dumbfounded at the Cons' cuts to aid for the world's poorest countries, while Bev Oda replied that her idea of productive aid is creating profits for businesses rather than saving lives. Robert Chisholm rightly pointed out that water systems are interconnected, making it entirely dishonest to claim (as the Cons do) that regulators can safely ignore everything other than major waterways. Libby Davies wondered why the Cons had chosen not to follow up on a campaign promise to help the parents of gravely ill children. Judy Foote noted that the community access program being slashed by the Cons is still a vital source of internet access. May wondered why a Prime Minister who once went ballistic over a single definition change in a past budget bill was now scrapping an entire regulatory regime among other parts of an omnibus attack on the environment. And in adjournment proceedings Philip Toone wondered if the Cons had bothered to figure out how many costs would be downloaded to the provinces in cutting the OAS (spoiler alert: "no"), while Andrew Cash criticized the complete neglect of housing in the Cons' budget.

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