Monday, May 28, 2012

Parliament in Review: May 3, 2012

Thursday, May 3 saw yet another debate over the Cons' use of time allocation - this time respecting the omnibus budget bill which features so many radical changes that demand serious discussion. And not surprisingly, the opposition parties raised plenty of entirely valid concerns, while the Cons obfuscated and ran out the clock.

The Big Issue

The Cons' talking-point-dispenser for the day was Ted Menzies. And Menzies highlighted the absurdity of the Cons' constant deflection tactics by answering the simple question of what path the bill would follow with the answer that he didn't bear any responsibility for the choice.

Meanwhile, Nathan Cullen properly reminded the Cons of their disgust toward omnibus legislation back when they were on the opposite side of the House. Denis Blanchette questioned how stifling debate would do anything to help economic growth. Andre Bellavance pointed out the fact that the bill is loaded with poison pills that should properly be removed, while Philip Toone noted the importance of allowing the MPs with expertise on each of the issues to properly scrutinize the legislation. Mike Sullivan noted that it would be difficult to thoroughly read - let alone debate - the 425-page monstrosity in the time allocated for discussion. And Brian Masse noted that the OECD's best practices include three months' notice before the new fiscal year begins - not a belated six-week sprint to ram through budget legislation and scores of unrelated measures through a single bill before anybody outside the government can fully assess the consequences.

Once debate started on the bill itself, Linda Duncan pointed out that some of the Cons' environmental gutting might breach international commitments not to downgrade environmental laws, while Kirsty Duncan wondered whether the Cons would report on greenhouse gas emissions at all after eliminating both the leading national research body and any responsibility under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. Dennis Bevington made several noteworthy contributions, contrasting the wealthy MPs who would benefit disproportionately from the Cons' inequality-boosting policies against the vast majority of his constituents who stand to lose out from attacks on social programs, questioning how the Cons can take credit for adding park space while cutting the staff available to maintain Canada's national parks, and speaking to the frustration of the Northwest Territories who were denied a request to exercise greater power over their own budget. Randall Garrison highlighted the absurdity of the omnibus bill by noting that the most controversial provisions which take up upwards of a third of the legislation didn't even rate a mention in Eve Adams' speech. Ted Hsu wondered whether the Cons were capable of recognizing that tax slashing can't solve social concerns like a lack of access to eduction - with Wai Young offering an emphatic "no" in response. Irwin Cotler noted that the Cons aren't even willing to countenance non-controversial amendments to other legislation, making it a virtual certainty that serious problems with a complex omnibus bill will be ignored. Duncan highlighted the fact that Canada's environmental performance under the Cons has been among the worst in the world even before the latest round of cuts and legislative attacks. Romeo Saganash asked what the Cons meant by a willingness to "consult" with First Nations, with Kerry-Lynne Findlay limiting that involvement to tolerating "input" on "development programs". And Elizabeth May delved into some of the details of the bill which don't match the Cons' rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Brian Jean introduced a rather interesting strategy on behalf of his oil industry sponsors, trying to play oil magnates against one another by claiming that his party's real concern about environmental funding is that some might come from oil producers based elsewhere. But Malcolm Allen met that conspiracy theory with due mockery, pointing out that the corporations pointed to by Jean are in fact major tar-sands investors.

Out of Order

Ralph Goodale questioned whether the Cons had used their politically-controlled CIMS database for government purposes. Pierre Poilievre's response that the question was out of order might have had some merit - if he hadn't then made clear exactly how committed he is to recognizing the proper role of government and opposition by turning around and trying to ask Goodale a question about Frank Valeriote's campaign.

In Brief

Marc Garneau introduced a bill to establish a federal Commissioner for Children and Young Persons. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe commemorated World Press Freedom Day, while Andrew Cash wondered whether such a thing still applies in Canada given the Cons' decision to make cronyism an essential part of the job description of the CBC's board chair. Jack Harris questioned the Cons about their failure to provide mental health support for members of the Canadian Forces. Stephane Dion and Yvon Godin asked the Cons to clarify some thoroughly conflicting answers to the NDP's bill on bilingual officers of Parliament. Hoang Mai suggested that the Cons crack down on actual tax fraud, rather than using the CRA for a witch hunt against environmental groups. Francis Scarpaleggia's question about food inspection was met with Pierre Lemieux's answer that Canadians "should be able to trust labels" - which is certainly true as an ideal standard, but couldn't be much further from reflecting the Cons' reality. Ruth Ellen Brosseau, Laurin Liu, Christine Moore, Anne-Marie Day and Mylene Freeman all spoke in favour of Alexandre Boulerice's bill to extend parental benefits into the federal sector. And in adjournment questions Dan Harris asked about a national transit plan, while Jonathan Genest-Jourdain questioned attempted funding cuts to First Nations education.

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