Sunday, June 03, 2012

Parliament in Review - May 7, 2012

Monday, May 7 saw another day largely dominated by debate on the Cons' omnibus budget bill.

The Big Issue

Plenty of MPs rightly focused on the Cons' move to combine so many disparate types of legislation into a single behemoth of a bill. Don Davies remembered his first instruction as an MP and wondered just when it was that Parliament ceased to have the job of scrutinizing legislation, while Nathan Cullen reminded Stephen Harper that he once professed to agree with that role for the House of Commons as well. A number of MPs expressed their mild relief at being among the few to get to speak about C-38 (while lamenting that more people wouldn't have some say).

Meanwhile, Scott Simms pointed out that businesses like the Port Union fish plant in his riding stood to suffer from the Cons' attacks on repeat EI recipients. Laurin Liu asked why the Cons didn't have any interest in green research. Ruth-Ellen Brosseau criticized the cuts and privatization that figure to make CFIA far less useful as a means of protecting Canadian consumers. Scott Brison mentioned that even the Cons' Senate caucus was willing to break up C-38 to ensure each part was discussed by an appropriate committee, and wondered how they could justify a lesser level of review in the House of Commons. Elizabeth May questioned whether large parts of C-38 were actually validly before the House given that they weren't mentioned in the associated budget - a particularly important point when the Cons are pointing to debate conducted before the bill was ever public as part of the review they claim has taken place. Davies pointed out how the Cons' past tax slashing created the deficit they now use as an excuse for attacking social programs. Ted Hsu wondered whether the Cons disagree with Milton Friedman's take on the importance of accounting for negative externalities; Robert Sopuck affirmed his agreement by pointing to the type of Mulroney-era environmental regulations that are being shredded by his party. Isabelle Morin reminded James Lunney of the different rules that his government has applied to funding in opposition-held ridings as opposed to that which gets approved under the "patronage" heading, while also highlighting the Cons' woeful record in managing public finances and the broader economy alike. Wayne Easter made the point that corporate Canada isn't lacking for money to invest, but has simply chosen not to invest it. Christine Moore noted that the Cons' OAS changes will significantly harm some Canadians aged 50+ who reasonably expected it to form part of their retirement income a decade down the road, while Ted Hsu took up the cause of lower-income workers who will face a later retirement age despite having not enjoyed any recent increase in lifespan. Kennedy Stewart lamented the anticipated expropriation and destruction of homes, schools and other buildings as the Cons force pipeline construction on an unwilling British Columbia public.

On the Cons' side, the theme of the day was an apparent desire by many MPs to serve as part of a provincial opposition rather than a federal government. Merv Tweed, Terence Young and Joy Smith all spent substantial parts of the time that could have been used explaining and justifying their party's actions attacking municipal and provincial governments who haven't served as puppets for the Harper Cons. But Andrew Cash responded that the Cons may be going past merely forgetting what jurisdiction they represent , and instead living in a different world:
Some days one imagines that all members on the government side come from Pleasantville. In their world no senior has a problem paying rent. In their world seniors have a choice of putting their excess money in a tax free savings account or buying a retirement home? That is the kind of conversation those members have.
But the line of the day went to Simms in response to a question from May:
I find (May's) situation in the House very similar to the Conservative party, and this is the only comparison I draw between the Green Party and the Conservative Party in the House; they are both a party of one. 
On Regulatory Gaps

In response to Hedy Fry's question, Denis Lebel acknowledged that there's currently no permitting process whatsoever for oil tankers operating out of facilities in Burnaby (except to the extent an export license is required). It doesn't appear much has been done on the obvious follow-up question: how in the world can it be possible to completely neglect the need for a full regulatory system - including a licensing system - for the handling and transportation of oil products by tanker?

In Brief

Gordon Brown's bill to rename the St. Lawrence Islands National Park didn't spark much disagreement on its face. But at least a few noteworthy points did emerge from the debate: Rathika Sitsabaiesan wondered what price tag would be attached to the name change, with Brown providing a far more clear answer than we've come to expect when it comes to actual government legislation. And when Royal Galipeau tried to defend the bill by pointing to the value of tourism and parks generally, only to be met with Francois Choquette's proper response questioning why the Cons are cutting funding in exactly those areas elsewhere.


Meanwhile, Stewart made a statement comparing a recent report in which Con MPs agreed that any environmental assessment changes should not "reduce the current public access to the review process" to a budget bill that does just that to the greatest extent possible. Christine Moore, Matthew Kellway and Jack Harris all expressed amazement that the Cons' plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on F-35s is being justified by a 160-word, marketing-heavy letter. Brosseau wondered why the Cons are wilfully blind to food insecurity in Canada. Pierre Nantel contrasted the millions of dollars being put into War of 1812 pageantry against the real losses in archives and historical information resulting from cuts to museums. Andrew Scheer issued his ruling concluding that government ministers could lie to the House of Commons with impunity as long as nobody could read their minds to prove they intended to do so. Helene Leblanc presented the NDP's supplementary recommendations to a report on e-commerce. Jean Crowder introduced a bill arising out of the "Create Your Canada" contest to limit nitrate levels to protect fish and other water-dwelling animals. Finally, in adjournment proceedings Cash questioned whether the Cons would ever both to develop a national transit strategy, Rodger Cuzner wondered just how much worse service EI recipients can expect as the Cons simultaneously slash the civil service and promise instant responses to corporate requests for foreign workers, and Ted Hsu asked why the Cons won't let federal scientists talk about their own research.

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