Friday, October 21, 2011

Parliament In Review: October 6, 2011

On a personal note, October 6 saw the first question period that I'll be able to blog about after seeing in person - as well as the first time I've heard of question period leading with an event I've attended. But the more important development was the start of what looks to be an extended clash between the Cons looking to shut down debate on any issue whatsoever, and the opposition parties decrying the complete lack of democracy involved in passing massive changes with minimal discussion.

The Big Issue

The strongest challenge in principle to the reflexive stifling of debate came from Thomas Mulcair, who used the traditional Thursday question to ask just how little debate is enough:
The government is using the term “enough debate”. For the second time in two weeks, it is using a guillotine to cut off the normal work of parliament that we were elected by Canadians to do.

Bill C-13 was cut off after exactly three hours of debate. That is a budget bill. It is one of the primary reasons we get elected to the House and after only three hours of debate, it is cutting it off.

I would like, on behalf of all Canadians and the House, to understand when, in the opinion of the majority Conservatives, there has been enough debate.
Other opposition members raising strong criticisms of the Cons' habit of shutting down democratic discussion included Nathan Cullen, Wayne Easter, Pat Martin, Geoff Regan and Andre Bellavance. But as Pierre Dionne Labelle noted, there's no particular reason for surprise about the tactic given how accountability-averse the Cons have been from their first day in office.

Of course, the opposition isn't without some means to at least try to shame the Cons into more openness. And on that front, Claude Gravelle introduced two bills to provide specifically for the disclosure of information about foreign takeovers that the Cons have covered up.

Let's Talk About the Economy

The line of the day in the debate on the Cons' budget bill went to Pat Martin as to how somem investments provide more stimulus than others:
If the Conservatives want social benefit and social change from their spending and to put more money into circulation to stimulate the economy, the single most important thing they could do is to elevate all seniors out of poverty. For $700 million, for less than one-tenth essentially of the corporate tax cut, all seniors could have been at least lifted to the poverty line. Seniors do not squirrel that money away in an offshore tax haven. They spend it in the local economy and it gets re-spent four times before it finds its natural state of repose in some rich man's pocket.
As another theme worth watching, the NDP started to push back against the Cons' constant "why didn't you vote for our funding?" refrain by noting just how reckless the Cons have been in throwing around public money.

The debate over the refundability of tax credits also featured prominently once again, with Marc Garneau, Kevin Lamoureux, Tyrone Benskin and Raymond Cote all getting into the act. But the most telling intervention came from James Bezan, who helpfully instructed that since the tax credit already costs "a lot of money", we should make sure payments are directed toward those who don't need them.

Meanwhile, Dennis Bevington observed that corporate tax cuts are particularly inappropriate at the federal level since provinces may face pressure to compete with each other, while Matthew Kellway questioned their effectiveness at any level when they haven't apparently created jobs or stimulated investment as promised. Don Davies pointed out that conservatives have caused the largest deficits in Canadian history and would have caused a worse financial meltdown than we actually experienced in 2008 if they'd had the chance. Jamies Nicholls and Charmaine Borg both pointed out the value of the per-vote party funding being trashed by the Cons. Cote noted that loopholes in the Cons' job creation tax credit may result in it both rewarding shell games, and failing to fund actual jobs. Anne Minh-Thu Quach pointed out that the Cons are doing nothing to preserve and improve our public health care system. Robert Chisholm pointed out that infrastructure investments have long-term economic benefits as well as serving as short-term stimulus.

Finally, John Carmichael responded to Jasbir Sandhu's question about Canada's deteriorating balance-of-payment position and value-added development by suggesting they're worth celebrating. And Rodger Cuzner rightly claimed the fact we've had any stimulus at all over the past couple of years as a result of the cooperation of the opposition parties.

In Brief

Randall Garrison slammed the Cons for taking any opportunity to oppose same-sex unions by intervening in a case to deny benefits to a UK civil partnership. Megan Leslie pointed out that oil lobbyists have directly expressed their gratitude for the Cons' work in covering up oil sands emissions data, while Dennis Bevington questioned Canada's lack of involvement in a U.S.-approved release of oil into disputed areas of the Beaufort Sea. Tyrone Benskin lamented the Cons' utter refusal to deal with the need for social housing. Nycole Turmel pointed out Tony Clement's absence from the International Conference of Information Commissioners, and directly challenged Stephen Harper has to the role his office played in Clement's G8 scandal. And Mathieu Ravignat questioned both the remarkable $73 million price tag on the Minister of Justice's website, and the use of $10 million on press conferences when they have dedicated press rooms available in Ottawa.

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