Government's reputation damaged by scandals.
by Samantha Bayard
OTTAWA, June 20, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — Heckling, clapping and rehearsed statements of government MPs will not echo through the House of Commons now until late September. Neither will we hear opposition MPs cross-examining Stephen Harper over every detail of the ongoing senategate scandal. All 308 MPs came together with unanimous consent to rise, exhausted from heavy fighting across the aisles throughout the spring sitting.
When I look back over the past six months, many of the standout topics covered are still relevant and in play today and in order to demand change in the fall we’ll have to be sure to remember the lessons learned.
I spent my fair share of time climbing through the snow navigating large gregarious Idle No More protests and marches on Parliament Hill in January. During a crisis in Attawapiskat, the plight of many aboriginal communities came to the forefront of people's minds through every medium from social media to televised hunger strikes. Though the movement brought awareness, empowered youth and sparked meetings between Ministers and aboriginal leaders, very little has been done to improve the dire circumstances that have grown out of a lack of coherent communications between the two nations.
Protests and demonstrations persisted across Canada throughout the winter months and in March a group of determined aboriginal youths walked 1600 km through harsh terrain to bring attention to the plights of their communities.
Matthew Coon-Come, Grand Chief Grand Council of the Crees, spoke at a demonstration honoring the Cree youth: "Your journey has shown us strength and the aboriginal youth of this country can use their energies for positive goals and in inspiring ways."
Wednesday a very emotional Bob Rae announced he is stepping down as Liberal MP for Toronto Centre, citing a need to focus on his role as chief negotiator for First Nations. In talks with the Ontario government about development of the Ring of Fire, he plans on visiting 9 aboriginal communities this summer.
I am sure Justin Trudeau will miss Rae’s strong articulate voice in the House. Rae’s stated goal is to focus on positive impactful change in his new role.
On the credible facts side, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, in the position created by Stephen Harper as part of his accountability platform, proved such a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister that he was not rehired when his term ran out this spring. The government has been widely seen as dragging its feet in finding a replacement and reluctant to find one that will give it the kind of scrutiny Page did.
Lobbying for and against the Keystone XL Pipeline, a system to transport Alberta oil sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast of the US, has been an ongoing controversy. In March, Harper sent his natural resources and environment ministers to the US to lobby for it. Though Kent and Oliver are not the most charming in the Conservative caucus, their stridency was meant to indicate to Americans that Canadians support the pipeline. Later, Harper went to New York to deliver the same message.
The NDP's Mulcair and environment critic Megan Leslie travelled to America as well to voice environmental concerns over pipelines and tar sands oil, as well as the export of 40,000 jobs to the US the pipeline represents.
The voter misdirection/Robogate controversy from 2012 continued, when Elections Canada’s inquiries turned up Peter Penashue's campaign full of irregularities in campaign spending. The Conservatives cast blame on his financial agent Reg Bowers and had Penashue step down and run in a by- election. Despite crony Pierre Polievre using Question Period daily to campaign for Penashue, he lost his seat in Labrador in May to Liberal MP Yvonne Jones.
In April, the government brought in a 442-page budget and promised to balance the budget by 2015, when the next federal election is expected. Lacking in detail, it set the stage for another round of "Trojan Horse" amendments bills.
Hidden within the Budget were new tariffs or taxes to impact prices on everyday consumer items. Justin Trudeau, just after being elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, made his House of Commons debut talking about the middle class and the little red wagon they may no longer be able to afford. "When middle-class Canadians go to a store to buy a tricycle, school supplies or a little red wagon for their kids, they will pay more because of a tax in this government's budget."
There was no real competition in the Liberal leadership race which concluded in April with Trudeau easily beating out competitors Marc Garneau, Martha Hall Findlay, Deborah Coyne and others.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was debated repeatedly in the House after revelations it is being used to outsource Canadian jobs. Workers are being brought in for work that is not always temporary when they should be brought in as landed immigrants or permanent residents to get adequate rights and support. In some cases, the program allows or allowed workers to be paid 15 percent less than the going wage, driving wages down nationally.
House speaker Andrew Schneer has been critiqued for not having great control over the shenanigans that take place daily such as heckling and other interruptions. He is also known for ruling on the side of caution. But he did make a recent change to member statements, allowing MPs of any affiliation to stand up and speak with the recognition of the house. This decision comes at a time when dissatisfaction among backbench Conservative MPs is on the rise. It can be used to speak up in a way that they were prevented from doing by their party leaders in member’s statements. It is also a means for independent MPs and Elizabeth May of the Green Party to be heard more often.
Dissatisfied Conservative backbenchers repeatedly spoke out, verbally and through social media and blogs, contributing to a raucous sitting. Brent Rathgeber, an MP for Edmonton- St.Albert, resigned from the Conservative caucus recently, citing authoritarian management style and lack of transparency. In his blog he has regularly criticized government actions since Bev Oda’s overspending was revealed.
"I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper) I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone," Rathgeber wrote in his blog.
NDP MP Pat Martin said about Rathgeber's resignation, "You know, there's a lot of grassroot Conservatives who are nostalgic for the party that they used to have and one by one they've watched these principles that they stood for being jettisoned overside the boat, you know, in the interests of political expediency."
In May, the Conservatives narrowly escaped having some 2011 election results invalidated when a federal court judge ruled that the Conservative Pary database was used in widespread systemic voter suppression involving robocalls.
Then the Senate expense claim scandal exploded. New details emerged weekly through the spring, pointing to a widespread sense of entitlement among Liberal and Conservative senators, with nationally known former TV journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin most prominent. Some of the session's best days of Question Period featured Tom Mulcair, in Perry Mason fashion, cross-examining Stephen Harper over the intricacies of the scandal, and the government in full retreat.
The NDP used the scandal to renew its calls to abolish the Senate while the Liberals introduced reforms aimed at greater transparency.
Eager to exit the session, the Conservatives accepted an NDP motion for future debate on the Senate's secretive Board of Internal Economy and made a deal resulting in the House rising late Tuesday, three days early.© Copyright 2013 Samantha Bayard, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca