Looking to reopen the debate

Outside the Centre Block yesterday, the March for Life was going on, and I saw several MPs – mostly Conservatives, a few Liberals, and all men with a single exception – addressing the crowds, looking to reopen the debate on abortion in this country. What’s more, they’re thrilled about Harper’s stance in not funding access to safe abortions as part of maternal health in developing countries. This really should worry you.

Inside the House, during Members’ Statements, Conservative Joy Smith spoke out about the ravages of hepatitis B and C. Funny, though – if she’s so concerned about it, then why isn’t she pushing for harm reduction strategies that will reduce the spread of hepatitis? You’d think that might be a logical step.

Also, Mario Silva spoke about the Davenport Community Builder Awards.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to pay tribute to the recipients of this year’s Davenport Community Builders Awards, which recognize outstanding contributions to our community.
Viviana Astudillo, a local artist, has been cleaning up the community through urban beautification murals, and her work with Crime Stoppers represents only part of her efforts.
For many years, Steve De Quintal has been shaping young minds and encouraging community involvement among his students at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton School through his leadership course and other volunteer initiatives. Steve has also been very actively involved with Casa da Madeira Community Centre.
Mabel Ernest is the tenant representative and a community organizer in Pelham Park Gardens. A long-time supporter of tenants with disabilities and champion of their rights, she has also created a local community garden and promoted a number of energy, recycling and anti-violence projects.
Finally, Don Panos and the St. Clair Gardens BIA have been economic and social anchors of the local community. Using their own resources, they have continued over the years to promote and revitalize the St. Clair neighbourhood, making it a great place to live, shop and visit.
On behalf of the residents of Davenport, I invite all members of Parliament to join with me in congratulating these outstanding community leaders. They help make the Davenport community and Toronto a vibrant and beautiful place to live.

When Question Period began, Bob Rae began by asking about putting climate change at the top of the G8 and G20 agendas, which John Baird dismissed, saying they’d be focusing on job creation and the likes. Rae got back up for his supplemental and pointed out the link between the economy and the environment. Look at Germany, where their manufacturing sector is moving to green technology. Baird responded with platitudes about a fragile economic recovery. Joyce Murray followed up with more questions on offshore drilling in Canada, and Christian Paradis responded with talking points about the NEB’s regulations.


Gilles Duceppe kept on about climate change at the G20, while Pierre Paquette declared that Canada didn’t deserve a seat on the UN Security Council because of this government’s policies (which Lawrence Cannon didn’t take kindly to). Jack Layton returned to the question of the offshore drilling, and just why were we turning over the responsibility of environmental assessments to the industry-friendly National Energy Board? John Baird assured him that the polluter pays in this country, which got a good laugh out of the opposition benches.

From there, it was on to corporate tax cuts, further questions on climate change, the proposed national securities regulator, Haitian refugees, funding festivals and the new revelations in the Helena Guergis case. Rounding it off were questions about tainted blood victims not getting compensation because the independent organization in charge of that was running out of money (Leona Aglukkaq completely didn’t answer that question), while Keith Martin decried the cuts to the navy’s operations. Peter MacKay touted all the money they were pouring into the navy, but scrupulously avoided mentioning that those funds were for capital projects like new shipbuilding – which we need – but that the cuts were to operational funds, and the fact that we’re tying up half the ships we have because they can’t afford to run them. There is a huge disconnect.

Sartorially speaking, it was a pretty blah day, with nothing really deserving of snaps. Some of the extreme blahs included Bev Oda’s dusky rose dress and suit jacket (bad colour on her), and Yasmin Ratansi’s pastel floral jacket. And Lisa Raitt’s worrying style decline was again confirmed with the return of those white flats, which I’m still convinced may be sneakers.

Over in the Upper Chamber, Senator Pierrette Ringuette is calling on the government to break up the budget implementation bill into its constituent parts. As it stands, it affects things like the Canada Post Corporation Act, the Pension Benefits Standards Act, the Export Development Act, the Payment Card Networks Act and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act, all grouped together to ensure swift passage, and it got insufficient scrutiny in the Commons. Ringuette wrote:

As matters now stand, this omnibus Bill, of almost 900 pages, in 24 Parts, with more than 2200 sections would be subject of one debate at Second Reading, another at Third Reading in each House, plus scrutiny by only one Committee of each House. That could not conceivably do justice to the numerous, far-reaching and fundamental changes proposed.

I think she’s got a very good point – the amount of oversight that the Commons is able to give such a huge and complex bill is limited to begin with, but when everything is mashed together, on a confidence bill, well, Commons oversight has pretty much been reduced to virtually non-existent. And that is a problem. Granted, the Senate is usually better at this kind of thing, but it is a problem. The other problem with this? The fact that it gives the government an excuse to beat the Opposition over the head with “you didn’t support this in the budget” during Question Period when a budget is huge, and full of good and bad things. I doubt they’d want to give up that kind of a hammer.

Speaking of oversight, MPs have decided not to allow the Auditor General to examine their own expenses. This cannot end well.

The Ethics Commissioner cleared Lisa Raitt of wrongdoing with regards to a fundraiser organized by lobbyists, but gave a few warnings. Some of the details sound eerily similar to the whole Rahim Jaffer affair, which gives one an interesting picture of the way things work in the era of “clean and transparent” government.

And over in Regina, those hearings about whether the province can exempt marriage commissioners from presiding over same-sex marriages on religious grounds (I mistakenly thought it was an appeal of an existing case yesterday – sorry!) heard arguments about “balancing rights,” but Egale Canada is there arguing that it’s discrimination to be denied a secular marriage. Arguments continue today.

Up today – it’s the final day before a break week, and boy does everyone need it! But before they go, the four parties need to come to a consensus on how they’re going to release those Afghan detainee documents, and they still haven’t made an agreement yet, with the government reportedly putting new conditions on the table. Let’s just hope they don’t swallow a bad deal just to avoid an election…

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