As I wrote in last Sunday’s missive I would, I made a pitch to the Speaker on Monday to ensure fairness in Question Period. I asked him to rule we have rights to participate in QP and to direct that the other parties meet with us and negotiate a fair distribution of questions, including a slot to ask Wednesday questions. Wednesday has become a critical day in QP as Justin Trudeau is on his feet in response to every question. One cannot say he actually answers the questions, but he does stand up. (Actually on zoom he remains seated, but he does do the zoom equivalent – his video camera is engaged!)
My point of privilege was (I think) well delivered. I had worked hard all long weekend digging up precedents from other Speaker’s rulings and debates going back to 1963 when they invented this whole idea of recognized parties and unrecognized parties. Amazingly, Canada is the only country among those using Westminster parliamentary democracy to have this absurd rule that bigger parties have more procedural rights than smaller parties. It all stemmed from a 1963 change in the law so that parties with more than 12 MPs would receive public funding for their parliamentary work. (Funding has now risen to about $2 million/party as soon as they get 12 MPs). Rights were nowhere mentioned in the 1963 bill, but – over time- it became customary to keep MPs from smaller parties off committees and to never allow them to put forward Opposition Day motions. But no one has ever suggested we have no rights to ask a question in QP, even though the slot for smaller parties is the last question – with no supplementary questions – ever.
The YouTube video of my argument runs 13 minutes and is included here:
The Speaker has not yet ruled, so I wait in hopeful anticipation.
I really wish I had the chance to put a question forward in Question Period this week. I have been trying to get up to speed on an issue of which I was dimly aware and which I am now convinced needs a lot more attention. So, lacking a question in QP, at least I can tell you about it.
One of the most extraordinary resource conflicts in Canada is playing out so far north that we hear little of it in southern Canada. A group of Inuit hunters, widely supported in their community, set up a protest camp that blocked access to the airstrip serving an iron mine on Baffin Island. The mining company, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp, calls itself a Canadian corporation, but is owned by Texas based Energy and Minerals Group and Luxembourg corporation, ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel maker.
After many years of technological and financial hurdles for developers, the open pit mine began operations in 2014. While initially welcomed locally, the mine now wants to double the size of its operations at Mary River from six million tonnes to 12 million. Incredibly, the company has been acting as though it had permission to proceed, even before hearings opened. It has drawn down a billion dollars in financing and, according to the Inuit protesters, has already begun construction.
The doubling of production will involve building a railway and increasing shipping with an additional quay at Milne Inlet. The ore is shipped to Europe along routes that cut through narwhal habitat. As well, the iron ore dust is contaminating the landscape and has been detected in Arctic char, a key food source for the Inuit and other animals that are part of their traditional diet – like narwhal.
The Nuluujaaq Land Guardians set up a camp in early February in peaceful protest against the mine expansion. The camp shut down the airstrip – blocking access to supplies for the mine and its 700 workers. I just cannot help but be inspired by the protest by Inuit land defenders in minus 33 degree weather. In 24 hour darkness. In an outdoor camp.
The company received a temporary injunction against the protest that ended February 10th. The hearing for a permanent injunction has been taking place in Iqaluit. The environmental assessment hearings are to resume in April. Meanwhile, the Nuluujaaq Land Guardians are calling on the federal ministers of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources and Northern Affairs to step up to support their rights and for the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation into Baffinland’s actions.
In another issue pitting resource extraction against Indigenous peoples, I am trying to create some leverage for concerned Canadians to act to stop and appalling project in Namibia. Vancouver-based ReconAfrica has gained rights to frack in very sensitive areas along the border with Botswana. Threatened by the fracking is the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO world heritage site that straddles Botswana and Namibia. The SAN people of the area are protesting the violation of their rights.
In order to launch an investigation, I have written the newly created CORE – Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise – Sheri Meyerhoffer. The CORE office was supposed to have more robust powers than ultimately were established. My letter and call for an inquiry into ReconAfrica is something of a test case. I will keep you posted as we create a petition and other tools for Canadians to protest this outrageous assault on indigenous rights, biodiversity and climate. This link has a very good briefing on the issue: Open Letter: Save the Okavango Delta — HowNow Magazine
So, we enter the last week of February. My personal COVID counter, like marking the walls in an imaginary prison cell called COVID, started with Monday, March 9, 2020. That was the day we recorded the first COVID death in Canada. So we approach a full year of this. The threat that the variants will outrun the vaccines, creating a far worse third wave, is never far from my thoughts.
Be very careful. Stay safe.
Sending love and hopes for happier days – soon!
PS more links for parliamentary interventions:
Elizabeth May: Can Canada meaningfully commit to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples?
Elizabeth May: Tabling a Private Members’ Bill is not the time to make a partisan speech
Elizabeth May: How much sovereignty has Canada lost under the Canada China FIPPA?