Good Sunday Morning!
I started the week trying to push for a breakthrough on electoral reform, with a question in Question Period. On Monday. I was still hoping Justin Trudeau might be open to persuasion to support the motion for a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform. That motion began as Mike Morrice’s work, and then in a great effort of cross party cooperation, its sponsorship shifted to Lisa Marie Barron.
As the lamentable response from the Liberal parliamentary secretary made clear, there was to be no governmental support. We voted on Wednesday with a total of 102 MPs in favour. All Greens, NDP and Bloc voted yes, with 40 Liberals and three Conservatives. The hard work of so many volunteers across Canada organizing at the grassroots with Fair Vote Canada was so impressive.
I had really hoped it might carry. It was after all non-binding. It did not dictate the Liberals should adopt its conclusions, only that a non-partisan process for fair voting should be launched. I am not giving up. Soon I will be able to share how I think it is still possible to have fair voting before the next election.
You can check here for the full list of MPs who voted for a citizens assembly. Of course, every Liberal MP elected in 2015 won their seat in large measure due to the promise that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post. Amazing how a short memory is a partisan advantage. And how little capacity for shame exists in politics.
As Greens we did get a boost this week – even stuck with our unfair voting system. If you had not heard the news, our provincial cousins, this time in PEI, won in another by-election – taking the Borden-Kinkora riding represented by the governing Conservatives and moving the PEI Green caucus from two MLAs to three! The turnout of almost 59% of eligible voters was particularly impressive given the severe winter blizzard. The storm was so bad that the by-election vote was delayed by two days. Also notable was the drop in one year from the Conservatives’ 60.1% to 38.5% this week. Could it be the Poilievre love-in is not as effective in moving voters as it is catnip to media? Kitchener Centre and Borden Kinkora voters just roundly rejected that brand and elected Greens. I find that very encouraging! Congratulations to new Green MLA Matt MacFarlane!
For the last few weeks I have been working on the Green Party pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. We submitted on the Friday deadline and by next week we will release our submission to the media.
I mention it now because it led me to do a lot more digging and research on how this government is approaching the need for a safe and reliable ground transportation system across Canada, and not just in major cities.
As readers of GSM know well, John and I love taking VIA Rail and are constantly frustrated by the embedded inefficiencies created when VIA and freight through CN and CP were separated, and CN and CP cut loose. CP is owned in the US and CN is held by many different shareholders, but still based in Canada. CN and CP own almost all the track, and VIA has to rent it from them, with freight running the traffic signals and dictating schedules to VIA, continually moving passenger rail to long waits on the sidings.
The Liberals have been heralding plans for High Frequency Rail in the Windsor Quebec Corridor for some time, calling for a public-private partnership. This has crystalized in a new corporation called VIA-HFR. Note, this is not high-speed rail, it is to increase frequency. But I am increasingly alarmed that the privatization is a Trojan Horse to kill off passenger rail everywhere but the Windsor Quebec Corridor.
You can check out the plans on their website, although you have to read between the lines to see how diabolical this is.
Here is a line from the FAQ section:
“Once HFR is in service, VIA Rail is expected to continue operating its long-distance services from Toronto to Vancouver and from Montreal to Halifax.”
In other words, the plan is for VIA to be locked out of the Windsor Quebec Corridor, the source of over 90% of its revenue. The likely result will be the loss of passenger rail everywhere else. This privatization of passenger rail in its most profitable routes will be subsidized with at least $12 billion public dollars.
I need to do more research, as I fear the behind the scenes maneuvering to create a valuable asset to be privatized with the goal of ditching VIA started some time ago. I noticed in the Harper years that major investments in VIA all (or nearly all?) went to building new and modern train stations in the Windsor Quebec Corridor. To me those stations made no sense. Cobourg, for example, had a perfectly serviceable and heritage station that had no need for replacement, with a big glossy new train station built right next to it. It seemed such a waste when what VIA desperately needed was modernized fuel efficient engines, or new rolling stock. Seems to me now someone (who?) has been planning for some time to hand the Windsor Quebec Corridor over to a new operator. But why? And why subsidize an asset only to give it away to the private sector? I will keep you posted on what I find out.
This week I also spoke about the urgent need for the government to follow advice from its expert panel and ensure a strong environmental impact assessment law.
I also delivered a speech on Bill C-234, An Act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.
As ever, it is an overwhelming agenda, but the Green Caucus and team never give up. There is too much to do and little time to get it done!
Thanks for keeping me feeling supported by the grassroots movement that is the heart and soul of our party!
Love and thanks!
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens