Good Sunday Morning!
Tomorrow, Parliament will resume after a long break that followed a long break, punctuated by an unnecessary election. Since the end of June, we have had only three weeks of work in the House. Based on the testiness, in fact, downright nastiness of Conservative actions, in recent Finance Committee meetings that continued through January, I think the mood in Parliament will be unpleasant. Back to the world of partisan sniping, so very far from the early phase of the pandemic when it seemed we could set aside hyper-partisan rancor to put Canadians first.
We have a lot of work to do. I have several private members bills to table, hopefully getting started this week. I will be bringing back one of the really good bills that died on the Order Paper with the August writ drop. My friend from Nova Scotia, actor and first time MP, Lenore Zann, did not win re-election. A former NDP MLA in NS, she won federally as a Liberal. As an MLA, she started trying to get a bill through the Nova Scotia legislature dealing with Environmental Racism. Nova Scotia has a deep history of it. The Sydney Tar Ponds were the largest toxic waste site in Canada, cancer causing chemicals in huge amounts on stolen indigenous land of the Membertou First Nation. The only population of Black Canadians, originally from the Caribbean, drawn to industrial Cape Breton to work in the steel mill, were restricted by racist housing traditions to available housing only between the steel mill and the coke ovens. Leading to some of the highest cancer rates in Canada. I got the National Round Table to tour the site in the late 1990s. I will never forget former BC Premier Mike Harcourt being in shock over the extent of the cancer deaths, street by street. Back in 2003, as Executive Director of Sierra Club of Canada (the first environmental group to have a named campaign on environmental racism) I went on a hunger strike in front of Parliament Hill to get a commitment to clean up the toxic mess. When I started in early May 2003, I was sure Health Minister Allan Rock would agree quickly. In the end, it took seventeen days. And the “clean up” to which the federal government dedicated $400 million was a cover up, not a clean up. But the toxic sites across NS continued to impact Black and Indigenous communities far more than white neighbourhoods. Ingrid Waldron, social scientist and author, documented it in her book, There’s Something in the Water. She later collaborated on a film documentary of the same name with actor Elliot Page, originally from Nova Scotia, who financed the film documentary with $350,000 of their own money. It dealt with other key issues – from Boat Harbour – another campaign I worked on with the fishers of Northumberland Strait and the Pictou Landing First Nation to the threats to the Shubenacadie River. You can find it on Netflix.
Lenore Zann had done me the honour of having me as the official seconder for her private members bill to address Environmental Racism (it was Bill C-230). We will start over. With luck, we may be able to have the earlier stages accepted, without repeating them. The bill had widespread support. It was making good progress. It passed at Second Reading and had completed its study at the Environment Committee. It died just before Report Stage.
We certainly know that Environmental Racism is not a Nova Scotia issue alone. It is national – from Grassy Narrows to Kanesatake to Wet’suwet’en to everywhere. If the bill becomes law, the federal government will have to develop a strategy to combat Environmental Racism.
I had wanted to be personally in the House for the work next week, but between my still recovering knee replacement and omicron, I opted to stay here and work on zoom. I have all the procedural rights I would have if I was there in person. One piece of procedural good news I am happy to share is that Green MPs are now being allowed slots for Wednesday questions when the Prime Minister responds to every question. We were barred, as you may recall, for all the 43rd parliament – from the 2019 election until the end of June – from asking any questions on Wednesdays. Now there are only 3 MPs who fall outside the big party efforts to block us. Just Mike Morrice and me and one independent. So, now just as quickly as they disappeared, our rights to Wednesday questions have been restored. I know there were others in the other parties who supported us, very quietly. In any case, I am grateful to be back to the low level of rights we had since my election in 2011!
As it is, I am happy to be nowhere near the big rally of angry people in Ottawa. I know lots of people are angry. Fatigued by the long pandemic restrictions, believing that Big Pharma is manipulating health measures to increase profits. I have no doubt Big Pharma is capable of greater evils. I appreciated Dr. Courtney Howard’s tweet “As truckers roll through Ottawa and good people send me anti-vaccine messages re “Big Pharma,” the medical community needs to own the role it has played in a loss of trust. I never want to see a pharmaceutical sponsorship of a medical event again. #nofreelunch.” No matter how much I support vaccinations, demonizing anyone is not helpful. Just as in dealing with climate change denialism, we have to be able to talk to those who think vaccinations offend their rights. We really need to be able to show people the evidence without ignoring legitimate concerns about the profit motive of Big Pharma. Former Green Party leadership candidate and internationally respected physician, Courtney Howard has just created a slender opening for a conversation. (twitter name: @courtghoward)
One last update, I find the fact that over $7 million can be raised in days, virtually untraceable and from foreign countries quite worrying. Not just for this rally, but for any cause. We need to know that election laws, charitable laws and basic transparency is respected. I talked about it with CBC investigative reporter Elizabeth Thompson, here: Large number of donations to support convoy came from aliases, unnamed donors (msn.com)
Next week, I do hope to have some good news to share. Stay well and be safe!!
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