Thanks to all for so many birthday greetings this week. My 68th birthday was Thursday – June 9th being a shared birthday with many of my friends here in Saanich-Gulf Islands – Heather, Nancy and Donna plus Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, former Ontario Environment Minister John Gerritsen, with Green Party BC leader Sonia Furstenau on June 8th. Lots of Geminis!
Thursday was a typically long day in parliament on Zoom. My birthday treat was that Mike Morrice covered for me over lunchtime (BC time) so I could meet a group of women friends from our old Newcomers Club.
Since the beginning of May, these 17-hour days are the norm. Through the collaboration of NDP and Liberals, the rules changed to have the option of sitting until midnight. This week, I worked from SGI, benefiting from the virtual rules under the pandemic, to avoid the carbon of flying whenever I can. Later today, I will be back on a plane, landing in Ottawa around 2 am and back to work a few hours later.
When doing Parliament from home, it is odd to be fully awake, make-up applied and dressed for parliament from my dining room table at 7 AM, as Parliament opens at 10 AM ET. On Thursday, I was all set to present my petition, with over 5,000 signatures, to call for the ban on the export of thermal coal, but as is ever more common, the proceedings went sideways before they even started. The Liberals moved to shut down debate on Bill C5, a bill to remove some mandatory minimums, and then to avoid Conservative Party use of procedural delay tactics, the government moved that we skip everything under the rubric called “Routine Proceedings” and get to the business the government wanted that day. Presenting petitions being part of Routine Proceedings, no petitions on Thursday, but lots of debate. As my staff arrives in the constituency office around 9, I shift over there and then shift back as they leave at the end of the day and keep going on zoom parliament until 9 pm (midnight in Ottawa). And on Friday, I was again all set for the coal petition, but again cancelled – this time due to a Conservative procedural delay.
As I watch my colleagues, it is obvious that the long days are taking their toll. People who are usually articulate struggle for the right word. People who are usually sharp say things like, “I have forgotten what I already said and where I am now.” I keep thinking of the title from that old movie about dance marathons, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” I am so tired I can hardly think straight.
Parliament has this odd tradition of midnight sittings for the month of June. From when I was first elected, in 2011, we have had midnight sittings in June every year save one. But this year, for the first time, we have had midnight sittings since the beginning of May. It does not produce great results. Who could be surprised that taking a toxic partisan pressure cooker and adding exhaustion and crankiness does not make for productivity?
It also means that important exchanges, occurring near midnight do not get much notice. I included the link to my 7 minutes of questions to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Hon Joyce Murray, in last week’s missive. I want to draw attention to one of our exchanges HERE. You’ll find it at 4:36 into the 7-minute clip. The setting is parliament, but we are not in a normal sitting. We are sitting as Committee of the Whole, and ministers come with a phalanx of departmental officials sitting at a table in front of the benches, with large briefing books piled in front of them. The senior civil servants pass notes to the minister as questions are asked – specific numbers for what has been spent – or ignored. My 7-minute opportunity was just before midnight.
As I mentioned in my opening, the work on the fisheries committee is really collaborative and non-partisan. I join the committee as often as I can and I have good luck, with MPs letting me have a bit of their time to question witnesses. Concern for the health of Pacific salmon is shared regardless of partisan stripe.
I was not surprised that Conservative MP Tracy Gray, Kelowna-Lake Country, asked good questions, including a topic I had intended to bring up – whether DFO was concerned about polystyrene in the oceans. The minister answered that DFO wanted to “get polystyrene out” of the marine environment. This set things up well for my question. I have been tracking the very weak regulations being developed by Environment Canada (ECCC) for months now. I have asked about the loopholes in the single-use plastic regulations in Question Period. They plan to allow some single-use items – like plastic forks – to be exempted if they are capable of being washed and reused. The regs will not cover water bottles. And even though polystyrene products, things designed for use in the marine environment like floats and life vests, are not single-use items, the little bubbles of polystyrene are a major contaminant on our shorelines and contaminate the oceans. Polystyrene breaks down and the tiny pieces of plastic are a huge problem. Currently, the draft regulations do not touch polystyrene. We need to regulate to prevent polystyrene from being used in products designed for use on docks and vessels.
So my question to Minister Murray was pretty important and her answer was a stunner. As her earlier answer had been that DFO wanted to get polystyrene out of the oceans, I asked if she was working to get the new plastic regulations to keep it out of the ocean in the first place. She replied that the plastic regulations were being developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada and “not a partnership with DFO.” I went back and listened several times to make sure I had not misheard. Our regulations against single-use plastics are driven by the idea we are keeping plastics out of the ocean, yet DFO, the department with the greatest focus on the oceans, is not involved? Clearly, I need help getting Joyce Murray’s answer shared and pressure brought on ECCC to make the draft regulations more effective.
Another debate just before midnight this week focused on my earlier question about the increased risk of nuclear proliferation due to so-called Small Modular Reactors or SMRs.
The parliamentary secretary’s reply was lamentable. There was more focus on SMRs last week. Key critics of the industry, Dr. Susan O’Donnell, former MPP Evelyn Gigantes and Dr. Gordon Edwards appeared before the Science Committee on Thursday night. I had no luck getting any donated minutes to ask questions. The MPs – Liberals, Conservatives and NDP alike – overwhelmingly asked softball questions of industry witnesses. The stand-out exception was Bloc MP Maxime Blanchette-Joncas. He focused on getting more information about the risks of the SMRs, especially as they relate to the spread of nuclear weapons. One witness who is getting lots of media is Chris Keefer, president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy. He confirmed to the committee his organization has 44 members. Total. All individuals. I have never seen any NGO with fewer than 50 members get so much attention.
Those opposing the waste of resources for something as dangerous as reprocessing plutonium need to make it clear that SMRs are not necessary to meet climate goals. In fact, any new government investment in nuclear is an obstacle to climate action. The opportunity costs alone bury the experiment.
This week also included World Oceans Day, for which I had a 60-second opportunity.
It is important to be in Ottawa this week. On Friday, C-226, my bill to create a programme on environmental justice, combatting environmental racism, comes up for its final hour of debate at second reading. I will stay put in Ontario until I get through the whole rest of the torture known as “silly season” by all who live through June in Parliament.
Wish me luck.
With love and thanks!
Friends in the Lyme Disease community, take note of this five-year report required by my bill, passed in 2014. I will include my critique of the report next week.
Check out this webinar from the Global Greens! Our hugely successful Global Greens webinars continue with the next in our Spotlight Series!
Join us on Tuesday, 14 June at 11 am UTC, (4 am PDT) for
An hour webinar led by our network, focusing on bringing global perspectives and action into national and regional contexts.
An expert panel of speakers and activists will share their experiences of working in the international Greens movement. Helping give you the tools to bring global work into your country, and really make a difference to our cause.
Facilitator Vivienne Glance will be joined by:
Pegah Edalatian, International Coordinator for the German Greens
Melanie Chapman, Former International Secretary, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
Snigdha Tiwari, Climate Working Group Co-Convenor
Lucy Kagendo, Climate Working Group Co-Convenor
Mohamed Awad, President of the Egyptian Green Party, COP27 host country
Please register and share with your networks. It’s our connection that makes us strong.
Elizabeth May is the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C., and the Green Party of Canada Parliamentary Leader.
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens