The first week

Hello citizens,

I’m reporting in after the first five days of the fall parliamentary calendar, finally posting this blog Monday morning. Our proceedings were dominated by two pieces of legislation, and book-ended by an all-party tribute to Jack Layton and the visit of UK PM David Cameron.

Question Period floats above (or more accurately, below) the legislative calendar with most questions focusing on “scandal de jour”. Of course, there are perennial favourites. NDP MP Charlie Angus goes after Tony Clement with glee and rhetorical flourish. The minister seems to be incapable of shame for the outrageous way in which tens of millions of dollars were funnelled into his riding – although the slurs in Angus’s question almost make you sorry for Clement. (Almost).

Last week’s QP faves were Peter MacKay using a search and rescue helicopter as a limo service, with serious questions about the health of our economy and the planned deeper integration with the US (NextGen).

My question focused on letters to key scientists at Environment Canada, who run various aspects of ozone monitoring, telling them they may be terminated (or as Peter Kent puts it “separated from Environment Canada”). Both NDP and Liberal Environment Critics (Megan Leslie and Kirsty Duncan) were also attempting to get clear answers from the minister. I like them both enormously and shared whatever information I had with them.  It was a good joint effort. The threat is to the Global Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Monitoring and Data Collection Centre, the Ozonesonde programme (in which balloons in multiple locations are released every week to take ozone measurements at different altitudes), and to a senior scientist who analyzes all data as part of the ozone reporting system.  Kent says none of those programmes are at risk. Yet, the three scientists who received the letters run those elements.  There are not five managers for the global data centre — there’s one. And he got a letter.

Kent says it is a Treasury Board guideline that requires people who are not going to be fired to receive a letter that says they might be. I am checking that out as Kent honestly seems to believe that is what’s going on.  I have another theory….

Meanwhile, most of my time was devoted to fighting two very bad pieces of legislation.  The first, Bill C-4, the so-called “Human Smuggling Act,” should be titled the “Refugee Internment Act.” It sets out to treat “irregular arrivals” to Canada, primarily by ship, and some form of “group” of political refugees to a different kind of treatment.  All must be kept in detention for a year, without benefit of judicial review.  Men, women and children must be jailed for a year if they arrive by boat or any other way the minister determines to be an irregular arrival.

The Refugee Internment Act is opposed by the Refugee Lawyers Association, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups. But government members have their talking points from PMO and ignore the substantive problems with the Act.  In debate, any questioner of the bill’s outrageous impacts is attacked as “giving comfort to human smugglers.”

Similarly, to find fault with the mandatory minimum sentences of the omnibus crime bill is to be met with taunts that the MPs in opposition favour criminals over victims.

Canadians need to speak out and urge Conservative MPs to push back.  They have the votes to pass each and every bill over the next four years. Only if the government benches work to change the bills will we avoid some very draconian legislation. Eventually, if passed, and after huge expense, these bills will not survive a Charter challenge.

This week we have the Libya mission vote (again I will vote “no”), and continuing debate on C-4 and C-10.