Weekly Committee Review – February 13 to 17, 2012

Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANO)

As the Standing Committee for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development continues its study of land use and sustainable economic development, it heard this week from members of the Mohawk Nation and the Atlantic Policy Congress on their views regarding the capacity gaps that are preventing effective environmental regulation from being enforced and advanced on reserve land, as well as their reflections on the First Nations Lands Management Act, an alternative to the Indian Act’s provisions for land use issues.

Recurrent themes arose around the need to attain steady and increased levels of funding. The ability to build on the current successes and to rectify programs identified as underperforming depends heavily on the availability of funds, which, at this time, is both insufficient and unpredictable. Enhancing community participation will create a broader sense of ownership. Drawing on the link between higher quality education and long-term economic growth, attention needs to be paid to expanding training efforts to ensure sustainable capacity development for First Nations communities.


Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

The Committee met twice this week on Feb 14th and 16th, 2012, to discuss potential amendments to the Lobbying Act at the federal level. Witnesses included the Canadian Bar Association and a Professor of Political Science from Universitè Laval. Both witnesses testified of the importance and value of changing the Lobbying Act to better define the who, what and why of lobbying activities. On Feb 14th, NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dussealt put forward a motion to bring the RCMP to the Committee as witnesses. The Committee was voted ‘in camera’ to consider the motion. The Minutes can be found here.

The Committee has been studying the Lobbying Act for a few weeks now to gain insight of what changes need to occur to better the Act and provide a more transparent system to Canadians.


Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food (AGRI)

This week the committee continued its study of Growing Forward 2. It continued its focus on marketing and trade of agricultural products on Monday February 13th, and switched to a study on meeting consumer demand on Wednesday February 15th. The previous program, Growing Forward 1, comes to an end in March 2013 and the committee has been seeking witnesses to report on the effectiveness of the previous program, as well as where improvements could be made for the second. 

Witness testimony this week came from public servants, a number of private, and quasi-public organizations. Much of the focus of these groups was on food safety and food inspection processes. Bob Kingston from the Agriculture Union made waves on Wednesday when he told the Committee it had received false information from public servants with regard to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In a normally amicable Committee some tension was present as a result of this testimony and in the Conservative MPsʼ tact in questioning the witnesses. 

Discussion was generated about buffering local food processing and localized markets. Witnesses called for Growing Forward 2 to invest in food processing infrastructure as well as significant investment to local small-to-mid-sized farms and tax incentives for transition to organic agriculture.

The Committee briefly undertook its activities ʻin cameraʼ on Monday to deal with future business and to accept a Subcommittee motion noted below:

Your Subcommittee met on Thursday, February 9, 2012, to consider the business of the Committee and agreed to make the following recommendations:

  1.  That, at the completion of the hearings on growing forward 2, the Committee commence a study of the food supply chain, which would be divided into a number of components.
  2. That the Committee consider the following topics for an eventual study: food standards (food origin, food content, food safety, biosafety, etc.) and red tape reduction at the farm level.


Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM)

The Standing Committee on Citizenship & Immigration (CIMM) met twice this week to examine the current issues of security in Canada’s immigration system.

On Tuesday (February 14th), the Committee heard testimony from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) and the Canadian Boarder Services Agency (CBSA) on the current use of biometrics technology on refugee claimants and temporary foreign worker visa applicants as well as the proposed use of electronic travel authority (ETA) forms to prevent inadmissible individuals from reaching Canada.

On Thursday (February 16th), the Committee heard testimony from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Office of the Auditor-General of Canada, and the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. The Committee examined the privacy concerns involved with the use of biometrics technology, the potential problems of sharing the data collected with Canada’s allies (especially the United States), the current gaps and inefficiencies in the processing of visa applications, and the problems involved with the processing of refugee claimants including their detention and removal.

Minister Jason Kenny also introduced Bill C-31 in the House of Commons on Wednesday (February 15th), a bill which will allow the minister to select ‘safe’ countries from which to accept refugees and confirms the implementation of biometrics technology in the tracking of refugee claimants.

In the following weeks, the Committee will continue to assess the use of biometrics technology and the ways in which Canada’s immigration system can be made more secure.


Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)

The House Standing Committee on Finance split its time this week between its study on Tax Incentives for Charitable Donations and the start of its study on Bill C-25, which provides the legislation for the creation of Pooled Retirement Pension Plans, or PRPP’s. Regarding the study on tax incentives, witnesses from the charitable industry such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and others gave testimonies, suggestions, and answered MP questions.  While some witnesses expressed reservations, many others fully supported the adoption of the Stretch Tax Credit proposed by Imagine Canada, which would increase the eligible tax credit available for those who donated more over time. Furthermore, all witnesses unanimously favored capital gains tax exemptions to be extended to gifts of privately held securities and real estate, as they are currently only applied to the donation of publicly listed securities.  However, the committee also heard from witnesses that any tinkering with tax policy would have limited results, and that MP’s should use their public platform to attempt to bring about a true change in culture regarding Canadians willingness to engage the civic core.

To start off its study on Bill C-25, Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies testified and answered questions from MPs on the proposed legislation.  The minister focused on the low administrative and financial burdens PRPP’s impose on small businesses, as well as the fact provincial governments have privately expressed support, as key benefits to the plan. However, opposition members pressed the Minister on why he did not pursue more options with the framework of the Canadian Pension Plan, which would guarantee savings amongst all Canadians.  There was some debate between the government and the opposition as to whether the competitions between financial institutions to offer PRPP’s would drive the administrative costs down below the levels of the CPP.  When the Committee resumes after the coming break week, it will hear from other industry stakeholders regarding Bill C-25.


Standing Committee on Health (HESA)

This week the Health committee examined two bills put forward my Members of Parliament.  Bill C-313, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, examined how non-corrective lenses should be placed under the same regulation as corrective lenses.  The issue was that without proper regulation individuals are increasing the risk to their eyes due to improper use, fitting and cleaning.  Bill C-278, An Act respecting a day to increase public awareness about epilepsy, was discussed to implement March 26th as a day to increase awareness about epilepsy.  There are many individuals who have been diagnosed with epilepsy but very few make others aware due to stigmatization around issue.  Increased awareness would de-stigmatize the incorrect assumptions people have about the condition.


Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA)

On February 13th, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) met to pursue the Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the Committee on September 29, 2011.  They also resumed the study of A Framework for Success: Practical Recommendations to Further Shorten the Foreign Qualification Recognition Process. This meeting was held in camera.


Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)

On Monday, the committee met with John Sullivan, the Executive Director of the Center for International Private Enterprise and Chris Eaton, Executive Director of the World University Service of Canada. Both witnesses discussed the importance of political and economic institutions in the economic development of developing countries. Mr. Eaton specifically discussed a pilot project being run in Ghana where his organization is attempting to direct revenues from the local mine to the development of the local economy. The Minutes for the meeting can be found here.

On Wednesday, the committee met with Alex Counts, President and CEO of the Grameen Foundation, an organization formally headed by Mohammed Yunus that is credited with creating and popularizing the idea of micro credit. They also met with Katleen Félix from Fonkoze, a development organization that works in Haiti in the realms of micro-credit, micro-insurance and facilitating remittances. In the second hour, the committee met with senior officials from DFAIT to discuss progress and purpose of the Canada-EU political framework agreement.


Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates

The Committee met twice this week on Feb 13th and Feb 15th, 2012, to discuss the transition of government IT services to a new entity called Shared Services Canada. Witnesses provided testimony that supported the transition and provided advice to the government on ways to make efficient and effective changes while ensuring that savings will be accumulated.

The Committee has been studying the topic of Shared Services for a few weeks now to gain comprehensive knowledge of how to improve and modernize government IT services while limiting disruptions in service.


Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST)

The committee met twice this week to resume three important studies.

On Tuesday, February 14th, the committee resumed its study of Bill C-26, The Citizen’s Arrest and Defenses of Property and Persons Act.  The committee heard from various witnesses, including Hamish Stewart, a Law Professor from the University of Toronto; Greg Preston of the Edmonton Police Service; and Alex Scholten of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association.

On Thursday, February 16th, the committee looked at NDP House Leader Joe Comartin’s Bill C-290, an Act to Amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), whose purpose is to remove the prohibition on single event sport betting in Canada. Mr. Comartin and Bill Rutsey of the Gaming Association of Canada spoke to the bill, arguing that it would  legalize and regulate illicit activity that is already generating revenue of 10 billion and upwards and in so doing fight organized crime by taking away the money incentive from criminals. After hearing Rutsey’s testimony, the committee proceeded with clause-by-clause study of the bill and reported it to the House for reprinting with one amendment by Robert Goguen, CPC: This act comes into force on a day to be fixed by the Governor (General) in Council.

The second part of the meeting was devoted to the committee’s study on organized crime. The committee heard witness testimony from Michel Aubin, Chief Superintendant, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada; and Erin Slinn, Chief Superintendant, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


Standing Committee on Natural Resources (RNNR)

The committee met twice this week, on February 14th and February 16th, to continue a study on resource development in northern Canada. This week’s meetings focused on development in northern Ontario, specifically the region known as the Ring of Fire in the James Bay lowlands.  

The committee heard from industry representatives from mining and resource corporations and exploration companies, as well as First Nations representatives from the region. While industry representatives endorsed mineral development in the region, and described a large and profitable resource prime for exploitation, witnesses representing First Nations stressed the importance of respect and collaboration in mine development, in order to ensure that regional First Nations benefit from any projects that go ahead. The failed relationship between Attawapiskat and the De Beer’s Victor Diamond Mine was cited as an example of what regional First Nations do not want to see occurring again.

Relevant news articles:


Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Official Languages (LANG)

On Tuesday this week,  debate arose on Mr. Costas Menegakis’ (CPC) motion which reads as follows: “that all Committee business of the Committee be held in camera.” Also on the table was the amendment proposed by Mr. Harris (NDP): “that the motion be amended by adding after the words “in camera” the following: “with the consent of at least one member of the opposition or a vote by committee at the start of any sitting of the permanent Committee on official languages where committee business is to be discussed”. Mr. Robert Aubin (NDP) continued his speech about the need for government transparency and openness.

After a 10-minute suspension, a motion put forward by Mr. Godin (NDP) was unanimously passed stating that debate on the motion would be adjourned and the committee would continue the Evaluation of the Roadmap: Improving Programs and Service Delivery.

On Thursday, the committee heard small speeches from representatives from the Department of Canadian Heritage, followed by questions from the committee members. This group is heading the study of the Roadmap and assured the committee that when the study is concluded in a few weeks’ time, the results will be made public. The committee members were rather irritated that they have not been kept up-to-date on the findings of the study. The second half of the meeting, the committee members were discussing the list of witnesses to bring in to meetings for the next few weeks.


Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

The committee met once this week, partly in camera on February 14, 2012 to discuss privacy breaches of veterans’ files. The second meeting of the week was cancelled due to a conflict in the witnesses’ schedules.

The committee continued its review of the various front-line health and wellbeing services offered to Canadian veterans. Two witnesses from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) provided some information on their organization and the kind of high-impact research that their centre conducts. Separate witnesses from the Department of Veterans Affairs presented on the various research that the department conducts itself. The results point to satisfactory improvements in the transition to civilian life by veterans; however, there are still some shortcomings in dealing with veterans who suffer from mental illnesses, especially suicide ideation. A second group of witnesses from the department presented on the New Veteran Charter (NVC) and the improved rehabilitation and financial programs it offers veterans.