Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agrifood (AGRI)
This week the Committee finished its study of Growing Forward 2, continuing its focus on meeting consumer demand. 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.
Government members of the Committee seemed to be getting frustrated by what they viewed as off-topic witness reports. Pierre Lemieux asserted that the Humane Societyʼs witness was discussing topics unrelated to meeting consumer demands, despite the fact that she was talking directly to the growing demand for ethically produced agrifood products.
An interesting topic that came during both meetings was the practice of supply management that occurs in a number of agricultural industries. Representatives from the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (CRFA) spoke out against the uncompetitive practices associated with supply managed products, specifically the premium rates for food inputs that food service industries have to pay in comparison to food processors. Conversely, reports from Food Secure Canada were urged the government to protect supply management since it helps buffer a local market for domestically produced agrifoods. Government and opposition members spoke out highly in favour of defending supply management, but ironically government members seemed quite pleased with ending supply management for grain and barley products with the end of the CWBʼs monopoly.
This was the second week that the Standing Committee heard about growing demand for locally produced food products, this week coming from Food Secure Canada. Their testimony related to the Peopleʼs Food Policy was very compelling, and mirrored very closely the Green Partyʼs agricultural policy. Links to their testimony and policy documents can be found here and here.
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM)
The Standing Committee on Citizenship & Immigration (CIMM) continued its study of how to improve security measures within the immigration system to prevent the entry of inadmissible applicants.
On Tuesday, February 28th, the committee heard testimony from the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform and the Centre for a Secure Free Society on the current security threats, specifically the risks posed by radical Islamism, within Canada’s immigration system and how best to address these security lapses while balancing the need to protect liberty in a democratic society.
On Thursday, March 1st, the committee heard testimony from Catherine Dauvergne, an expert on international migration law as well as three other individual immigration consultants relating to the potential ramifications of the various security provisions in Bill C-31 and whether these measures will actually yield a greater assurance of security and public safety in Canada.
The Auditor-General’s 2011 Fall Report on the issuance of visas:
Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)
The Standing Committee on Finance continued its study on Bill C-25 this week, hearing from multiple business, labour and civil society organizations.
Bill C-25, “An Act relating to Pooled Registered Pension Plans and making related amendments to other Acts” would enact legislation enabling the creation of PRPP’s, a new retirement savings vehicle being proposed by the government. Business organizations, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Bankers Association, were generally very supportive of PRPP’s, citing their low cost and administrative burdens to business. Furthermore, these witnesses said the plan appropriately targets modest income workers in the private sector who may not have access to a workplace pension. However, many labour organizations and civil society groups expressed reservations about the plan, saying that the government should explore other options, such as enhancements to the Canadian Pension Plan. According to these witnesses, PRPP’s offer very few new features than group Registered Retirement Savings Plans and worry that the voluntary enrollment by businesses and employees means PRPP’s will not address the lack of retirement savings amongst certain demographics of the population. In their opinion, a version of the Canadian Labour Congress’s proposal of a phased-in doubling of CPP contributions would do more to help Canadians save for retirement.
However, the government has responded that it does not have the necessary provincial support for CPP enhancements and business organizations have expressed concerns that their members are still recovering from the financial collapse and that raising their contributions rates will drive down wages and limit hiring.
The committee also heard from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons and the Canadian Bar Association, who raised the concern that the proposed PRPP further normalizes Defined Contribution plans over Defined Benefit Plans. Defined Contribution plans are considered lesser plans by these witnesses, as employees contribute a defined amount, but do not receive a guaranteed benefit when they retire. The committee also heard testimony from the Canadian Medical Association, who testified that Canadians also need to be saving for potential long term care they may require later on in their life.
Pooled Registered Pension Plans
Canadian Labour Congress Proposal
Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO)
On February 29th, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) met in-camera, deciding to invite the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to appear before the Committee of March 14,2012.
They then resumed the meeting in public at 4:13pm pursuant to the Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the Committee on October 18th, 2011 to resume the study of closed containment salmon aquaculture.
Witnesses from Port McNeill and the Regional District of Mount Waddington made statements and answered questions. As well, Fin Donnelly (MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody) motioned the following:
”That, because fleet separation and owner operator policy is critical to coastal communities and protecting independent fishers in the inshore fishery, the Committee reaffirms its support for fleet separation and owner operator vessels in the inshore fishery and oppose any move to eliminate this policy”.
On February 27th the Committee featured a witness brought in using video satellite from British Columbia to discuss closed containment aquaculture and regulation within BC. Dr. Roth, the witness, is the aquaculture industry specialist for the BC Ministry of Agriculture and provided the committee with detailed information on the current state of aquaculture legislation in BC and its relationship with DFO. He further provided recommendations on how to best move the aquaculture industry forward, and reiterated comments from previous witnesses regarding the financial hurdles facing closed containment systems.
The committee also debated and passed a motion to release a statement from the committee supporting the sealing industry in Canada. The motion also urges the federal government to continue its efforts to open more international markets for the industry, and the motion requires the statement be read in the House of Commons for potential discussion by other Members of Parliament.
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)
On Monday the committee met with three witnesses: Pierre Gratton, President and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada; Kenneth Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress; and Karin Lissakers, Director of the Revenue Watch Institute. The witnesses discussed their opinions on CIDA partnerships with Canadian Mining Companies, specifically whether or not they would achieve development goals in a way that traditional NGOs might be unable to. Also discussed were the possible effects of the Dodd-Frank bill currently being debated in US Congress, all parties agreed that greater transparency from the mining companies would be desirable. The minutes of the meeting can be found here.
On Wednesday, the committee met with Anthony Bebbington, a professor of Geography at Clark University in Massachusetts and Brent Bergeron, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs from Goldcorp Inc. Much of the discussion was focused on how mining companies might be able to promote sustainable development that would persist after mining companies had left the area. The witnesses agreed that the key to long term development was the strengthening of local political and economic institutions in these areas, but they differed on exactly how this might be achieved.
Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO)
The Committee met three times this week on Feb 27th, 28th and Feb 29th, 2012 to review the process for considering the estimates and supply practices in government. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, was the primary witness who provided testimony that supported the need for change to improve this process. His main recommendations were to improve the process, structure and support systems within the government estimate and supply methods.
Liberal MP McCallum put forward a motion for the Committee to study why the Treasury Board delayed its report until May 7th. The motion was put to a vote and defeated. While this is a new topic for the Committee, it proved to be an issue that polarized and challenged both sides of the table.
Standing Committee on Health (HESA)
On March 1st the Health Committee examined Neurological Diseases and the effect on the Canadian population and government expenditure. There are over 1 million Canadians affected by Neurological Diseases totalling $9 billion in burden each year. New research has been funded to address the growing need of diseases which include MS, epilepsy, autism and Alzheimer’s.
For more information please see the following sites:
Public Health Agency of Canada: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/index-eng.php
Canadian Institutes of Health Research: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/193.html
Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA)
On February 27th, the Committee met to study the Committee resumed its study of Skills Development in Remote Rural Communities in an Era of Fiscal Restraint pursuant Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the Committee on November 17, 2011.
On Wednesday, February 29 this study continued. In the meeting, witnesses were present from the Canadian Nuclear Association, Vale Canada Limited, and, in videoconference from Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Mining Association. Although the companies differ in areas of expertise, their similar circumstances led to many common issues. The companies are all located in remote areas with large native populations surrounding them, and have difficulty gaining the skilled workers they need in order to function efficiently. All of the companies mentioned partnering with the community in order to promote a predominantly local workforce, but find they can do little beyond providing scholarships and encouragement. They require government assistance to update much of their infrastructure, and promote education in primary and secondary schools. The Mining association raised the issue of the Protection of Species Act, which does not allow disturbances in many Northern areas. In their opinion, this hindered development of communities, as well as expansion of their company.
The committee adjourned, and proceeded to go in camera to discuss committee business.
Standing Committee on International Trade (CITT)
The Committee met twice this week on Feb 28th and March 1st, 2012. The March 1st meeting was in camera to discuss the trade agreement with the EU. In camera meetings have been a consistent part of this meeting since December.
On the 28th, however, the public was able to watch the discussions that took place on the topic of the Trade Commissioner Service. Witnesses included representatives of small and medium businesses, the Conference Board of Canada and Export Development Canada. All of the witnesses testified on the important value of the Trade Commissioner`s role and the improvements that could be made for the betterment of this service to enhance trade and business with other countries.
Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)
On Thursday, March 1 the Committee of National Defence met to hear from witness, Dr. James Fergusson, regarding the continued study of maintaining readiness within the Canadian forces. This study is a continuation of the motion adopted by the Committee on Thursday, September 29, 2011.
The witness advocated for an increase in funding for the Canadian military in order to prepare for the “unforeseeable future”. Continuously Dr. Fergusson emphasized the importance of maintaining readiness, and arming the nation so that it is well-equipped to defend itself and its allies. During questioning, the necessity of the F-35 fighter jets was questioned, but the witness remained firmly in favour of the aircrafts as Canada’s only option. Regardless of the larger quantity of super hornets that could be purchased for the same price, Fergusson maintained that Canada must remain on par with its allies in order to effectively defend against an unpredictable future.
Furthermore, he expressed his belief that it was not the duty of the Canadian armed forces to rebuild nations in need, but rather the work of their own government. The witness inferred that Canada’s future was not in diplomatic relations, but rather direct combat in support of its allies. He felt that investment in the F-35s with their stealth technology, and further training as well as education of infantry soldiers would help prepare Canada for its transition away from the role of peace-keeping nation. The committee then adjourned.
Standing Committee on Official Languages (LANG)
This week, the committee continued its Evaluation of the Roadmap: Improving Programs and Service Distribution. In Tuesday’s meeting, we had Presentations from the Department of Justice, Health Canada and Statistics Canada. The Department of Justice has initiatives to increase the capacity to provide access to justice in either official language. This includes training of law students in French legal terms, and availability of laws (both provincial and federal) in both languages. Health Canada is mostly concerned with the access to health care in either official language. Statistics Canada was very informative, as they have concrete numbers on populations and language use, etc. For example, minority Anglophone communities still use their mother tongue 50% of the time outside of the House, whereas less than 30% of minority francophone communities speak French outside the home. The committee sat in camera (in private) for the last 5 minutes of the meeting.
On March 1st, the committee heard testimonies from the Department of Human Resources, Canada school of Public Services, and the Treasury Board Secretariat. The Department of Human Resources provides support for organisations promoting the use of official languages in minority situations. They have invested 69$ million over the past 5 years in the Roadmap project. They also spoke of pilot projects in schools, which yielded positive results, to support minority official language communities. Canada school for Public Services strives to “foster a culture of bilingualism across the public service, and contribute to better service to Canadians.” This group focuses mainly on second-language teaching in schools, so that there are more bilingual students entering the workforce. The treasury board provides lateral support for other federal institutions for providing services in both official languages.