Weekly Committee Review – February 6 to 10, 2012

Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agrifood (AGRI)

This week the Committee continued its study of Growing Forward 2, continuing its focus on marketing and trade of Canadian agri-products. The previous program, Growing Forward 1, comes to an end in 2013 and the committee has been seeking witness testimony about the effectiveness of the previous program, as well as where improvements could be made for the next round.

Witness testimony this week cemented the idea that work needs to be done in freight prices, and inconsistencies in the rail system which have led to a competitive disadvantage in a number of export markets for Canadian agri-products.

CETA received both negative and positive reviews from witnesses, some highlighting the need for increased market access in Europe, while other witnesses pointed out that the EU would likely remain closed to Canadian GM products.

Many groups highlighted the effectiveness of funding in expanding access to markets internationally, but said that funding fell short of promoting a grown-in-Canada market for agricultural products. The effectiveness of labeling of products as Canadian was an issue that drew a range of different opinions from witnesses and committee members. An interesting discussion was also generated about diversification of domestic agricultural product markets in value-added products like vegetable oil and fertilizers.

The committee has not gone in camera, but did recess for an emergency vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.


Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI)

The Committee met twice this week, on February 7th and 9th, 2012, to discuss potential amendments to the Lobby Act at the federal level. Witnesses included Information and Ethics Commissioners from Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia to share their experiences with the Lobby Act at the provincial level.

The Committee has been studying the Lobby Act to ensure that the relationship between lobbyists and political office-holders can be transparent and well-understood by Canadians.


Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)

This week the House Standing Committee on Finance continued its study on Tax Incentives for Charitable Donations, and heard numerous testimonies from a variety of stakeholders including Imagine Canada, United Way Canada, the Canadian Taxpayers Association, the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, the Canadian Land Trust Alliance and numerous others. The Committee has been hearing from witnesses on suggestions for making the tax regime in Canada more favorable to donors and charities and how government policy can attract more donations to the charitable sector.  A main proposition that was considered is the ‘Stretch Tax Credit’ proposed by Imagine Canada, which would change current the tax incentive system by further rewarding donors who increased their donation amount annually with a bonus 10% tax credit.  By challenging Canadians to give more, charities hoped to further involve Canadians with charities. Other suggestions included removing the capital gains tax on shares of privately held companies that are donated to charity, as well as removing the tax on real estate donated to charities, both of which are not counted as gifts eligible for tax credits upon donation under the Income Tax Act.  Witnesses described the current funding squeeze being felt by Canadian charities, the shrinking and fatigued donor base in Canada, and the continuing need to get young people involved in the charitable sector. Meetings continue next week with more witnesses from the charitable sector scheduled to appear.


Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO)

The February 6th meeting of the Fisheries and Oceans Committee featured one hour of witness interviews and one hour of in camera committee business. The witnesses present were members of DFO’s Aquaculture Management Directorate and included Guy Beaupré, Jay Parsons, James Smith, and Alistair Struthers. The committee reviewed a report by the Aquaculture Management Directorate on their available research regarding closed containment facilities and DFO’s work with the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO).


Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)

The committee met only once this week for a briefing on the situation in Syria from Barbara Martin. The meeting lasted only 45 minutes as a vote was called in the middle of the meeting. The testimony focused on a explaining the facts on the ground in Syria and Canada’s response to the situation. The department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) has attempted to contact all Canadians living in Syria, to provide information about the situation as well as suggest ways in which citizens could get out of the country. On the subject of possible resolutions to the situation, it is the opinion of DFAIT that the most likely resolution will come from the Arab League.


Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates

The Committee met twice this week, on February 6th and 8th, to discuss the transition of government IT services to a new entity called Shared Services. Witnesses provided testimony that supported the transition and provided advice to the government on ways to make efficient and effective changes while ensuring that taxpayers’ money is saved.

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

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU)

On February 6th, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) met to continue consideration of Bill C-316: An Act to Amend the Employment Insurance Act (Incarceration). Statements were made by witnesses Catherine Latimer: Executive Director for the John Howard Society of Canada, Kim Pate: Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and Louis Beauséjour: Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Development Branch for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. 

On February 8th, Kellie Leitch, MP for Simcoe-Grey, moved to have Bill C-316 amended.  This was implemented by a show of hands: YEAS: 6; NAYS: 5.  It was then ordered that the Chair would report the newly amended Bill C-316 to the House and for it to be reprinted for the House for report stage.


Subcommittee on International Human Rights (SIDR)

The committee met once this week, on February 9th, to hear from Alex Neve, the Secretary General for Amnesty International Canada on the current human rights crisis in Eritrea. This crisis is both incredibly severe in terms of human rights violations, but also surprisingly overlooked in the international community. Mr. Neve highlighted the need for action in this country, where its citizens have been subjected to torture, murder, and incommunicado imprisonment due to religious or political beliefs for decades.


Standing Committee on Natural Resources (RNNR)

The committee met twice this week, on February 7th and February 9th, to continue a study on the current and future state of oil and gas pipelines and refining capacity in Canada. Several witnesses spoke to a decline in Canada’s refining capacity, and the general decline in demand form North American markets. Another common theme was the need to consider Canada’s domestic energy security, particularly in eastern Canada, where the majority of crude is imported from foreign suppliers.

A noteworthy witness was Vivian Krause, the blogger from North Vancouver who has recently taken on the role of the Harper Conservatives source for claims that Canada’s energy industry has been hijacked by American billionaires funding Canadian ENGOs.


Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) 

No report this week.


Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (SDIR)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Health (HESA)

Following months of studying chronic diseases relating to aging, the health committee has shifted its focus to Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.  Important topics discussed are the strengthening of food labelling regulation, reduction in sodium and trans fats, increased taxes on sugar products, minimizing advertisements to children and increasing preventative actions for individuals.  By taking these steps the government could decrease health expenditure over time by improving the health of Canadians.


Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST)

No report this week.


Liaison Committee (LIAI)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Official Languages (LANG)

On the agenda this week was a single item: a motion had been put forward last week, proposing that all committee meetings should occur in camera (in private). Dan Harris (NDP) had proposed an amendment to the motion, so that meetings may only be held in camera with the support of at least one MP from the opposition. The meeting Tuesday was rather quiet; Mrs. Michaud (NDP) spoke for most of the meeting about the obligation of parliament to be open and transparent. About three-quarters of the way through the meeting, Mr. Aubin took over and continued the discussion. His speech was similar to his colleague’s, calling for the committee to remain open to the public.

Thursday’s meeting was livelier. The first part of the meeting, the committee members were joking and laughing as Mr. Aubin continued his speech. Around halfway through the meeting however, the atmosphere became much more serious, as discussions became quite heated. Several motions were proposed and a vote of no-confidence put forward, but these were unrecognized by the Chair, because the current motion was still in discussion. By the end of the meeting, Mr. Aubin had still not finished his discourse, and the committee adjourned until next week.


Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Public Accounts (PACP)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN)

No report this week.


Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) 

The committee met two times this week, in camera on February 7, 2012 to discuss committee business.

The committee is investigating the various front-line health and wellbeing services offered to Canadian veterans. Witnesses from the Department of National Defence presented on the various health-related services that they offer to injured veterans. Specifically, committee members and witnesses discussed how the Military Family Resource Centres across Canada respond to physical and psychological needs of injured veterans and their families. In addition, two private companies, WCG International HR Consultants and Right Management, presented on the kind of career rehabilitation and career services they offer to veterans respectively. They offered some suggestions on how to better coordinate and optimize career services to veterans and reported on their success stories.