Weekly Committee Review – March 12 to 16, 2012

Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANO)

The committee began this week by discussing the main and supplementary estimates in order to vote on them. The Minister presented an update on the department, citing commitments to pursuing improvements to First Nations education, better lands management, and reliable access to clean water. Members of the government asked the Minister to expand on some specific developments, whereas members of the opposition posed questions regarding budget reductions, which the Minister and Deputy Minister characterized as due to programs that had recently finished and no longer required funding.

The second meeting of the week was a continuation of the study of land use and sustainable development. Three different groups, representing a range of perspectives, gave witness, including delegates from the Office of the Auditor General, the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, and the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association. They stated, respectively, that the federal government (through HRSDC and AANDC) had failed to sufficiently foster and support training programs and economic development; that the aboriginal forestry sector must be better enabled to fully realize its potential production capacity, in turn creating prospects for aboriginal youth; and that increased funding arrangements with the private sector were necessary in order to expand Small and Medium Enterprise loans for aboriginal entrepreneurs. Committee members showed broad support for the recommendations of each group, seeing value in all proposals.


Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI)

The committee reviewed its expenditure plans for the Department of Environment.  The Honourable Peter Kent presented the estimates to the committee.  He outlined several new initiatives, including the oil sand monitoring program, the development of performance standards for coal-fired power plants, and an increase in funding for weather and warning services.  Opposition members expressed concern that the focus on economic recovery and efficiency would result in reduced funding for aboriginal consultations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the dismantling of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab.


Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)

On March 12th the committee met with Wendy Hannam, an Executive Vice-President with ScotiaBank on the topic of their corporate social responsibility and development practices in their international operations. In the second half of the committee, the Hon. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Hon. Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) appeared before the committee regarding the changes in the budget for DFAIT. There was little discussion on that topic however, mostly the questions focused on DFAIT’s handling of issues that have been in the news in the past 6 months. The full transcript can be found here.

On March 14th the committee met with Doris Olafsen, Executive Vice-President of Opportunity International Canada, Larry Reed the Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and Keith Weaver of MicroEnsure. Of particular interest was MicroEnsure which is a company that arranges Micro-Insurance opportunities with local insurance companies for individuals who would not traditionally be able to buy insurance due to the small size of their enterprises. The other main topic of conversation was what micro-credit organizations can do to prevent some of the potential negative impacts of loans on their recipients. Also appearing before the committee was Hon. Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation. The primary line of questioning for opposition MPs was focused on CIDA’s selection process for their contracts and grants which has changed a great deal recently. The minister also answered questions regarding CIDA’s grants to public/private partnerships between mining companies and NGOs in the developing world.


Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agrifood (AGRI)

This week the Committee met in Centre Block to hear from and question Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about the Main Estimates for 2011-12 and the Supplementary Estimates for 2012-13. The Committee also asked questions of public servants from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with regard to the estimates.

The Minister had to answer some difficult questions regarding the governmentʼs plan for supply management. During negotiations in New York, Trade Minister Fast suggested that Canada might be willing to abandon supply management in order to take part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a delegate. Minister Ritz defended his governmentʼs record on protecting supply management, and even went as far to say that the Conservative Party was the only party to run the 2011 campaign on a platform of defending supply managed industries. His response was that each country in negotiations starts with everything on the discussion table, then will remove sensitive policy areas from the discussions later on.

At the end of this Committee meeting, the chair, Larry Miller introduced motions 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 under Agriculture and Agri-food in the Main Estimates. Each motion was carried unanimously by the Committee.

On Wednesday, the Committee met in its usual location to resume its overview of the supply chain. The Committee was met by representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the CFIA. Most of the discussion time was spent on describing the Departmentʼs Value Chain Roundtables, and the multistakeholder process these VCRTs undertake.


Standing Committee on Official Languages (LANG)

This week the committee continued its Evaluation of the Roadmap: Improving Programs and Service Distribution. Tuesday, committee members had a quick vote to pass their annual budget before hearing testimonies from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Thursday the committee listened to testimonies from representatives of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. As with previous witnesses, the representatives made short presentations on initiatives to protect official languages in minority situations. Often these included meeting with community and business leaders and providing support for minority official language communities.

Cette semaine, le comité a continué l’Évaluation de la Feuille de Route : Amélioration des Programmes et de la Prestation des Services.  Mardi, les membres du comité ont approuvé unanimement le budget du comité et ils ont écouté les témoignages de l’Agence de Promotion Économique du Canada Atlantique et de la Ministère de la Citoyenneté et d’Immigration. Jeudi, le comité écoutait le témoignage des représentants du Bureau de la Commissariat  aux Langues Officielles. Les témoignages suivaient la même paterne que ces-uns des séances précédents; les représentants ont présenté sur leurs initiatives pour protéger les langues officiels en situation minoritaire. Souvent, ces initiatives incluaient des rendez-vous avec des leaders des communautés et des businesses et aussi de soutien pour les communautés des langues officiels minoritaires.

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

On March 12th, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) met pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) to review the motion adopted by the Committee on February 15, 2012. They also commenced study of Fixing the Skills Gap: Addressing Existing Labour Shortages in High Demand Occupations and Understanding Labour Shortages: Addressing Barriers to Filling Low-Skilled Jobs.

The in camera minutes may be viewed here.

Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

On the week of March 5th, 2012, the committee met two times to put to vote the Department’s Main and Supplementary Estimates. On the second day the committee resumed with its regular investigation of the front-line health and wellbeing services offered to veterans.

In the first meeting, Minister Steven Blaney presented on the department’s various programs and answered questions on department’s plan on adjusting to budget cuts. The minister assured the opposition that budget cuts will only affect the administrative costs of the department and not the extent or quality of services that VAC offers. The Cutting Red Tape for Veterans initiative is intended to mainly rely on retirements and modernization of services in reducing costs. The Main and Supplementary Estimates were passed without the oppositions’ support.

In the second meeting, the motion put forward by Irene Mathyssen to remove fellow MP Rob Anders from the committee was announced out of order by the chair, Greg Kerr.

In addition, the committee received Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman Chief Warrant Officer, who presented the committee with three recommendations. The first encouraged the committee members to advocate for exemption of the VAC from budget cuts, as is the case in the UK and US. Second, he encouraged the committee to consider reducing the number of categories that veterans are assigned to in order to ensure fair treatment of all veterans. Lastly, the Ombudsman recommended a universal ID card, shared by the Department of National Defense and Veteran’s Affair Canada, in order to make transition between the two departments and service delivery smoother.

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST)

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights met twice this week.

On Tuesday, 13 March, the committee commenced consideration of the Main Estimates 2012-13: Votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 50 under JUSTICE referred to the Committee on Tuesday, February 28, 2012. The Hon. Rob Nicholson, PC, MP, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada gave a statement and answered questions. The Minister noted that the Department of Justice requested $694.6 million through the Main Estimates tabled in February for the year 2012-13. The Minister brought attention to a number of programs that would be ‘sunsetting’ at the end of March. Among these, the National Anti-Drug Strategy will see a funding decrease of $130, 000 in funding from Health Canada, and a funding portion of $12.3 million per year allocated to the Aboriginal Health Strategy is under consideration for renewal in the upcoming fiscal year.

For the complete record of the Minister’s statement, please see the Evidence for the meeting.

Before adjourning to the call of the Chair, the committee went in camera in order to dispose of its study on organized crime. It was agreed that the draft report as amended be presented to the House with any dissenting or supplementary opinions attached. See the Minutes here.

On Thursday, March 15th, the committee commenced consideration of bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). The committee commenced and disposed of clause-by-clause study of the bill.

Standing Committee on International Trade  (CITT)

The Committee met twice this week on March 13th and March 15th, 2012. The March 13th meeting focused on studying Main Estimates. The Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, presented to the committee a report focusing on the importance of trade with current and emerging markets. He expressed that International Trade will remain the backbone of Canada’s economy, further indicating the focus and goals of this Conservative government.

On the 15th, the topic of the committee continued their study of Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The committees focus was on human rights and child labour laws as well as tariffs on beef products.

Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM)

The committee continued its study of how to best improve the integrity of the Canadian immigration system.

On Tuesday (March 13th), Minister Kenney made an appearance at the committee to thank the members for their study of how to eliminate the current backlog of applications in the immigration system and to outline his department’s focus for the upcoming fiscal year including the introduction of biometrics in processing all visa applications, the need to prevent inadmissible individuals from entering Canada, and most importantly, the need for Canada to find talented individuals who will be able to integrate into the labour market to offset the shortage created by our aging population.

On Thursday (March 15th), the committee heard testimony from health experts on the potential risks immigrants pose to public health in Canada and whether the medical screening currently required by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration are meeting the intended objectives. The committee then heard testimony from the World Sikh Organization of Canada on the problematic admission of war criminals into Canada due to international political and diplomatic pressures as well as the importance of avoiding racial and religious profiling in Canada’s new security measures. Lastly, the committee heard testimony from the Centre of Excellence in Security, Resilience, and Intelligence on the need to build a robust intelligence framework to support the use of biometrics and Canada’s current vulnerabilities in our weak domain/situational awareness.