Over the last five years as a Member of Parliament, the month of June has typically been hellish. Under the Conservatives, it was typical to try to force through as much as possible, while making the opposition as miserable as possible, by sitting every night until midnight.
This June was a decided improvement—only a few midnight sittings and only when the circumstances required them. The biggest stressor was the Medically-Assisted Dying Bill, C-14. I was on the side of those who believed we had an obligation to, at least, ensure the bill conformed to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Carter. I submitted more amendments at Committee than other parties, more amendments at Report Stage as well. We gave it what used to be called ‘the old college try’. The Senate helped by making many of the amendments that would have been achieved by my proposals, removing the ‘reasonably foreseeable’ language that limited access to medically-assisted death to terminal cases. But the Government rejected the Senate’s changes. As a non-elected body, the Senate did the right thing by accepting the Government’s bill and ending the ping-pong with C-14 between chambers. Still, it was a very seriously lost opportunity.
I was pleased to successfully push the government to reengage with the United Nations Treaty on Drought and Desertification in time for the June 17 Global Day to Combat Desertification. Canada will be back in the treaty by early 2017. When the Government sent the news to the UN Secretariat for the Treaty on Drought and Desertification, a friendly email reply said simply ‘Welcome back!’ We are (too slowly) pairing the damage done by the previous government.
Electoral Reform Committee
Our other big agenda item in June was finalizing the committee on electoral reform. To recap, the original committee proposal tabled on May 11 was for a ten member committee (six Liberals, three Conservatives, and one NDP) with one Bloc MP and me as non-voting members. It took until June 2 for the government to recognize that the proposal was unworkable. It was slammed as stacking the deck toward whatever the Liberal majority wanted. Thanks to an alternate proposal from Nathan Cullen (NDP MP Skeena-Bulkley Valley), Minister Monsef accepted a radical change.
It is virtually unprecedented for a majority government to strike a committee within which its members are in the minority. But that is what the government agreed to: a 12 member committee with five Liberals, three Conservatives, two NDP, and one Bloc and one Green. The committee motion wasn’t voted on until June 7 and we did not have our first organizational meeting to elect the chair of the committee until June 28. With the election of Liberal Francis Scarpallegia as chair, the Liberals are down to four out of eleven voting members.
We are scheduling meetings through the summer. I hope to get the committee to hold a session on Vancouver Island as well as the Lower Mainland. (Watch for details, most likely in September). In addition, I will be holding a Saanich-Gulf Islands townhall dedicated to electoral reform as part of the parliamentary outreach process.
Obama Addresses Parliament
We also held a committee meeting on the morning of June 29, but that day was a red letter day for another reason. It was the day of President Barack Obama’s historic address to Parliament. It was only the seventh time that a US president has addressed Parliament, the last occasion was President Bill Clinton’s speech in 1995.
Thanks to a generous and inclusive attitude, Prime Minister Trudeau included all Opposition Leaders in the receiving line to welcome the President to the ‘peoples’ house’. It was a huge honour to have a few words with President Obama and our Prime Minister about climate change and the need for greater action from both our nations. The two had just wrapped up the North American gathering of Canada, US, and Mexico dubbed the ‘Three Amigos Summit’. I find the name preposterous. With any luck next year, at least it will be the two amigos and one amiga!
In any case, this year’s summit included a strong focus on environment and energy. The commitments in the final communique should help in pushing the Trudeau administration to dump the old Harper climate target and move to one dead-lined in 2025 instead of 2030. All the targets in the Canada-US-Mexico agreement are for action by 2025. They pledged, by 2025, to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45%, to move to 50% clean electricity, to make progress in supporting greater integration of smart renewable electricity grids, to give greater support for clean energy vehicles, and to work on a complete understanding of the social costs of the climate crisis.
The three nations also committed to an updated and more aggressive 2016 amendment to the successful Montreal Protocol. While the Montreal Protocol, which I worked on in Environment Canada in 1987, was aimed at protecting the ozone layer, a number of ozone depleting substances are also powerful greenhouse gases. And one additional new commitment: that all three nations will ratify the Paris Accord this year and work to comes into force this year.