OTTAWA – With the presentation of the federal budget and a motion of non-confidence tabled in the House, this was easily the most eventful week in Ottawa and in all likelihood the last week of the 40th Parliament.
Let’s start with the presentation of what was a disappointing federal budget for families, seniors, and Northwestern Ontario. Throughout the process of crafting the budget, New Democrat and Conservative officials were in frequent contact to discuss our expectations for its contents. Because we are in a minority parliament and the effects of the recession are still largely present, New Democrats chose to offer modest, affordable, and effective ideas that reflect our key values and which we would believe would be met with the approval of a majority of Canadians.
In December 2010, at our first consultation with the Finance Minister, the New Democrat Finance Critic Thomas Mulcair presented a list of specific requests for the budget that included: training and incentives to create more positions for doctors and nurses to service the 5 million Canadians without a family doctor, removal of the federal portion of the HST from home heating charges, ensuring that no senior in Canada lives in poverty by adding just $700 million to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) fund and increasing the payments, and reforming the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) to increase the contributions and benefits in line with the rising cost of living. After reading the budget carefully all day Tuesday in the budget lockup, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton saw that the federal budget offered none of these specific items, so – with the full support of his caucus including myself – he stated the obvious; the New Democratic Caucus could not support the budget in its current form.
This announcement, that New Democrats could not support the budget as drafted and presented to parliament, could not in itself cause an election. The government, and the opposition parties, can make amendments to the budget to insert or delete items. This is quite appropriate since the budget is in fact a bill, and it has been done in the past with budgets in particular. With Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government, New Democrats negotiated several amendments including money for public transit, and post-secondary education among other items. Mr. Harper and his Finance Minister Mr. Flaherty always had the option of accepting or proposing such amendments in this budget, but for some reason slammed the door shut on cooperation with other parties in Ottawa once again. They still think after 5 years in a minority parliament that they should have the power of a majority government while only speaking for 35% of Canadians.
It is the growing arrogance of the Harper Conservative Government that brings us to our next point – the tabling of a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons.
The non-confidence motion as tabled by the Liberal caucus read as follows: “That the House agrees with the finding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the Government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the Government.” I believe that this motion reflects the opinion of a majority of Members in the House of Commons and that it will pass when it comes up for a vote on Friday, March 24th.
Why has this motion been tabled? To know for sure you would have to ask the Liberals who tabled it, but I can say why I have lost confidence in this government.
For starters, they are the first government in the history of Westminster parliaments around the world to be found in contempt of parliament. The Conservatives were found to be in contempt by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee because they refused to hand over documents about much the F-35 jets will cost taxpayers (it’s $30 billion according to the non-partisan Parliamentary Budget Officer or PBO), they would not tell parliament how much their new mega-prisons and justice bills will cost taxpayers (another $9 billion according the PBO), and how much their corporate tax cuts are expected to cost taxpayers moving forward (we still don’t know for sure). How can parliament do its job and hold this government accountable when that government is withholding basic information that enables it to be accountable and which every Canadian has a right to know?
In short, I fully expect that a majority of the House of Commons will agree Friday that they are the most secretive, deceptive, and dishonest government in Canadian history and they no longer have the confidence of the Canadian people to govern for reasons that only grow by the day. I will be one of those Members because I think Canadians deserve a government that respects our democratic ideals.