THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – Before delving into the column this week I would like to wish everyone a very happy Canada Day! The early holiday this summer will surely be a time to relax, enjoy all that our region has to offer, and maybe even have a beverage or two. I hope you and your family and friends are able to be together to enjoy our national holiday, but that we are also able to do so safely and responsibly.
Last week’s column focused on recapping my work in parliament and the motions and bills that I tabled during the spring sitting of parliament. As we enter the second week of the summer it is worth recapping what events transpired on the government side of the House of Commons as well. Three events really dominated the spring session of parliament; the tabling of the latest Auditor General’s report, the tabling and passage of another federal budget, and the ongoing and intensifying Senate scandal.
The Auditor General’s report that was tabled in parliament this spring found that the Harper Government had somehow lost track of $3.1 billion of taxpayers (ie: your) money. In presenting his report, Auditor General Michael Ferguson stated; “Overall, we found many areas where the government should improve on the results that it achieves with taxpayers’ dollars.” This is true – from the F-35’s to the new mega prisons – but especially so on the Public Safety and Anti-Terrorism (PSAT) initiative where a full $12.9 billion was approved to be spent over the last decade. Unfortunately, Mr. Ferguson and his staff of accountants could only find receipts for $9.8 billion of that money. The Auditor General was faced with one simple conclusion; the Harper Government doesn’t know when, where, or on what this $3.1 billion was spent. The discovery of the missing $3.1 billion was a real shocker to be sure and was three times more costly than the so called “Billion Dollar Boondoggle” that occurred at HRSDC under the not-so-careful watch of the Chretien Liberals.
Next up was the 2013-14 federal budget that was tabled in March and passed in June. It was another 400-plus monster bill that changed dozens of laws but did very little to help out Canadian families. Despite the well documented needs of our municipalities, including our small and rural ones, infrastructure funding took a severe hit in this year’s budget with a $5.8 billion reduction in federal contributions over the next ten years. Perhaps more shocking was the decision of the “low-tax” Harper Conservatives to include more than $8 BILLION (with a big ‘B’) in new tax and tariff increases on everything – from bicycles to iPods to coffee and the sugar that we put in it. New Democrats were happy to vote against this Conservative budget since it did nothing to reposition our economy for sustainable growth and delivered yet another costly hit our family pocketbooks (remember the HST?).
Finally, the Senate. I could leave it at that, but it really is too big an issue to not comment on. Our unelected and unaccountable Senate, now packed with 58 appointees from Stephen Harper alone, is broken and cannot be fixed. Whether Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, or any other Senator ripped off taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars is a very important question – and one that I am sure the RCMP will vigorously investigate over the coming months – but the bigger question people are starting to ask is; ‘do we even need an unelected body overseeing the democratically elected House anyway?’ So, while the police are doing their good work to recover our tax dollars and hold those Conservative and Liberal Senators to account under the laws of this country, New Democrats will fight to abolish this relic of the past. We believe, and have for more than 50 years, that an unelected body with the ability to veto legislation passed by democratically elected represents is illegitimate. Period. We would much rather use that $100 million the Senate costs us each year to deliver better and more programs, services, or tax cuts instead of undermining the will of the elected representatives of the people.
So that was the spring sitting that was in our parliament. It was certainly one of the busiest seasons that I can remember and one that I am sure the Harper Government wants to put behind them as quickly as possible.