OTTAWA – This week was an eventful one in Ottawa, but not all of our business there had to do with the Senate.
While the Senate circus continues with new revelations each day there is actually work getting done behind the scenes. A good example was the passage of a New Democrat motion at the Finance Committee to study the problem of youth unemployment in Canada.
The problem of youth unemployment is neither new nor unique to Canada, but we may finally get some action in parliament now. The Finance Committee will hear from many witnesses – youth, business, bureaucrats, academics, and others who deal with the issue on a daily basis. The committee, staffed with MPs from all recognized parties, will pose questions, hear responses, and draft an official report on the problem. In the past, MPs and governments’ of the day have used such reports to draft motions and bills, so this is a really positive development if you think youth unemployment is a problem. The motion to study this problem was introduced by the NDP Finance Critic Peggy Nash.
Another issue reared its ugly head this week in Winnipeg when a transit operator was viciously assaulted by a passenger. Winnipeg police released video of the assault and within 24 hours it was watched more than 40,000 times, and I must say the assault was horrifying. Thankfully, a 23 year old man was arrested shortly after, but the video is a really good example of what transit operators fear and face every day they are on the job.
Being a transit operator is tough job with a lot of responsibility for passenger and public safety, yet our operators are almost always in an exposed and vulnerable position while on the job. I’m not going to offer a link to the video detailed above (it occurred on Oct. 29, 2013 in Winnipeg if you plan to look it up on the net), but the assault in question is another example of why I tabled Bill C-531 earlier in the year. C-531 would make the fact the victim is a transit operator an ‘aggravating factor’ during sentencing for those found guilty of assault, and with thousands of such assaults each year such penalties are long overdue.
Sadly, there was yet another affront to Canada’s veterans this week as well. As I began my work on the Veterans Affairs committee this week MPs and Canadians alike found out about yet another injured soldier who was discharged from their service just weeks before qualifying for their public service pension. Earlier this year Cpl. Glen Kirkland suffered physical and emotional wounds from a bomb that killed three comrades of his in Afghanistan. Mr. Kirkland told our parliamentary committee last spring that he was discharged because he didn’t meet DND’s “universality-of-service requirement.” A clearly embarrassed then-Defence Minister Peter Mackay apologized and said it would not happen again.
Well, that was then and this is now and sadly it has happened once again to another honourable soldier. This time, reservist Cpl. David Hawkins, also a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was discharged from the military despite pleas to remain another year until he was able to collect a fully indexed pension. There are many different jobs that soldiers can undertake off the battlefield, but options were apparently not presented to Cpl. Hawkins. This should never have happened to one soldier, let alone two, but I have heard reports that this may not be an uncommon practice in today’s DND under the Harper Government. This is nothing more than abuse of an employee by employer, but it is even more unacceptable when you pause and realize that the employee is a Canadian soldier and the employer is the Harper Government – our government.
So aside from the Senate scandal it was a busy week. We made a small step forward in addressing high youth unemployment, witnessed yet another horrific attack upon one of our transit operators, and learned of more abusive treatment of Canada’s veterans at the hands of their own government. I’m sure the Senate will dominate headlines again next week, but my own work will be focused on other, very, important matters as well.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River