With the spring session now behind us it’s as good a time as any to take a look back at some of the high and lows of the last several months in Ottawa.
One of the low points, not just for this session of parliament but for democracy in Canada, was the short sighted and partisan tactic of ‘prorogation’ that was used so inappropriately by the Prime Minister in December. Mr. Harper is without question a fine partisan tactician, but he crossed the line when closed down parliament for three months to avoid answering some tough questions about the HST, the Afghan detainee issue, and the economy in the House of Commons.
His extended winter vacation allowed the Prime Minister to duck the responsibilities of his job, while kicking back and watch the Olympics as most Canadians were working or busy trying to find work. How can Mr. Harper claim he is a fiscally conservative tax-cutter while paying Ontario $4.3 billion of our tax dollars to implement the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)? Why won’t his government release documents detailing what his Defence Ministers’ knew about the possible torture of our prisoners of war? These are questions that New Democrats are still seeking answers to.
Following the end of the prorogation period MPs headed back to Ottawa to deal with the important matters of the day. Despite his best efforts to hide documents regarding the Afghan detainee issue and duck accountability, the Prime Minister eventually lost a ruling in the House of Commons as the Speaker upheld centuries of parliamentary tradition by ruling that MPs, as the direct representatives of the people, are supreme in our democratic political system. For me, this was a high point as the ruling reaffirmed that our democratic system is different from a dictatorship or an old-style monarchy because the power in our system rests with the people and all of their elected representatives, and not with a single individual.
Another huge low for the people of Northern Ontario came in the March federal budget. The $65 billion deficit was certainly bad news in the broader sense and further proof that the Conservatives are simply incapable of managing our finances, but something worse lurked in the details of that bill for our region.
Nearly every regional development agency in Canada received additional funding in the 2010-2011 budget –the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CEDQ), the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev), the Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP), and the Western Economic Diversification Canada (WED) – with the lone exception being the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor). This deliberate snub by the Conservatives is something we should all be angry about in our region, and I hope the Conservatives are forced to pay for their actions in the next election.
By far highest point of the session from my perspective came with the introduction, debate, and passage of my Private Members’ Bill C-501 (An Act to Amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and Other Acts) at second reading. I tabled this bill after listening to the concerns of AbitibiBowater workers at one of our forestry townhalls last year and it could, if passed, secure the pensions of more than 5 million Canadians should their companies enter bankruptcy or restructuring. Bill C-501 is presently in the hands of the Industry Committee so that witnesses can be heard from on the matter, and should return to the House for a final vote sometime before the end of the year.
A final kick in the pants near the end of the session came when the Conservative government confirmed that it was spending $1.1 billion of our hard earned tax dollars on a pair of three day meetings. The price tag of hosting the G8 and G20 summits this week is going to be at least 60 percent more than any other post-9/11 meetings of the same kind. Only in the Conservative world of Stephen Harper is it acceptable to spend $15 million an hour for three days of meetings where the focus will be helping governments trim their budget deficits.
From the lows of prorogation, the budget that forgot Northern Ontario and the billion dollar G8-G20 boondoggle, to the highs of having the power of the people reaffirmed and the passage of my bill at second reading it has certainly has been one parliamentary session to remember. Needless to say I am happy to be home and look forward to catching up with friends and families throughout our riding over the summer.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River