OTTAWA – Leaders Ledger – As of Thursday June 14th the House of Commons is adjourned until September 17th, but before coming home to attend local events and meet with constituents I’d like to recap what proved to be a most eventful spring session of parliament.
The year began with some sanctions still in place upon my neighbour Bruce Hyer and I by then Interim New Democrat Leader Nycole Turmel. The sanctions were imposed because Bruce and I decided to vote against the party ‘whip’ on Bill C-19, the act to abolish the Long Gun Registry. Nycole’s job, temporarily filling the shoes of the late Jack Layton, was a challenging one for a rookie Member of Parliament, but my opposition to the Long Gun Registry was non-negotiable. I came to that position after long and through consultation with constituents including numerous meetings over several years, and a survey to each household that indicated 96 percent support for the abolition of the Long Gun Registry. In the end, C-19 passed and the sanctions stayed imposed until a full-time New Democrat Leader was elected in March.
On March 24, 2012 the membership of the New Democratic Party of Canada elected a new Leader of the Official Opposition; Tom Muclair. I was very happy to support Tom’s candidacy and elated when he won. He is a tough-as-nails parliamentarian who has a huge profile in Quebec where he was a respected Cabinet Minister in Jean Charest’s Liberal government before moving to federal politics in 2007. Tom is someone who has devoted his life to public service and bringing people together, and I am very optimistic and hopeful that he will become Canada’s first New Democrat Prime Minister in 2015.
After taking over the reins of the Official Opposition Tom removed my sanctions and named me as our party’s Critic for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor). This appointment was both an honour and significant responsibility. Already, members of my staff have begun looking into the cuts that have been imposed upon FedNor by the Harper Conservatives and are trying to find out what effect they will have upon our local and regional economy, and small businesses operating in the struggling tourism and forestry sectors in particular.
The spring also saw the release of a scathing Auditor General’s report which found that the Harper Conservative government had failed to properly cost out their increasingly disastrous F-35 purchase, hid vital information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), and misled parliament. Back in the 2011 federal election the Conservatives said they would spend $9 billion on 65 new F-35 fighters, but that number ballooned to $15 billion soon after they were elected. The PBO then researched the purchase and found it would be closer to $25 billion once all costs were tallied, but had to use Defense Department information from the United States since the Harper Government refused to provide with him with any. In the end, the Auditor General concluded that the PBO figure of $25 billion was accurate and that parliament and the Canadian people were once again misled by the Harper Conservatives.
Finally, the weeks leading up to the summer recess saw the Harper Conservatives ram through parliament their 425-page omnibus “budget” bill for 2012-13. This single “budget” bill changed more than 70 laws in Canada pertaining to everything from Employment Insurance, the environment, and the fisheries, while reducing the budget of the Auditor General, and eliminating the position of the Inspector General of CSIS which has kept tabs on our spy agency since 1984. The Conservatives moved to limit debate so that the Opposition could not research the measures and inform you about just what they were up to. In the end though we still managed to table 159 amendments that were voted on for more than 24 straight hours, which should give you some kind of idea as to the size, scope and importance of this single “budget” bill.
And so ended another spring session of parliament. If you see me out and about in our riding this summer, which is a good possibility, then please be sure to say hi and let me know what is on your mind. In the meantime, you can still read my columns and mailings as they appear over the summer, or visit one of my three constituency offices as they will remain open full-time to serve you. Have a good one!