THUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – As this is my first column of 2013 I would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy new year. Last year was a very eventful year in Canadian politics, so here’s a bit of recap before we take a look at the coming year in next week’s edition.
At the start of 2012 the New Democratic Party found itself in the middle of a leadership campaign following the death of former Leader Jack Layton. All told, nine candidates vied for the leadership of the Official Opposition in a thoroughly fair, respectful, and enlightening campaign. After many debates, meetings, and more than 65,000 votes cast Thomas Mulcair was elected as the seventh Leader of Canada’s New Democrats. I think we made an excellent choice and Tom has done some outstanding work holding the Harper Government to account while preparing our caucus to govern in 2015 should you give us with that responsibility.
[sws_pullquote_left] It’s sad really that so much historical progress is being treated as nothing more than a nuisance to them in their first, and hopefully only, majority government. [/sws_pullquote_left] Unfortunately, Tom did not have much time to settle into the job as the Harper Conservatives continued their radical re-organization of Canadian society behind the guise of more ‘Omnibus’ legislation. Striking down or altering dozens of laws that took decades to enact seems to be the sole agenda of this Conservative government. It’s sad really that so much historical progress is being treated as nothing more than a nuisance to them in their first, and hopefully only, majority government.
Under Tom’s leadership New Democrats lined up to oppose the 445-page Bill C-45, which negated or altered more than 60 separate pieces of existing legislation. Despite coming off a long leadership campaign Tom’s team kept their energy up and proposed some straightforward ideas as to how parliament could pass the less contentious portions of C-45 while leaving time to debate the more controversial sections; such as Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and the removal of federal environmental protections for more than 2.5 million streams, lakes, and rivers that had been protected for more than 100 years under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Our proposals were well thought and very reasonable which is of course precisely why there were rejected by the Harper Conservatives who are doing their best to undermine 100 years of responsible government as quickly as possible.
Another defining issue of 2012
Another defining issue of 2012 is the continuing fiscal uncertainty that plagues governments of all levels in Canada and abroad. With two sets of risks, those coming from abroad and those ‘Made in Canada,’ it was no doubt a difficult year for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who ran his fifth consecutive budget deficit which came in at $26.2 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year, or a cool $75 million per day. Risks from abroad included depression and recession in many EU countries and the ‘fiscal cliff’ issue in the United States. Domestically, the average debt of Canadian families came in at an all-time high of more than 165% of yearly income and the housing market began to unwind a bit as prices stagnated or declined in most major markets during the last quarter of the year. As a result, Canada’s economy stagnated in the final six months of the year.
As 2012 came to a close unrest began to grow in many quarters of Canadian society and among First Nations the ‘Idle No More’ movement took hold. The tipping point for many First Nation leaders and Chiefs came with the introduction of the omnibus Bill C-45 which, as mentioned earlier, eliminated federal environmental protections on literally millions of waterways including many traditional fishing grounds and bodies that run through or are located near reserve lands throughout Canada. Faced with a clear and present threat to their traditional way of life and virtual negation of their Constitutional and treaty rights, Canada’s First People rose up in protest throughout Canada. As 2012 came to a close, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began and continued a hunger strike on a small island in the Ottawa River behind parliament to draw more attention to the issues facing her people.
These are just some of the more memorable developments in federal politics in 2012. Each was quite significant and I expect they will continue to have a dramatic impact on our lives in 2013 as well. Time will tell for sure, but next week we’ll look at some of the opportunities and challenges we face as a nation in the coming year. Until then, have a great week.
John Rafferty MP