THUNDER BAY – Political News – The holidays and the end of another year are finally upon us so this will be the final column of 2013, and the second part of the ‘year in review.’
As summer came upon us in 2013 so did an incredible human tragedy. Early in the morning of July 6th a runaway train carrying 72 cars full of heavy crude oil derailed and crashed into Lac Megantic, a town of 5,900 people in Eastern Quebec, killing 47 people. The scale of the disaster was incredible as the entire downtown core was essentially destroyed.
The cause of the disaster will be determined by the ongoing Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation but we do know that the rail operator, Montreal Main and Atlantic (MMA), was uniquely licensed to have one engineer maintaining the train (instead of the usual two) and that there are some early indications that the crude oil it was transporting was possibly miscategorized and more volatile than indicated on the required paperwork. In the wake of the disaster Canada’s NDP reaffirmed our long standing commitment for stricter regulations for our railways and the transportation of hazardous materials, but more recommendations may come when the TSB investigation concludes.
In August Canada’s Auditor General Michael Ferguson agreed to look at the travel and expenses of all Senators, more than 100, who sit in our Upper Chamber. Mr. Ferguson wants an in-depth look at their spending on housing, travel, and office expenses. You will no doubt recall that the current Senate Scandal came to be after a routine and superficial audit of just 7 random Senators – including Senators Duffy, Brazeau, and Wallin. With more than 90 additional audits coming over the next two years I think we can expect many more fraudulent expense claims or worse to surface.
Because of the Senate Scandal plaguing his government Prime Minister Harper decided to prorogue parliament beginning in June. It’s become commonplace now really – his government gets into trouble and Mr. Harper runs away. In the past, he prorogued when he faced a non-confidence motion in 2008 for declaring that Canada would “never” enter a recession under his watch even as economic data showed that we were already in one, and again when his government faced accusations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan but decided to hide this fact from the Canadian public and prevent parliament from looking into the issue as it had done in the past. This time, the prorogation period turned the usual 10-week summer parliamentary break into a 17-week lay-off without Question Period. As a result, Parliament would sit just 7 weeks between mid-June and January 2014, and the Prime Minister showed up to answer questions just 16 times in the last half of the year.
Over the summer Tom Mulcair proclaimed that “Mr. Harper can run, but he can’t hide from accountability,” and in October he was proven to be bang on. Just a week after parliament finally resumed the RCMP released court documents that provided a great amount of detail about their investigation into the Senate Scandal. For example, in June the Prime Minister claimed that his Chief of Staff acted alone in offering Senator Mike Duffy a $90,000 bribe to remain silent on his expense problems. In the October court documents we learned that at least 12 current and former staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, including the Prime Minister’s own personal legal counsel, knew of the 5-point legal arrangement between Wright and Duffy. This is one of many contradictions between the Prime Minister’s story in Question Period and reality, and I would expect more to come in 2014.
Toward the end of the year several stories emerged that will impact my work moving forward. The Auditor General released another report that showed our food safety and recall system and rail safety measures are failing Canadians, and that the $35 billion shipbuilding contract that the Harper government signed last year is already over budget before a set of blueprints could be produced. And finally, in December we learned that home delivery is being phased out at Canada Post after 145 years of good service, and despite the fact the corporation has turned a profit for 11 of the past 12 years.
So as 2013 draws to a close I want to wish you, your family, and friends a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and happy holiday season. For my part, I will do everything in my power to keep the government transparent and honest and to make 2014 a better year for you and yours.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River