Monday, April 23, 2012

Parliament in Review: March 26, 2012

Having taken a bit of a hiatus during and after the NDP's leadership campaign, I'll resume looking back at what's happened in the House of Commons starting with the election of Thomas Mulcair. (I'll plan to return to the previous sitting later on.)

Monday, March 26 saw Mulcair's introduction as the new Leader of the Official Opposition. But there was plenty worth pointing out beyond the first few questions from Mulcair and associated headlines...

The Big Issue

The main topic of debate was the Cons' anti-refugee legislation - with the opposition parties particularly taking aim at the concept of mandatory detention for anybody arriving in Canada by a means designated as suspicious by the Minister of Immigration. Don Davies pointed out that similar forms of detention without review have already been found to be unconstitutional, then questioned why the Cons seem determined to break up refugee families; Olivia Chow noted that the Cons' focus on punishing refugees will not only divert resources from dealing with actual human smugglers, but actually remove the witnesses needed to testify against them; Rosane Dore Lefebvre pointed out the conditions in existing detention centres; and Elizabeth May commented on the cost of detention. Meanwhile, Harold Albrecht's response was...to deny that detention under the bill had anything to do with "prisons", while at the same time claiming we should operate under the assumption that refugees are criminals or terrorists until proven otherwise.

The opposition parties also slammed the Cons for backing away from agreements reached between all parties in the previous Parliament to make the bill as harsh as possible for refugees. Djoauida Sellah contrasted the claims of working "in good faith" before against the apparent bad faith from the Cons now; Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Kevin Lamoureux wondered what the Cons have against consensus-building; and Eve Peclet criticized the Cons' galling demand for all-party support after they've cut all other parties out of any input into the legislation. Andrew Cash questioned whether the Cons' slashing of Canada's social safety net is intended to make our country less inviting to immigrants. Jean-Francoin Fortin first theorized that there's a certain logic to the Cons' policy - but only based on an underlying philosophy of fomenting fear and mistrust. Fortin also highlighted the fact that the Cons want to divide refugees into "good" and "bad" classifications while ignoring the reality that international law doesn't allow for any such division, a point which was then echoed by Anne-Marie Day. Lamoureux questioned the politicization of a "safe country" list which would deprive claimants of a right of appeal in proving their refugee status. Jamie Nicholls lamented the possibility that the bill would prove just one more chapter in a sad history of discriminatory immigration policies, with Tarik Brahmi following up on the plight of Roma minorities in countries the Cons want to label as unfailingly "safe". And Davies corrected the Cons' spin on the contents of their own bill.

In Brief

The other main business discussed was Sean Casey's motion on Old Age Security. Irene Mathyssen noted that an increase in the federal retirement age would actually create a gap between provincial programs which end at age 67 and the federal retirement income which allows less wealthy seniors to survive, while highlighting the fact that poorer seniors will bear the brunt of an increased retirement age. And the Cons signalled that they were willing to go along with the motion - just as long as it was amended to suggest that taking income away from the seniors who need it somehow represented an improvement to the sustainability of income security.

Meanwhile, Robert Aubin wondered whatever became of the committee to study workplace language rights which the Cons promised the previous fall. The Cons unveiled a lengthy set of replies to members' questions - including such gems as answers 448 and 449, where they tried to claim credit for each and every child-care space created by any province since they came to power as the result of their own lack of funding and support. And in the first set of members' statements following the NDP's leadership campaign, Niki Ashton, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash, Nathan Cullen and Olivia Chow all spoke about the future of the NDP under Mulcair's leadership.

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