Sunday, May 06, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 2, 2012

Monday, April 2 saw the second day of Peter Julian's extended budget speech. And perhaps the point most worth noting is how many Canadians outside of Parliament took the opportunity have their voices heard in the budget debate.

The Big Issue

So let's focus this review on some of the input Julian received from across the country about the Cons' budget, including this on the demolition of the National Council on Welfare:

Another, from Sault Ste. Marie, wrote, “Very sad, as a statement at home and in the world. They also shut down the National Council of Welfare because they do not want anyone reporting on how much poverty there really is. This is amazing, to think they will actually get away with this. First, the dissolution of Stats Canada, then an attack on organizations, both at home and internationally, that actually advocate on behalf of those at risk. Now substantial cuts to aid and the demise of the National Council on Welfare.”

Mr. Speaker, if you are wondering why we are spending hours criticizing the mean-spirited decisions by the government, I think that particular Facebook posting shows to what extent Canadians feel the same way. The decisions are ideologically based. They are not based on the character and values that Canadians share.
That commentary in turn led into Julian's own entirely justified criticism of the Cons' attacks on research organizations.

Another comment focused on the different standard being applied to the oil sector compared to most other parts of Canada's economy:
A person from Ontario says: “Why do believers in free market continue to feel that oil companies need subsidies from their own government? Somehow, I don't think that environmental assessments are going to stop the oil companies from taking their equipment and going home. Let them work on their own dimes and make sure that they are responsible to the environment and there are adequate environmental assessments”.
A couple of correspondents from the Cons' Alberta home base criticized the Harper government, one for its impending cuts to Old Age Security and the other for its poor economic management:
A constituent in Calgary said, “At its worst, this new policy really is a massive insult to seniors. A cynic might even say that the statisticians have crunched the numbers and realized that a few hundred, or even a thousand, people may die between 65 and 67 while waiting for their pension, and they like that idea. Then Canada would not have to pay them pensions at all. It's like saying 'cross my heart and hope you die'. Nobody knows how long they will live, but it is odd to have a government betting on you delaying reaping benefits for all those years of your earnings to the point that maybe you won't be able to reap any benefits at all”.

The actuarial tables show, tragically, the rate of passing on between the ages of 65 and 67 does go up. It is true that as a result of the government's decision for future seniors, seniors who have worked all their lives to retire at 65 will either live in poverty from ages 65 to 67 because they have no other source of funding and cannot get their pension, or they may pass on. That is just the sad reality.
A constituent in Lacombe, Alberta said, “The budget points to the Prime Minister's great fear of anything that looks like work. I can agree with the Prime Minister that Canada may be financially better off than Greece; however, I would temper that joy with the reminder of how far behind we are of countries like Finland, Norway and other involved Nordic countries. We have fallen far behind. Those who voted for the Prime Minister with expectations of the good fiscal management he suggested he possessed must be very disappointed when cutting spending rather than growing the Canadian economy is his answer for the Conservatives to continue to hold power”.
A paramedic expressed disbelief at the expectation that citizens engaged in difficult physical labour could be expected to keep working until age 67:
A paramedic in Ontario, wrote, “I am a paramedic. I serve the public. That's my life, for the good and the bad. I carry sick people down multiple flights of stairs. I get their respiratory illnesses. I put my life in harm's way for Canadians so they may live longer and with less pain and agony. Do you have any idea what I do in an average day of work? I've been in the business for 21 years now. At the present age of 45, I dream of retirement and hopefully may be able to do so with my health still intact. Prime Minister, you have just made that dream slip further into the future, raising the retirement age to 67. So at the ripe age of 66 and 11 months, I will carry many people younger than I down several flights of stairs. I will get ill from them, with less ability to recuperate at that age, and will still put myself in harm's way. Many other public-based occupations of the same nature and some with less adverse outcomes, the police and fire and even prison guards, are the workers who can retire, but I'll work 42 years in my occupation, thanks to you. Before this last budget it was only 40 years. How can I express my gratitude with you?”

He says that ironically. This paramedic knows now that as a result of the government's actions he will be forced to work two years longer. This is the point we have been making all along. The government is forcing those in manual occupations to work longer. Whether they are paramedics, carpenters or manual labourers, they have given for years and years and years. They have given all they can and they are looking to that date when they can finally put their body into retirement and heal from years of manual work.
A Conservative constituent in Nepean-Carlton expressed equal concern about the increased retirement age:
I would like to go to Nepean-Carleton since we are staying in the Ottawa region. A constituent in this Conservative-held riding say this: “OAS will leave me pretty much in the same boat. Not been working and contributing to CPP due to raising children and then due to a disability, I am a person that will need the OAS. My long-term disability through a private insurer will come to an end at age 65. I don't qualify for Ontario disability benefits. I just heard on CBC that I said to contact the nearest NDP MP. My MP is a Conservative. My question is about the delay of CPP. Currently I am receiving long-term disability benefits until I reach 65 but I didn't qualify for CPP disability. Now I won't be eligible for CPP until 67. How am I supposed to live two years with very little income? How many others will be in my situation? Thanks to the NDP for allowing me to reach out to someone other than my own MP”.
Another citizen noted that while the Cons point to increased retirement ages elsewhere, they conveniently omit the fact that Canada's retirement age is set to be pushed far higher than in comparable countries around the globe. Plenty wrote in with their own stories, experiences and discussions as to the impact of Katimavik (which the Cons of course plan to trash). And perhaps the most succinct question about the Cons' overall philosophy can be found here...
Another (person) writes, “Since when do we accommodate poverty as opposed to try to prevent it?”
So what was the point of Julian's extended address, featuring in particular plenty of concerns from constituents of Con MPs who may not see any hope that the government will listen to them? Well, here's his own explanation:
It is no secret that what we are trying to do is to make the case against this budget step by step, brick by brick, by raising constituents' concerns in ridings that are represented by Conservative MPs. I do not think anything could be clearer than to have all of these letters, tweets and Facebook comments flooding in, all of which address Conservative members of Parliament. In all cases, they are saying, “My Conservative MP is not representing me if he or she votes for this budget”. I think that is a very important thing to underscore, that what we are doing through the course of this debate is establishing the case that, effectively, Canadians living in Conservative ridings are making their voices known.

If I were a Conservative MP, with a bad budget like this that will guarantee fewer jobs, less growth, less prosperity, I would think twice and say, “Hold on. My constituents are reacting. They are reacting to all of the various components of this agenda. Maybe I have to think twice”. Perhaps we will see, over the course of the debate, Conservative MPs standing and saying, “I'm going to represent my constituents. I'm going to vote against this budget because this budget is not good for families in my riding and not good for the country”.

Maybe we will see that. As we read out these letters coming from across the country from Conservative-held ridings, maybe we will see Conservative MPs standing and saying, “We're going to vote for what's good for the country. We're voting against this budget. We're going to vote for a budget that actually creates jobs”.

One might say that is absurd and that a Conservative MP would never do that. However, when we think back, a few years ago no one would have said there would be 102 strong NDP MPs representing constituents right across this country from coast to coast to coast. It was not impossible because we believed that we could get things done and represent our constituents strongly.
In Brief

In the other main debate of the day, Elaine Michaud moved a motion on TCE groundwater contamination caused on the Valcartier military base and the municipality of Shannon. Chris Alexander agreed in principle as to the problem while claiming that talking about it made for sufficient action, while Francis Scarpaleggia tied the motion into wider water issues. And Alexandrine Latendresse discussed the history of TCE use - which should serve as a reminder as to why dumping chemicals into the environment without knowing about their potential effects is a dangerous path.

Meanwhile, Thomas Mulcair asked for a yes-or-no answer as to whether the Cons would use what they had said were sufficient tools to save jobs at Aveos; Peter Van Loan wasn't willing to admit that "no" is the Cons' response. Libby Davies criticized cuts to Health Canada, while Helene LeBlanc questioned why the National Research Canada was being turned into a Business Depot. Marc Garneau was incredulous at the Cons' attacks on Elections Canada. Megan Leslie asked the Cons to admit that they have no interest in a real hearing into the Gateway pipeline, while Romeo Saganash pointed out that the anticipated refusal to deal with concerns about development would only create years of litigation to come. Peggy Nash wondered why the Cons lost interest in a non-partisan Public Appointments Commission after having funded it for years, while Alexandre Boulerice noted that the move eases the way for yet more patronage from the Cons themselves. Glenn Thibeault and Pierre Dionne Labelle slammed an anticipated increase in pay phone rates at the behest of Bell. Carol Hughes followed up on Julian's budget speech by questioning why the Cons are determined to hide the findings of the National Council on Welfare showing that investment to reduce poverty would more than pay for itself.

Finally, in response to Peter Kent's claim that we don't need groups like the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy due to other groups providing similar services over the Internet, Kirsty Duncan helpfully queried whether Kent could name just one. Needless to say, Kent could not.

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