Roundup: Prison closures looming

The government has announced that they are closing down the Kingston and Leclerc penitentiaries, as well as the Ontario Regional Treatment Centre, a mental health facility for inmates within the Kingston facility. But don’t worry, Vic Toews says – they have plenty of capacity in other facilities (which is not exactly true, seeing as there are different kinds of capacity in different facilities, and we have seen a rise in double-bunking), and we haven’t seen the great spike in prisoner population that everyone was afraid of. Err, except they’ve only just passed the omnibus crime bill, and it’ll be a couple of years before that boom will likely happen (and to be fair, the lion’s share of that burden will be borne by provincial institutions, with all of those two-years-less-a-day mandatory minimum sentences). The closure of the ORTC is probably most concerning because as it stands, there is already a gross lack of capacity for mental health services in prisons – and yet psychologists and mental health nurses have been given layoff notices. It’s also concerning that Toews feels that the provinces should be re-institutionalising more mental health patients rather than locking them up in prisons, but provincial health authorities have moved to release more people with mental health concerns into the communities, where they then wind up in prisons. Toews can’t simply wish this vicious cycle away. Suffice to say, Kingston was an ancient facility that was due to close years and years ago, but the fact that there seems to be little in the way of plans to keep up with appropriate capacity, and the fact that the government still hasn’t provided with costing or even detailed plans of their prisons agenda makes this a concerning enough issue.

Given the amount of research capacity that is being cut at Environment Canada, here is a look at how their mandate is going to start changing over the next few years. One of those changes includes the closure of the BC oil spill office, which Peter Kent dismisses as only providing information on sensitive areas and not actually cleaning up oil spills. Seriously. Meanwhile, cabinet is giving itself the veto power over pipeline projects, despite what the National Energy Board may rule on any project, which pretty much makes any pretence of rigour meaningless at this point. But it’s all for the economy, which is still fragile, everyone!

In case you missed it, here is the recap of yesterday’s Public Accounts meeting on how they’re going to handle looking into the Auditor General’s findings on the F-35s. The takeaway – that the Conservatives, by their actions and votes, look like they’re going to use their majority to hold a bare minimum of meetings (say, one hour for the AG, one hour for the PBO, and two blocks of a half-dozen deputy ministers who will each pass the blame around), and the report will come down saying “see, not our fault, blame the bureaucrats. Or maybe I’m being cynical. Meanwhile, The West Block helpfully compiles the F-35 paper trail.

Meanwhile, Peter MacKay has another defence procurement headache at his feet, this time over armoured infantry vehicles, where the process was halted by fairness monitors and now needs to be restarted. How long will MacKay’s Teflon coating resist these mounting, embarrassing, screw-ups on his watch? Or, more importantly, when will the government actually undertake to radically reform defence procurement in this country so that it’s actually a coherent process under a single accountable authority?

And here is Thomas Mulcair’s new shadow cabinet – three deputy leaders and critic roles for almost everybody! Some of the choices are pretty peculiar (Charmaine Borg for digital issues, when she allegedly didn’t even have a cell phone until she was elected? Joe Comartin to democratic reform? Linda Duncan to Public Works? Jinny Sims to immigration?), and I’m especially curious why this was a press release after 5.30 last night. But I’m suddenly picturing a return to scattershot Question Periods where they try to give questions to everyone, and diffuse any momentum that was possible.