Senate QP: Floods and veterans affairs

It was a rare evening sitting of the Chamber, after a day of committee hearings and a muggy day in Ottawa. The evening began with Senator Jaffer giving props to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi over his response to the city’s flooding, before moving onto other statements and Routine Proceedings.

Question Period got underway with Senator Tardif bringing up the floods in Southern Alberta, and the lack of insurance coverage for overland flooding, and then asked for the status of the government’s level of assistance. Senator LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate and answerer of questions, first brought up thoughts and prayers, the response by the Prime Minister, and then got the the disaster assistance arrangements that the federal government makes with the provinces and territories. Senator Tardif then brought up how Minister of State Ted Menzies said on the radio that the floods were unprecedented, and that there could be no doubt that climate change was a real issue, then how could the government be cutting climate research. LeBreton recounted how a scientist on TV explained how this was an unprecedented series of events that caused these floods, and that there may be a debate within the future, but not today. Senator Mitchell took a supplemental, and followed up on the disaster relief policies and whether there could be people left behind by the programmes. LeBreton said that it was still premature to start talking dollar figures until the final tally is assessed. When Mitchell noted that Premier Redford said that the money would flow within ten days, and wondered if the federal government money would similarly flow at that time. LeBreton returned to the cost-sharing policy and how the expenditures are audited before payment, but assured him that there was no cap on those payments. Mitchell then returned to the issue of climate science, and how budget demands might be better discussed now rather than in the future. LeBreton reiterated that now was not the time for a debate on climate science.

Senator Dallaire was up next, and brought up the “transformation” at Veterans Affairs, and how “doing more with less” meant cuts at a time when more complex files were being seen. Senator LeBreton assured him that there were 700 employees due for retirement, and that changing work patterns and new technology would mean that most of those positions wouldn’t need to be replaced. Dallaire brought up the fact that veterans are being told to look for assistance online when most of then with psychological injuries needed face-to-face meetings with knowledgable case-workers. LeBreton said that they have added 24 integrated support offices rather than cutting offices. Dallaire insisted that they were cutting back the personnel in those centres and have been turning over the paperwork to National Defence personnel who may not have the technical expertise to handle those forms. LeBreton insisted that the issue was that they were doing everything possible to help those veterans. After a couple more back-and-forth exchanges, Dallaire asserted that LeBreton’s information was erroneous, which is why he wanted clarification from the minister. LeBreton continued with her obfuscatory talking points.

Senator Callbeck rose next to also talk about the cuts at Veterans Affairs, and the devastating effect that it would have on her province. LeBreton insisted that they have committed to a 1000-strong workforce at the office in PEI, so there would be openings when retirements happen. Callbeck wasn’t satisfied, and quoted a report on the economic impact on the province. LeBreton continued to insist that the 1000-strong commitment was a strong one. Senator Downe rose on a supplemental, quoted the total number of employees at that office and that a 1000-strong commitment was actually a reduction in numbers. LeBreton insisted that the commitment was for over 1000-strong, but argued that reductions could be made without harming the economy of the region.

And that was it. Thirty minutes flies by when you’ve actually got debate that is substantive and spontaneous. Imagine that.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Nicole Eaton for a short-sleeved black dress with a structured skirt, and to Senator Dennis Dawson for a white jacket with subtle black stripes, along with a blue shirt, coral trousers and a red bow tie (and yes, where this look would fail on most people he can pull it off with aplomb). Style citations go out to Senator Larry Smith for a Century-21-esque gold jacket with a light blue shirt and black tie and trousers, and to Senator Salma Ataullahjan for a loud pink and red floral jacket with a mauve dress.