Business groups are referring to the somewhat ham-handed way that Jason Kenney is responding to the outcry over temporary foreign workers as a political solution that will hurt the economy. And it is a political problem that is divorced from the actual problems that exist within the labour market. Tim Harper lays out the way in which the government is once again engaging in poor policy around this issue because of the way in which it has played out to its anxious base.
The Auditor General released a report yesterday, and it was a bit of a doozy, at least with regards to the revelation that some $3.1 billion in anti-terror funding is not properly accounted for. Not that it’s actually been misspent, but the recordkeeping is a bit sloppy, and some of it was victim to a “whole of government approach,” according to Tony Clement. Among other issues the AG cited – that our search and rescue infrastructure is headed for total systems failure, that they need to crack down on EI overpayments, problems with expense claims by the Old Port of Montreal, and that there are problems with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as it is beset by conflict with other federal departments over documents. John Ivison says the report is like ‘manna’ for the NDP, and I can hardly wait for the number of times that Thomas Mulcair gets to say “failure of good public administration” over the next several days.
At long last, the budget implementation bill was tabled yesterday, and at around 125 pages, it’s far less of the omnibus bills that the government was so fond of last year. Not that it’s too unexpected, given that the budget itself was a pretty thin document, and so Flaherty’s joke is that this one is a “minibus.” It does have a number of measures including the tariff changes, the attempt to revive the National Securities Regulator, integrating CIDA into Foreign Affairs, and taking things like Winterlude and Canada Day back from the National Capital Commission.
Monday in the House, and most of the leaders were absent. Thomas Mulcair was present, and read off a pair of questions about the temporary foreign workers programme changes. Jason Kenney, the designated back-up PM du jour, stood up to insist him that Mulcair was wrong, and that these workers would be paid at the prevailing rate range, and only if Canadians were being paid at that same rate, and added that they need to ensure that the unemployed accept jobs in their regions. Mulcair transitioned the the lockout at US Steel, to which Kenney insisted that the question was pure demagoguery, and this was about a labour dispute. Chris Charlton stood up to ask the very same temporary foreign workers programme questions, to which Kenney gave her the same response, and brought up the many times that the NDP were begging him to allow more of said workers in their ridings. Marc Garneau led off for the Liberals, asking about the “payroll tax” of EI premiums. Kenney stood up to insist that the Liberals wanted more benefits without the increase in premiums, and that they wanted to repeal the GST cuts. For his last question, Garneau revisited last week’s theme of youth unemployment, to which Kenney insisted that no government has done more than theirs to help youth employment.
Vic Toews is all over the news right now, and quite possibly all over Question Period later today. Yesterday morning Toews was on The West Block and basically said that the RCMP “communications protocol” was put into place so that he doesn’t get ambushed by opposition questions in the House after the parliamentarians who had those meetings bring up things they discussed. Aww, muffin! Access to information documents also show that Toews tried to limit the RCMP’s apology to the families of victims of serial killer Robert Pickton. The RCMP ended up rejecting said revisions, saying they came in too late, but it appears to be a case of overreach, and likely an attempt to forestall any attempts of legal action that an admission that the RCMP could have done more to stop Pickton is likely to generate.
After allegations were made that the Supreme Court of Canada somehow intervened during the patriation of the Constitution, the Court’s investigation has turned up no documents to suggest that this is the case. Not that there was anything that they could really be expected to find – phone records from 1982? And every justice on the bench at that time is now deceased, so it’s not like they could ask any of them. This, however, is not good enough for either the PQ government in Quebec, nor Thomas Mulcair, who seems to think that the Supreme Court is somehow covering something up. No, really, though one is left to wonder how much of this is yet another attempt to pander to nationalists in Quebec. And thus we can add another institution that Mulcair has “respect” for – the Senate, the Crown and now the Supreme Court. So much respect…
The press gallery was full at the very start of Members’ Statements, hoping that MPs would take the Speaker’s advice yesterday and start standing up to catch his eye, in order to bypass the dreaded Whip’s list. And no, nobody tried to catch the Speaker’s eye, and the list carried on unabated, with Warawa on said list to talk about a local talent show. Breathless anticipation, all for naught. When QP got underway, Thomas Mulcair read off a gimme question about meeting with Rehteah Parsons’ parents, and the need for cyberbullying legislation. (Funnily enough, the NDP voted against a bill to do just that by Liberal MP Hedy Fry, ostensibly because it was poorly drafted, yet not offering amendments). Harper agreed that there was a problem that needs to be addressed, and that they need to make it clear that the Internet was not a free pass for criminal behaviour. Mulcair moved onto the topic of the Federal Court decision regarding the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to which Harper replied with the implication that the previous PBO, Kevin Page, was partisan. Mulcair changed topics again, and moved onto the issue of privacy breaches, to which Harper assured him that they take those issues seriously and have developed action plans when breaches happen. Charmaine Borg asked the very same again, to which Tony Clement gave her the same reassurances, but with an added gratuitous shot at the former Liberal government. For the Liberals, Joyce Murray asked about the topic of the week — youth unemployment. Harper assured her that they had all kinds of programmes in place to help youth find jobs. For the final questions the round, Bob Rae asked whether Canada would try to get the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting moved here, and to take over the chair from Sri Lanka given their human rights abuses. Harper agreed that they were concerned about the Sri Lankan situation, and would be monitoring the situation. Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer stood up for pretty much every question in this round, trying to catch the Speaker’s eye, to no avail.
Apparently it was security and intelligence day yesterday. An anti-terrorism bill being debated, shuffling the Director of CSIS, appointing a new member of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee (which the NDP are opposing), and oh yeah – a foiled terror plot on Canadian soil. So yeah – busy day. And in case you’re wondering, no, there was no prior knowledge of the terror charges before today, so it was nothing more than a coincidence that they were made on the day that the government set aside to deal with the anti-terrorism bill.
After the morning’s caucus meetings, a series of tributes to Rita MacNeil, and the implication that Justin Trudeau somehow supports terrorism, Wednesday QP got underway. As per usual, Thomas Mulcair started off by reading off a series of condemnations against the ministers of immigration and Human Resources for the Temporary Foreign Workers programme, and James Moore, who remained the designated back-up PM du jour, assured Mulcair that they were creating jobs, and reminded him that NDP MPs were also asking for approvals for their riding. Libby Davies was up next, and condemned the decision to end the funding to the Health Council of Canada. Moore assured her that they had increased health transfers to record levels. Justin Trudeau was up, and brought up the adoption of the Charter 31 years ago, asked asked what the government’s plan was to celebrate its anniversary. Moore said that they were big supporters of history — witness the Canadian Museum of History — and then segued to another riposte about asking for temporary foreign workers, this time by Trudeau himself. (As it later turned out, this was a request for a permit for a Chinese cook to work in a *gasp!* Chinese restaurant). Trudeau then mentioned the downgrading of growth forecasts, and brought that around to his consistent point about the new tariff rates impacting middle class Canadians. Moore insisted that the Liberals preferred higher taxes.
The galleries were packed, including the press gallery, which was something of a rarity. Even more rare was Peter Mansbridge showing up for the festivities. Every leader was present — also a rarity for a Monday, but as Harper is travelling later in the week, he’s making up the day. And so, when things kicked off, Thomas Mulcair read off five questions about RBC and the use of temporary foreign workers, and called on Jason Kenney to apologise. Harper stood up to say that the programme was not intended to take jobs away of Canadians, and they would be investigating, but for his third supplemental, pointed out that eight NDP MPs wrote letters to the department asking for more temporary foreign worker approvals for their regions, which were regions with high unemployment. This set Mulcair off, and he got red-faced as he leaned over his mini-lectern as he yelled back at Harper. And then it was Trudeau’s turn. After a snag with translation, he asked a trio of questions about the increases in tariffs in the budget — not so much reading his questions but checking his notes on his desk occasionally. Harper, after congratulating Trudeau on his win, said that it didn’t make sense to give tax breaks to countries like China, which were no longer developing — to which Scott Andrews heckled “so you’re raising taxes on Canadians!”