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.
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.
After what appeared to be a breakout of actual debate during the Orders of the Day relating to the NDP’s opposition day motion on climate change, no eruptions of MPs trying to catch the Speaker’s eye during Members’ Statements, and a moment of silence for workers killed on the job, it was time for QP. Tomas Mulcair started things off by reading a condemnation of Joe Oliver’s trip to Washington and his insulting of a climate scientist. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, insisted that the NDP doesn’t understand economics, and that the government was fighting to create jobs. Mulcair then switched topics and read a question about the concerns the Conservative premier of New Brunswick has about the EI changes. Moore assured him that they were working with the premier as they were helping get people back to work. Yvon Godin then asked the same thing in French, turning puce with outrage as he read his script. Diane Finley responded with her stock assurances that they were helping Canadians get back to work. Bob Rae was up for the Liberals, and after making a reference to Harper’s admonition about “committing sociology,” he turned to the party’s topic of the week — youth unemployment. Moore assured him that they had created programmes to help youth and were addressing the problem. For his final question, Rae asked about the growing number of reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, to which Deepak Obhrai assured him that they were monitoring the situation, which they found unacceptable.
It was a game of partisan back-and-forth yesterday as Mike Moffatt of the Richard Ivey School of Business noticed that one of the tariff changes in the budget might mean an increase five percent increase in the cost of MP3 players and iPods. Might. But the NDP were immediately gleeful that the government that lambasted them with the notion of an “iPod tax” (after they wanted a levy on the very same MP3 players for the sake of content creators) might have egg on their face, and sent out press releases quoting Moffatt, which is not without irony considering how often Moffatt calls the NDP out on their economic illiteracy. And Flaherty wasn’t having any of it either, noting a general tariff exemption on devices that you plug into a computer – which would include an iPod. But the tariff tables are maddeningly complex, Moffatt points out, and it was likely an accident that nobody caught.
Being both Budget Day Eve and caucus day, the excitement was palpable. Thomas Mulcair led off QP by reading off a question about how Peter Penashue broke the law, and wondered what it said about the rest of the caucus. Harper rejected the characterisation, and touted ALL THE THINGS that Penashue did for Labrador. Mulcair then turned to the issue of Flaherty’s haranguing banks to not engage in a mortgage war when he wouldn’t regulate credit card rates. Harper insisted that mortgage rates were at the lowest rate in history, and Flaherty was trying to ensure market stability. Françoise Boivin was up next asking about the PBO’s latest report on crime legislation spending, but Rob Nicholson mostly deflected by bringing up Mulcair’s meeting with Gary Freeman while in the States. Bob Rae returned to the question of Penashue, to which Harper considered Rae’s characterisations to be negative campaigning. For his final question, Rae brought up the Competition Act with respect to Flaherty’s calls to the banks about mortgage rates, not that Harper’s answer about market stability changed.
Monday afternoon, and MPs were still filtering back into Ottawa after the weekend. Thomas Mulcair started things off by reading questions on EI inspectors’ guidelines, and how the government could justify that kind of invasion of privacy. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, accused Mulcair of fear-mongering. Mulcair then moved onto the specious comparison between the Senate and its “honour system” and the EI inspections. Moore pointed out that Mulcair was happy to trash people without offering any particular solutions for reform. Alexandre Boulerice was up next, and continued to decry said “honour system” (not that this has anything to do with the business of the Commons, and never mind that MPs’ books are even more opaque). Poilievre stood up to speak to Boulerice’s separatist credentials instead of answering. Bob Rae was up for the Liberals next, wondering about the government’s curious plans for dealing with slow economic growth by means of more austerity and curtailing competition. Moore instead insisted that the Liberals had no credible economic plans. Rae asked then about the EI inspections, not that Moore’s answer differed much. For his final question, Rae asked about how security clearances have become more lax under the present government. Moore insisted that the allegations against Dr. Arthur Porter had nothing to do with his time as an appointee.
It’s an awful, wet day out in the Nation’s Capital, the precipitation an ugly mix of fluffy wet snow and needle-like ice pellets. Inside the Commons, QP kicked off with Thomas Mulcair reading a question about cuts to services for First Nations including policing. Harper responded that there were no cuts, and that new funds would be announced in due course. Mulcair’s second question was about Flaherty’s letter to the CRTC, to which Harper reminded him that he already answered the question the day before. Mulcair then asked a question about those Senators who have not yet responded to the CBC about their residency. Harper assured him that all Senators respect their residency requirement (though I suppose that remains to be seen). Nycole Turmel was up next to ask a pair of EI “quota” questions, speciously tying in the Senate, to which Diane Finley assured her that there were no quotas or bonuses for achieving cuts. Rae pressed on the issue of bonuses for cuts, to which Harper talked about how they wanted to ensure that EI funds were there for those who paid into them. Rae carried on about how this move was simply downshifting the unemployed onto provincial welfare rolls, but Harper insisted there was no such plan.
Valentine’s Day in the Commons is usually a wasteland of bad puns and lame jokes. Today we we mostly spared the indignity, barring a couple of lame Members’ Statements, and the very final question in QP. Thomas Mulcair led off by reading questions about Senator Wallin’s travel expenses — torqued so that they were counted over 27 months to make them sound especially damning — to which Harper reminded him that Western NDP MPs had similar travel expenses. For his final supplemental, Mulcair read a question about the “moral outrage” of unequal funding in First Nations for education. Harper rejected the premise of the question, and assured him of the measures they were taking. Niki Ashton was up next, asking why there was no national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, to which Kerry-Lynne Findlay assured her that they were working with provincial and territorial governments and were responding to the needs of victims. Ralph Goodale picked up on the topic of the Human Rights Watch report on RCMP abuses in those Northern BC communities. Vic Toews said that there is the Commission for Public Complaints about the RCMP to deal with such complaints. Dominic LeBlanc was up last to repeat the question in French, not that Vic Toews responded in kind.
Monday afternoon, and the Chamber was still a bit sleepy after the weekend. Only one leader was in the House today, being Thomas Mulcair, and he began things by reading off a litany of condemnations against Senators Brazeau and Duffy, and demanded the whole institution be abolished — because a) that’s helpful, and b) two or three bad apples out of 105 detracts from the good work of the rest of the Senate, including when they pick up the ball when MPs drop it, as with the sports betting and royal succession bills. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, assured him that the Senate’s Internal Economy Board was investigating these senators. For his final question, Mulcair read a question about EI reforms, to which Moore assured him that the reforms were helping get people working. Peggy Nash was up next and said that it was false that there was no mechanism to extend Kevin Page’s term as PBO, pointing to his term being renewable. Tony Clement said that there was a process in place to find his replacement. (On a related note, the PBO is not the only accountability mechanism available — it just happens that accountability is the actual role of MPs). Ralph Goodale was up for the Liberals, warning of a weakening economy while everyone was worrying about other distraction issues, and wanted the budget tabled by the end of February. In response, Moore read off a number of good news talking points. Stéphane Dion was up last, and demanded that the government undo its “job-killing” EI reforms.
It was another bitterly cold day out in Ottawa, and the Hill was buzzing with news of Senator Brazeau’s arrest and removal from caucus. Thomas Mulcair was off at an event elsewhere, which left it up to Megan Leslie to lead off by asking about the Saskatchewan push-poll, but once again fell into that basic trap of asking about party business and not government operations. Harper reminded her that while the party position was well known, the commission had its work to do. Leslie then turned to the question of Senate ethics, and Brazeau’s arrest. Harper assured her that Brazeau was removed from caucus, and that it was of a personal nature and not with regards to Senate business. Peggy Nash was up next, asking why the government wouldn’t extend Kevin Page’s term until his his successor is chosen — unless they had something to hide in the budget. Clement simply repeated that there was a process in place to find his replacement, and they were respecting that process. For the Liberals, Ralph Goodale was up asking about possible gerrymandering of the Saskatchewan boundaries, to which Harper assured him that the process was underway and included Parliamentary input, before insinuating that Goodale didn’t care about rural communities. Dominic LeBlanc was up for the final question of the round, asking about household debt, for which Shelly Glover read off some good news talking points.