Senate QP: The email conundrum

When the day began in the Upper Chamber, nobody had any idea of the storm that was brewing. Orders of the Day in the Senate Chamber proceeded fairly quickly, without a lot of new business on the slate as the sitting winds down, and so Question Period began fairly quickly along. And there was one dominant theme with the questions – EI reform.

Senator Callbeck was up first, concerned that the Atlantic premiers hadn’t been consulted on the proposed EI changes, and wanted a listing of just who the government did end up consulting with before proposing these changes. (Note that Senator Callbeck is a former Premier of PEI, and was the first elected woman premier in the country). Senator LeBreton, the leader of the government in the Senate and designated responder to all questions, gave a lengthy paean to how fair and responsible the EI changes were going to be, but eventually said that she didn’t have such a list, and would take the question as notice and get a written response.

But Callbeck wasn’t finished. While she thanked LeBreton for taking it as notice, she moved onto the more crucial issue – if the crux of this new EI system was the twice-daily job-listing emails for those who are on EI, then how exactly are poor people in rural Canada – particularly Atlantic Canada – supposed to be getting those notices? Especially when you consider that the Community Access Programme, which paid for Internet access in public libraries, is being disbanded. LeBreton indicated that people have other means of contact – phones, or mail, and these people still get their cheques, so they’d get notices somehow.

“Are they going to get calls twice a day?” Senator Mercer heckled, and when LeBreton finished, he got up to ask a supplemental question – as Senators are wont to do under the rules of their own QP. And so Mercer wondered just that, on the record – will these people with no Internet access be getting calls twice a day? Well, no, seeing as they’ve closed the Service Canada centres in the region. And they’re certainly not going to be getting letter mail twice a day either. So what then was the plan? LeBreton insinuated that Mercer and Callbeck were insulting the drive and ingenuity of Atlantic Canadians, but hey, there was that broadband spectrum auction, and we’re in a labour shortage and employers need to bring in temporary foreign workers. Clearly, though, she had lost the plot.

And another thing, Mercer continued. Elizabeth Thompson had a story on today about how Parliament Hill staff, who normally get laid off when the Parliament is in recess, are going to be affected by these changes, and they’ll be classified as “repeat users.” All of the experts from Hansard and people who work in the Parliamentary Restaurant are going to be affected, and did the government not even think about that when they came up with this policy? LeBreton waxed poetic for the days of yore, when she first started working on the Hill, when everyone was a sessional contractor, and she wasn’t actually familiar with their employment arrangements. And Mercer blasted her for it on his next supplemental as they went back at it for another round.

Senator Cordy was up next, and on the topic of the EI changes, lamented the fact that they still don’t have the details for what all of the changes will be, nor the costs, they have been denied the chance to hear from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and yet they are being expected to vote on those very changes as part of the omnibus budget bill. LeBreton went off on another lengthy tangent before concluding that the changes will be available when they’re available. The response was met with incredulous laughter from the Liberal benches.

Senator Cowan was up last, and returned to the question about the lack of consultation with the premiers. LeBreton tried to hit back with tales of the days of Paul Martin as finance minister and all of the suffering he inflicted on the provinces. Across the way, Senator Munson held up three fingers. “Three majority governments!” he declared.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Day for a nicely tailored grey suit with a white shirt and pale blue tie, and to Senator Eaton for a pale salmon collared shirt with a grey and black riding-inspired jacket and a grey skirt. Style citations go out to Senator Ataullahjan for a maroon dress with a zebra-print jacket, and to Senator Mercer for his black jacket with a lemon yellow shirt and reddish tie.