Senate QP: Focus on the disaster, not the funding

As Orders of the Day got underway in the Senate, Senator Vivienne Poy rose to announce that after fourteen years in the Upper Chamber, she has decided to resign her seat to move onto other pursuits. Poy, who was appointed by Jean Chrétien and was the first Asian Canadian to be appointed to the Senate, wasn’t due to retire until 2016. She was also instrumental in getting May recognised as Asian Heritage Month in Canada. Senators from all sides gave her a standing ovation when she was finished, and many went over to speak to her personally afterward.

When Question Period came around, Senator Poulin was first up asking about the tragedy in Elliot Lake, and whether the government would be providing any compensation for the economic repercussions the region would be facing. Senator LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, who gets to answer all questions, first gave a brief tribute to Senator Poy and her contributions to the Senate before saying that she will express Poulin’s concerns to the government and take the question as notice (by which she means that she’ll provide a written response once she has more information).

Poulin stood up for a supplemental – given the tragedy, would the government perhaps reconsider its decision to cut the funding for Joint Emergency Preparedness? LeBreton said that provinces and municipalities ably handle 90 percent of disaster relief in the country, and that the federal government augments this.

Senator Mercer stood up to ask a supplemental, as Senators are able to do. He brought up the five Heavy Urban rescue teams in the country who are facing uncertainty with the funding cuts, and again asked if the government would reconsider said cuts before they vote on the budget implementation bill. LeBreton didn’t take kindly to the question, and suggested that Mercer should focus on the tragedy, but she would add his concerns to Poulin’s. Senator Cowan then rose to ask if the information would be provided before the budget vote. LeBreton indicated that the government was acting responsibly.

“In otherwords, no,” Cowan shot back from his seat. “You have no shame!”

“No shame!” echoed from the Senators around him.

Senator Hervieux-Payette was up next, asking about provisions in the TPP negotiations. In particular, she was concerned that we were giving up our sovereignty – just as we’re celebrating the War of 1812 – with the leaked drafts talking about tribunals made up of corporate lawyers instead of judges to resolve disputes. LeBreton accused Hervieux-Payette of paying too much attention to US publications and waxed poetic about how the government was pursuing trade agreements, and hey, look at Martha Hall Findlay attacking Supply Management. No really – LeBreton went there. When Hervieux-Payette returned to the argument about the threat to sovereignty and those multi-nationals threatening to turn Canada into a “corporatocracy,” LeBreton insisted that the government was mindful and protective of our sovereignty.

Senator Munson rose to decry the government’s attack on charities, and said they were now attacking the United Church of Canada, which only spends to percent of its funds on political activity (when the limit is ten). After LeBreton insisted that she grew up in the United Church, and that the government was not attacking charities, Munson and Senator Eaton – who is running the “inquiry” into charitable activities in the Senate – started sniping at one another over the “McCarthyism” of the inquiry. LeBreton got up to say that she didn’t hear the question, and in a bit of self-deprecating humour admitted that she does have big ears – but reiterated that the government was not attacking charities.

Senator De Bané was up last to ask why Canada had blocked a treaty that would see greater ocean protections, and said that Sir Richard Branson told the Rio+20 conference that he couldn’t recongise Canada any longer. LeBreton said that she wasn’t sure which treaty he was referring to, and would therefore take the question as notice. De Bané rose on a supplemental to decry the government spending the Green Infrastructure Fund on pipelines and office maintenance. LeBreton insisted that he was mistaken, and that there were multi-year projects currently underway with those funds.

Oh, and for those of you who wondered, no, Senator Brazeau was not in the Senate for QP.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Tardif for her green jacket with a chocolate top and long green and brown skirt, and to Senator Dawson for his navy jacket, white shirt and red bowtie (and as we know, bowties are cool). Style citations go out to Senator Greene for his grey jacket with a yellow-and-grey striped shirt with a black and yellow tie, and to Senator Johnson, for a flowy beige and tan…smock ensemble, in layers of cloth and knit.