Politics of Canada
3 min

An outrage over body bags

An incident where body bags were delivered to a First Nations community at risk of an H1N1 outbreak touched off a firestorm in Parliament, from all sides in both Houses. Health Canada was roundly criticised, an investigation has been ordered, and outrage abounded. Health Canada claims it was a simple error in a routine re-supply, but it was used as an opportunity to once again raise the larger issue of living conditions on many First Nations reserves.

Labrador MP Todd Russell led off Question Period yesterday to ask about the body bags issue. Russell is Métis and the party’s Aboriginal Affairs critic, so he’s got some additional heft to his question. (In the Other Place, Senator Lillian Eva Dyck took on a similar role). But as the Health Minister was out of the house, John Baird of all ministers got up to agree that it was unacceptable that these body bags were shipped, and that the Minister had ordered a full inquiry into what happened. Anita Neville, Jack Layton and others quickly followed suit.

The Bloc were concerned about the possibility that “full reciprocity” with American procurement contracts could be bad for Québec, but Stockwell Day tried to convince them that they had Premier Charest’s support.

Marlene Jennings tore into the NDP for their support of the Conservative EI measures, saying they would help fewer people than they claimed, and how could they trust the government figures anyway, as they were often inflated? Her former sparring partner from the EI “working group” – Diane Finley – responded by claiming that they tabled proposals at the “working group” that the Liberals walked away from. Jennings called out that particular falsehood, but Finley simply repeated it a second time.

Conservative MP James Bezan deserves some snaps for his greyish brown suit, paired with a pink shirt and baby-blue tie. It’s nice to see something other than a dark suit every now and again. I was also struck by Conservative MP Peter Braid’s checked jacket and…interestingly patterned tie. It was interesting, and I couldn’t decide if it was good or bad (though I’m leaning toward the good side).

The new EI bill introduced yesterday is being fast-tracked through the Commons, and three of the four parties have agreed to this, but not the Bloc. The Liberals are playing a clever game in agreeing to fast track the bill in order not be seen to oppose help for the unemployed (thought they routinely say these measures don’t go nearly far enough), and trying to make sure that it passes before they table their non-confidence motion in a couple of weeks, so that it can't be held against them in a potential election. That said, I have a problem when this business of fast-tracking goes ahead. Usually it leads to legislation that is hastily written, poorly scrutinised, and leaves little to no time for witnesses to speak to the proposals, either in support or to point out problems. I also find that it leaves a poor impression on the regular of the legislative process – why can’t they fast track every bill? It doesn’t work that way, and I think that this ends up trivialising the process overall in the long term.

And that debate? Got a bit heated, with Hedy Fry setting off a Conservative backbencher who railed against her in debate, which set off a Twitter-fight with a Liberal backbencher in response. Because apparently it is like junior high.

Liberal Gerard Kennedy introduced a Private Member’s Bill designed to help American war resisters remain in Canada, and Bill Siksay is seconding that. Over in the Senate, Alberta Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy questions the need for a bill to ban flavoured tobacco products given that the statistics on youth smoking haven’t increased, and that it’s full of hypotheticals. As much as I'm not a fan of smoking or tobacco products in general, she has a point.

And finally, in a bit of the theatre of the absurd, Helena Guergis led the assembled Press Gallery on quite the chase around the Hill during a “Run for the Cure” promotion, while other Cabinet ministers tried to shield her and run interference. Guergis’ husband is Rahim Jaffer, the former MP arrested for drunk driving and cocaine possession. At least one cameraman running backwards in front of them took a spill, but it was just…absurd to watch.