Friday’s Question Period was led off by Liberal MP Scott Brison, who asked about the 60,000 jobs lost in Ontario last month, and about how EI reform could help them. Human Resources minister Diane Finley said that they were getting a better response from the system, and when in a follow-up answer cited how people paying for job retraining would get assistance to do so. Brison, quick on his feet, demanded to know how people who lost their jobs could pay for their own re-training when they can’t pay for groceries? Finley’s only response was a talking point.
Later on, the NDP’s Libby Davies asked about why the government was derailing Amtrack’s plans to run a second line to Vancouver from Seattle, by imposing unprecedented inspection fees? Her response from the Parliamentary Secretary in question was a glowing response about all the money the government was spending on infrastructure, and by the way, “Tax Freedom Day” (which is a ridiculous concept) was even sooner this year. In other words, he didn’t have a bleeding clue, and was just trying to fill space.
It’s high jinks like these that make me ponder about some of the proposals that Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells made in this week’s column about reforming Question Period. Some of them I think are sound – increasing the clock from 35 to 45 seconds – even a minute – I think would be a beneficial thing and would allow some more tempered and reasoned questions and responses. After all, we’re no longer accommodating five parties in the House, and maybe it’ll help cut down on the repetitive nature of many questions. His idea of borrowing from the UK’s Parliament and devoting certain days to certain topics is not a bad idea either, though it does leave out the immediacy of accountability questions when crises happen. I’m less enamoured with his suggestion to get QP out of the way, first thing in the morning, because it’s current timeslot does allow for maximum participation, and gives time for MPs to do things like correspondence, committee work and so on, and breaks up the day fairly well in that respect. Nevertheless, they’re workable proposals that should be given some pretty serious consideration.
Elsewhere, The Canadian Press went digging into the process by which the PMO hired those two American “consultants” whose job it was to help get Harper into the US media, and wouldn’t you know, there were all kinds of bent rules – verbal contracts, contracts just under the allowable limit to make them untendered, and renewing those untendered contracts even though that’s discouraged. Liberal Martha Hall Findlay observed that the Conservatives have “a pattern of making stuff up as you go along. You play by the rules until it's inconvenient to do so.” Because it’s not like they’re bothered by niggling little things such as the rule of law either.
On the nuclear front, all of the government’s assurances about our global partners helping with the isotope shortage are a bit hollow, as the Dutch reactor prepares for a six-month shut-down, and the Australian reactor is still at least six to twelve months from being operational. Funny how Lisa Raitt won’t tell us that. Also, if one of AECL’s competitors gets the new Ontario power plant bid, it will cost our nuclear safety watchdog $29 million to gain expertise in the rival technology. And the hole in Raitt’s staff now that her communications director has fallen on her sword for her boss? Makes an existing gap even bigger, because all sorts of Ministers are having trouble attracting and retaining staff. But hey, that’s what the overkill “accountability" legislation and micromanaging from the PMO gets you.
Obama has finally named the new American ambassador to Canada, and it’s one of his top donors. Because he’s going to change the way Washington does business.
And finally, MPs from all four parties have voted in secret to exempt themselves from restricting or disclosing gifts from parties or riding associations. And yes, Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher is right steamed about it all.
Up today: Lots of justice bills, as Bill C-15 (on drug sentencing) goes for Third Reading – likely to pass with Liberal support, and C-34 (the new sex offender registry bill) resumes Second Reading debate. Before the Public Safety committee has written up their report on the study of the issue, and raising the spectre of another moral panic. Because that’s the way to work in a democracy.