Parliament has now risen for the winter break, a day early, and the MPs are now headed back to their ridings. But it couldn’t have chosen a more spectacular way to send things off.
The Olympic torch made a detour from its route in Montreal to reach the House of Commons. At the stroke of two, the House went into Committee of the Whole – a less formal position where the Speaker leaves the chair and the Mace is lowered from the table – and the Torch was brought onto the floor of the chamber. The torchbearer was Barbara Ann Scott, the 81 year-old former gold medal winner for figure skating from 1948.
I have to say that seeing the torch up close is pretty impressive – and the flame was far bigger than I expected it to be. I think I had a pretty great vantage point – I was in the foyer when Scott passed by into the antechamber that leads to the House. I then dashed up to the Press Gallery and made it before she entered the Chamber, and watched from above. And it was electric. (It was also amusing to watch all those MPs with their blackberries out taking pictures).
Once the torch left the Chamber, the Speaker returned to the chair, the Mace to the table, and things proceeded as usual. During Members’ Statements, Rob Bruinooge stood up to claim that the Senate’s move to exempt Aboriginals from mandatory minimum sentences in the amendments to Bill C-15 – done because of already high representations of Aboriginal Canadians in prisons – will create a two-tier system of justice in this country, and that Aboriginal youth will be recruited by drug traffickers because they won’t face the same penalties. Really? That’s…pretty weak.
Question Period was yet again dominated by the Afghan detainees issue. The attack against the government and their credibility was sustained right up until it Question Period was nearly over. As it went on, and MacKay’s defensive answers got more and more bizarre, Ralph Goodale started shouting across the aisle “You filed the report! Good grief, man, do you know how stupid that sounds?” Followed by a “Did you not read it?”
There were a couple of questions on the environment, but near the very end, Liberal Mike Savage asked about KAIROS, and the cuts to other non-profits. In his supplemental, he brought up the cuts to literacy programmes, status of women, and the Court Challenges programme. “What happened to Canada?” he asked. The government sent up Jim Flaherty to talk about their Working Income Tax Benefit as a poverty-reduction mechanism, but it was too much for David McGuinty to take, as he began shouting about Flaherty’s record in provincial politics. “Remember Walkerton? Twenty-one people died! You and your voodoo economics!”
For the final sartorial report of the year, I would have to say that Kirsty Duncan was most deserving of snaps, with her nicely tailored navy jacket with the low-cut black top beneath, and the impressive medallion necklace. I also liked Hedy Fry’s grey check-patterned jacket, and upon closer inspection in the foyer, it looked fuzzy and warm – which we certainly needed in the blizzard-like conditions of the Nation’s Capital. The style citation goes out to Niki Ashton for an unflatteringly cut yellow jacket with a black top – yes, more yellow and black. Does nobody listen? And the final Megan Leslie outfit watch of 2009 reports a long grey collared shirt, belted above the waist with a thin purple belt, with black trousers and heels. But if mismatched belt and heels wasn’t enough, she finished it off with an ascot-like scarf, which was this pinkish-red with a purple pattern across it. No, I don’t get it either.
During the votes at the end of the day, the Bloc’s Thierry St-Cyr’s Bill C-291 on implementing the Refugee Appeal Division of the IRB was defeated at Third Reading. This is a blow for queer refugee claimants who’ve had their applications rejected for whatever the reason.
The other matter before the House was the request by the special Afghanistan committee for access to the unredacted documents that are at the heart of what they’re trying to investigate. The government’s lawyers claim that Crown privilege supersedes Parliamentary Privilege in the case of national security. The Commons law clerk says no, Parliamentary Privilege is supreme, because Parliament needs to hold government to account, and how can it when they can’t get access to the necessary documents? That’s pretty sound logic (and yes, they can take precaution so that those unredacted documents could only be provided to the committee in camera, or another secure means). The committee has already filed a motion to hold more emergency hearings next week, so it may not be the last we hear of this issue yet.
Remember those novelty cheques with Conservative party logos? The Ethics Commissioner has decided that they are indeed worthy of an investigation for breaching the Conflict of Interest Code. Stay tuned.
And finally, Her Excellency arrived in Guatemala yesterday, and after receiving a welcome with full military honours, she then participated in the Change of the White Rose for Peace Ceremony, which commemorates the end of Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war. Her speech can be found here.