4 min

Vic Toews doth protest too much

The Parliamentary Budget Officer finally released his report on the costs of Bill C-25, which eliminates the two-for-one sentencing provisions – and the results aren’t pretty. $5 billion over five years for the federal government, and likely the same again – if not more – for the provinces. And this after Correctional Services Canada cancelled meetings with Kevin Page and didn’t provide him the necessary documentation he needed to complete the analysis, forcing him to build his model based on public access documents and the expertise of two different universities.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, not surprisingly, is trying to claim it’ll be otherwise. Toews claims that CSC was fully cooperative and he’s got a paper trail to prove it. He also says that the numbers are “taken out of context” because he claims the cost of crime to Canadians is some $70 billion each year. He also said that the reported figure of 13,000 new prisoners in the system is false because it’ll be “not a bunch of new prisoners, but the same inmates over and over,” and went on to claim it will actually be a savings on court costs. Excuse me?

While the alarm is sufficiently sounded that this could bankrupt the country – as it did in several American states – it makes one wonder about more cost-efficient means of handling the problem of crime. And no, I don’t mean double- or triple-bunking prisoners to avoid building new facilities as Toews suggests, because that not only goes against our own guidelines and signed international agreements, but it makes conditions worse in prisons, and inhibits rehabilitation. No, I’m actually wondering if the money isn’t better spent on crime prevention, and actual programming for those inmates who are already in prison, which includes mental health and addictions programming – things that are already woefully underfunded. If we actually spent money to address those issues, we would probably save far more money on recidivism than just keeping these “same inmates over and over” from coming back.

But prevention and harm reduction don’t fit into this government’s ideology, where the optics of looking “tough on crime” trump sound policy and science. And now we’ll bankrupt the country to prove it.

Over in the Senate today, I was rather fascinated by Senator Poy’s statement on the niqab ban coming into force in Quebec. She recalled when she first arrived in Canada to attend McGill University at a time when women were forbidden from wearing slacks, even on the coldest of days. She sees this ban as just one more form of patriarchal oppression of telling women what they can and cannot wear – just like the same kind of patriarchal oppression the niqab represents. Interesting.

Senate Question Period was kicked off when Senator Downe asked why PEI’s share of the Marquee Event Tourism Program was decreased this year, and Senator LeBreton – the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who answers pretty much all questions – tried to argue that the funds were being distributed equitably across the country, and that it was a temporary two-year stimulus program. It was three rounds of this back-and-forth, even when Downe gave numbers to prove his point. On his final supplemental, Downe asked why the Queen wasn’t visiting all provinces, seeing as she hadn’t visited PEI in more than 13 years, and Quebec in 33. This prompted Senator Munson to request a supplemental – because you can do that in the Senate – and he asked if LeBreton knew which senators were on the list to dine with the Queen when she’s in town. LeBreton said the only ones she knew were herself and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Munson asked if she knew any Conservative senators who were on the list, which LeBreton denied knowing. And so it went for a couple more volleys.

Senator Fox asked after contracting policies given the Canadian Press story about PCO doing as many as a third of their contracts retroactively, in breach of Treasury Board guidelines. LeBreton insisted the government used fair and open processes in accordance with said Treasury Board guidelines. Senator Peterson asked about the seed crisis in Saskatchewan (LeBreton assured him the minister for agriculture had it in hand), and Senator Jaffer asked about just what kind of compensation the government would be offering to the victims’ families of the Air India bombing, but LeBreton said she wasn’t aware of all the details, other than the prime minister would be offering a public apology and compensation.

Sartorially speaking, I was partial to Senator Marie Poulin’s black jacket with the gold Chinese characters patterned across it, and Senator Jane Cordy’s pink and purple tartan jacket. Less impressive was Senator Marjory LeBreton’s bright floral jacket.

Her Excellency has been named as the UNESCO special envoy for Haiti starting in the fall, once her term as Governor General is up. Harper has already congratulated her on the posting, and speculation is that he’ll name her replacement when the Queen is in town. Her Excellency, meanwhile, says she’ll remain engaged in Canada and will launch the Michaëlle Jean Foundation to support social and cultural actors, especially youth-serving and youth-led organizations.

The Conservatives sound like they’re interested in what Michael Ignatieff has to say about what our plans should be in Afghanistan post-2011. At least one Senator is pointing out that the decision should be the government’s and not Parliament's (as has been argued by certain experts in the field), especially since putting it to Parliament actually makes the government less accountable for the mission – especially if anything goes wrong.

Michael Ignatieff is headed to China on July 3rd, to engage the country that he says the Conservatives have “ignored.”

The Senate social affairs committee has passed Bill C-11 on refugee reforms without amendment, but looks like they may be appending a report to make recommendations for how the bill should be implemented, and will take that issue up today.