As Parliament rises for the summer…
The appalling 420 page so-called omnibus budget implementation bill, C-38, will likely clear the Senate before you read this. All 700+ of the Opposition amendments were defeated after a marathon 23.5 hours on non-stop voting from June 13-14, including all 300+ of my substantive amendments.
The debate at Third Reading continued to reveal that Conservative Members of Parliament had no grasp of the act, so as a last attempt to shake them into integrity, I challenged all Conservatives to a small quiz to test their knowledge of the act — open-book, 15 minutes long, and multiple choice. I offered a tree planting ceremony with them in their riding to anyone who passed.
Sadly, none of them showed up. The law of averages suggests that at least one MP would give it a shot. The failure of even one Conservative MP to show up persuades me that they were ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office to stay away. One Independent MP, former NDP MP, Bruce Hyer took the test and got 100%. (He was quite relieved.)
Stephen Harper’s legislative strategy can be described as “might makes right.” It was a foregone conclusion that if the Prime Minister maintained maximum pressure on his MPs and rejected any possible compromise, the bill would be passed. Introduced for First Reading on April 26, moving like a freight train through hearings before the Finance Committee and its sub-committees, it went to Report Stage without so much as a semi-colon removed. And then unchanged through Report Stage. It goes against every aspect of Parliamentary democracy that even helpful amendments must be crushed. The process is no longer about public policy or good legislation. It is all a war. Stephen Harper clearly believes that allowing MPs to improve legislation is a sign of weakness.
While Mr. Harper won this battle, it was a pyrrhic victory. All major national media, even Canada’s most conservative paper, the National Post, has condemned the omnibus approach as illegitimate:
…the contempt that the Tories have shown for the democratic process is unacceptable, and inexplicable. Such a hardball tactic might have been justifiable when the Conservatives held only a minority, but now, it seems simply like a bad habit the Conservatives are in need of shaking.
Perhaps they will. As was reported in last Friday’s National Post, there are reports that Conservative insiders are as unhappy with how the government has behaved as is the opposition, and rumours that the Tories are facing a grassroots backlash. There is reportedly concern that such tactics will ultimately damage the Conservative brand, alienating voters well ahead of the next election. (National Post editorial, June 17, 2012)
The unhappy backbenchers showed more signs of the strain than has occurred to date in this government. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has promised a second omnibus budget bill for the fall.
In some good news, I tabled a private members bill on June 19: A Genuine Progress Indicators Measurement Act. And in putting it forward, I was able to read into the record the following from the late Senator Bobby Kennedy, from 1968, with a quality of ideas so rarely heard on Parliament Hill:
“Too much and too long, we have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things….The (GDP) counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
The Genuine Progress Indicator Measurement Act, Bill C-436, will attempt to measure those things that make life worthwhile. It will require Parliament to determine a set of meaningful indicators of natural capital and human well-being. These measurements will then form the basis of an annual report from the Commissioner on Environment and Sustainable Development, within the office of the Auditor General.
Which has a certain irony as I witness a Prime Minister determined to undermine all those critical elements of our legislation and regulations that ensure healthy ecosystems, while removing statistical measurements, eliminating scientific monitoring and silencing critics.
As Canada marches backward, we desperately need to assess the cost. We need to know how to chart a course to genuine progress.