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My Week in Ottawa: Jan 27 - 31

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Monday January 27th

Monday morning started with an interview about the standoff in Wet’suwet’en territory, following the eviction of Coastal GasLink workers by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on January 9th. I spoke with Samantha Wright Allen from the Hill Times about what I learned during my visit to the territory and subsequent research. I reiterated that this entire situation is a political failure that would not have happened if our provincial and federal governments were genuinely serious about doing the work of reconciliation and upholding the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Following my interview I met with Phil Benson, a lobbyist for Teamsters Canada. We talked about pipelines, rail transportation, social issues impacting Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and international trade agreements, in particular CUSMA, often referred to as NAFTA 2.0. The process for negotiating CUSMA included briefings for an expanded group of stakeholders going beyond just the business organizations and corporations that were consulted in past negotiations. Phil was one of the labour leaders who received regular briefings on the CUSMA agreement. He was not part of the official negotiation team but was able to give feedback at the briefings from a labour perspective.

On Monday afternoon I had my opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne. I spoke at length about many of the positive initiatives and promises put forth by the Liberal government, because it’s important, and only fair, to acknowledge the things that this government is doing right. However, as I have stated many times, I cannot support the government in confidence votes because they are pushing forward with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and have failed to set new greenhouse gas reduction targets to meet the obligations agreed to in the Paris Climate Accord or set interim targets to guide the Canadian transition between now and 2030. This is unacceptable in a climate emergency.

I also presented a petition on Monday afternoon calling for the federal government to collaborate with the provincial governments on waste reduction strategies including mandatory extended producer responsibility programs.

In December, I asked a question about Site C and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ letter to Canada’s government asking that the construction of the Site C dam be stopped until prior, informed consent was given to the project by First Nations. During adjournment proceedings on Monday I hand an opportunity to follow up on that question with a 10 minute debate. The UN had since followed up on that letter with another letter that now included a call to halt not just Site C but also TMX and the Coastal Gaslink pipeline projects.

On Monday evening I attended the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) reception. The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties, challenges discrimination and Islamophobia, builds mutual understanding, and advocates for the public concerns of Canadian Muslims.

Tuesday January 28th

Corporate influence in government decision making is a topic that I know concerns many Canadians, and many constituents in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. It’s a top that came up repeatedly over the course of the election campaign, and it’s not one we can ignore or take lightly. On Tuesday morning the Green Party Caucus held a press conference to highlight our intention to continue pressing the government on this issue. Corporate capture is corrosive to democracy, particularly when we are in the midst of a climate crisis.

After the press conference I spoke with Lauren Gardner from Politico about the Canada-US-Mexico trade agreement (CUSMA), often referred to as NAFTA 2.0. That story is behind a paywall so I won’t bother to link it here, but as the Green Party’s critic for international trade I have been following the developments around CUSMA closely. I wrote a detailed assessment of the new agreement that you can read here.

During debate in the House of Commons that afternoon I asked the government about infrastructure funding for our healthcare system, including our hospitals:

Madam Speaker, it has been noted by HealthCareCAN, which represents hospitals and health care organizations across this country, that we have a $15-billion deficit with respect to maintaining hospitals. Hospitals use 11% of public infrastructure energy, and 5% of Canada's greenhouse gases are emitted by hospitals. It also noted that 48% of hospitals are over 50 years old and 69% of hospitals in our cities are over 50 years old. They must operate in disaster conditions, such as fires, floods, earthquakes or viral outbreaks. Hospital and health care organizations are ineligible for federal funding from the Building Canada Fund, the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, and the Knowledge in Infrastructure Fund.

Does the member not think that it is time for the federal government to put money into this crucial part of our society to rebuild our health care infrastructure, to make sure that it is resilient in a time of climate change and when we need to be prepared for disaster and disaster mitigation?

On Tuesday evening I attended, by invitation, a technical briefing for Members of Parliament on the CUSMA agreement. The briefing was hosted by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland, and presented by a panel of eight officials, including chief NAFTA negotiator and Assistant Deputy Minister Steve Verheul. As I mentioned above, you can read my in-depth assessment of CUSMA in this blog post.

Wednesday January 29th

The Green Party Caucus works closely together and we confer with each other on important topics daily in the House of Commons. On Wednesday mornings we have a formal meeting with our staff to talk about and plan for the upcoming week.

I then met with Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation manager for CPAWS BC. We discussed the Southern Strait of Georgia proposed National Marine Conservation area, DFO’s marine planning pilot in the Strait of Georgia and freighter anchorages.

With 27 government committees it’s impossible to have a Green MP in every committee meeting. On Wednesday afternoon Elizabeth May, Jenica Atwin and I met with some of our new student volunteers who will sit in on committee meetings and take briefing notes on behalf of the GPC Caucus. Elizabeth spoke to the group about the work of committees, relevant processes, and things to look for as a volunteer. This is an arrangement with student volunteers that began when Elizabeth was the only Green MP and I’m pleased to see it continue. When you are a small party you must be resourceful, and figure out ways to work within a system that favours larger, well-established parties. As Greens, we excel at doing just that, and it’s wonderful to have these students helping us!

On Wednesday afternoon Elizabeth, Jenica and I did a media scrum where we stated that we would be supporting the CUSMA agreement (the new NAFTA). What’s a media scrum? You may not recognize the term but you’ve seen them many times on the news. When you see an MPs or the Prime Minister, giving a statement to a group of reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons, that’s a scrum.

While we were busy talking to the media, Jeanine and Judy Bousquet, who were visiting from Nanaimo, happened to be waiting in the line-up to go into the House of Commons to observe Question Period! I know Jeanine through her involvement with the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition, which is such a dedicated group of organizations and individuals working to support each other and make a real difference for the community. Although I didn’t get a chance to say hello to Jeanine and Judy myself, they had a nice chat with my assistant Irene and it was really great to know they were there visiting!

Following the media scrum I voted in favour of the ways and means motion to introduce the act to implement CUSMA. As I concluded in my analysis of the agreement, as parliamentarians the choice we were given was between CUSMA and the original version of NAFTA. CUSMA is not a perfect agreement. The negotiation process is flawed. We can and should do better. But this is a choice between retaining the old deeply-flawed version of NAFTA or ratifying this new improved version. In this case, I believe a step forward is preferable to the status quo.

Following that vote I attended the first CIIT committee meeting. That’s the Standing Committee on International Trade. While I don’t have an official position or right to vote on the eight committees that I am responsible for, I can still get opportunities to speak and I can submit amendments to legislation. It’s important to have Green representation on the committees. Like the rest of our democratic system the committee rules are flawed. Over 1.1 million Canadians voted Green in the last election that’s over 378,400 for each Mp elected. In contrast each Liberal Mp represent 37,600 voters on average based on the national vote. I intend to do my best to represent the the 1.1 million Green voters at the committee level… not a light workload.

Wednesday evening was an exceptionally busy one. I attended four (yes, four!) events. Here’s a recap:

The Land Needs Guardians campaign launch reception was hosted by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. The purpose of the Land Needs Guardians campaign is to help “generate long-term support for Indigenous Guardians programs and Indigenous stewardship.” Speakers included Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative Valerie Courtois, Indigenous Guardians Tanya Ball of the Kaska First Nation and Shauna Yeomans of the Taku River First Nation, and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett.

Valerie Courtois, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative
Indigenous Guardians Tanya Ball of the Kaska First Nation and Shauna Yeomans of the Taku River First Nation
Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk First Nation

Next stop was the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters (CIFH) reception. The event included a seafood cooking contest and interim Green Party of Canada leader JoAnn Roberts and I enjoyed some delicious samples. Speakers included Jim McIsaac, Executive Director of the T Buck Suzuki Foundation, Melanie Sonnenberg, President of CIFH, owner-operator fish harvester Fraser Macdonald, 4th generation fish harvester Duncan Cameron, and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Bernadette Jordan.

I arrived at the Nature Conservancy of Canada reception too late to catch the speeches but I did have an opportunity to speak with NCC staff from BC and Atlantic Canada. I talked to the BC team about the E&N Land Grant and how that makes setting aside conservation areas more difficult because there is very little crown land on the south east coast of Vancouver Island.

I also caught the end of Building Canada, which highlighted the importance of investing in clean infrastructure as part of Canada’s climate action strategy. The reception co-hosted by the Broadbent Institute and the United Steelworkers. The topic is one that I talked about throughout the two election campaigns last year. Many Canadians are unaware of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with our aging infrastructure, and just how much we could reduce both our GHG emissions and our demand for energy through upgrading and retrofitting.

Thursday January 30th

On Thursday morning I attended the CACN (Canada-China) committee meeting. This is the committee that was, ironically, demanded by the Conservatives to “conduct hearings to examine and review all aspects of the Canada–China relationship, including, but not limited to, consular, economic, legal, security, and diplomatic relations.” I say ironically because it was the Harper Conservative government that rammed through the Canada-China FIPPA in 2014. That secretive investment agreement has enormous repercussions for Canada, particularly when it comes to taking action on the climate crisis. All of this makes the Conservatives zeal to establish this committee feel a bit… odd.

On Thursday afternoon I spoke in the Bill C-4 debate and delivered by assessment of CUSMA (the new NAFTA).

Later, during question period, I asked whether the government would exclude seniors care facilities from foreign ownership after VIHA was forced to take over the administration of three Retirement Concepts facilities owned by Anbang Insurance, now a Chinese state-owned corporation.

After the House of Commons adjourned for the day I was interviewed by Neil Moss of Hill Times about CUSMA and its study at committee stage. [note: this article is behind a paywall]

On Thursday evening I attended a reception at the Cuban embassy to commemorate the birthday of José Marti and the 75th anniversary of bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba. I met the Cuban ambassador, Josefina Vidal, and her husband José Anselmo López Perera.

Cuban ambassador, Josefina Vidal, and her husband José Anselmo López Perera.

Later, I dropped in on the book launch celebration for “When Poverty Mattered” by Paul Weinberg. The event featured a Q&A with the author that was moderated by Tim McSorley, National Coordinator for International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. I had an opportunity to speak with both of them afterwards.

Friday January 31st

On Friday morning Elizabeth, Jenica, and I had a second meet and greet with student volunteers who will be observing committee meetings and preparing briefing notes for the Green Party caucus.

In the afternoon I presented a petition in the House of Commons that calls on parliamentarians to ban the future sale and/or manufacture of animal-tested cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients in Canada.

Later, I met with Tim McSorley, National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and Mohamed Harkat, who has been under a security certificate for 17 years and faces deportation to Algeria. Mr. Harkat’s case exemplifies some of the long term issues with security certificates. Amnesty International has issued a statement about his case. After learning the details of the case I agreed to write a letter of support for Mr. Harkat to Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Tim McSorley, National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and Mohamed Harkat

The proposed Teck Frontier mine in northern Alberta is a looming issue that I have spoken out about more than once in the House of Commons. On Friday afternoon Teck Frontier was the focus of a meeting that Elizabeth May and I had with Julia Levin, Program Manager (Climate & Energy) at Environmental Defence. We discussed our mutual concern about the prospect of the mine being approved, shared ideas on how to gain broader support for rejecting it.

On Friday evening I attended a reception for MPs and sponsors of Winterlude, marking the kick off of Ottawa’s biggest winter festival. Afterwards I took a walk down Sparks St, and checked out the ice sculptures that were on display as part of the festivities. A nice conclusion to a busy and productive week!

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