Going forward I will be calling these weekly reports “My Week in Parliament”. COVID cases are on the rise across the country, as we enter the second wave of the pandemic. The number of MPs permitted to sit in the House of Commons is limited but virtual parliament is fully functional. The members of our caucus agreed that we will take part in all parliamentary business from our home ridings until the new year.
Monday, October 19th
The House voted on the motion to refer Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I voted ‘yea’. Sending a bill to committee for further study is the normal course of events following the second reading debate of a bill in the House of Commons. I spoke about the importance of Bill C-3 last week in relation to the Lisa Marie Young case.
An emergency debate on the Nova Scotia fisheries crisis was called on Monday evening. For 21 years, successive governments have failed to implement the Supreme Court’s Marshall Decision which upheld First Nations’ treaty rights to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood. During the emergency debate, I spoke about the escalating violence against Mi’kmaq fishers. It is unacceptable that the RCMP stood back and watched an angry mob burning vehicles and throwing stones. This was in stark contrast to the RCMP’s raid on peaceful Indigenous protesters in Wet'suwet'en territory less than a year ago.
Tuesday, October 20th
On Tuesday, the House debated a Conservative motion to create an anti-corruption committee to study the WE Charity scandal.
The Liberal party declared that they would treat this motion as a matter of confidence. By doing this, the Federal Government decided that the vote to create this committee would be voting on the confidence of the House. If the vote passed, the minority Liberal government would lose the confidence of the house, resulting in a snap Federal election. This set the stage for a hectic Wednesday.
Canadians deserve accountability and honesty from the government, and it is clear that the government did not uphold these standards when it created the Canada Student Service Grant program and awarded the contract to administer it to the WE charity.
The whole premise of the Canada Student Service Grant was problematic. To get the full $5000, students would need to volunteer 500 hours, that’s $10/hr, which is less than the minimum wage in any province. Students would not gain any EI eligible hours or have this de facto employment recognized next spring if there is another wave of the pandemic and a need for further financial relief programs. And why introduce a program that required a whole new bureaucracy to operate? It would have made far more sense to allocate the funding to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program to ensure that the funding went to nonprofits to hire students. The CSJ program was oversubscribed and there are organizations in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and across Canada that either didn’t receive funding or received funding for fewer positions or fewer weeks than requested.
Ultimately it was students who were most hurt by the WE charity scandal because the almost $1 billion earmarked for the Canada Student Service Grant program was not available to create jobs for young people who really needed jobs.
Later in the afternoon, I had the chance to follow up on my question from earlier in the month for the Minister of Environment about the need to ban gas fracking in Canada. Fracking releases methane, which is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it is leaked into the atmosphere. The government needs to take more decisive action on gas fracking in this country.
Wednesday, October 21st
The biggest story on Wednesday was the confidence vote on the Conservatives’ motion to create an anti-corruption committee. The Green caucus makes decisions by consensus and we are always free to vote our conscience. We decided to vote against the motion. We disapproved of the partisan game being played out between the Conservatives and the Liberals. It could have needlessly sent the country into a federal election.
The government needs to be available to Canadians during this trying time. Going to an election now would mean further delaying the essential resources that Canadians have been waiting for to see them through the pandemic.
We have also now entered a second wave of the pandemic, and many people are still falling between the cracks. In a minority Parliament, we need to maintain strong collaboration between all political parties if we are going to deliver necessary support to the people of Canada. In the middle of a pandemic, there is simply no room for the brinkmanship that we have witnessed over the past week.
Fighting over the formation of this committee was never going to be a good enough reason for a snap election. Liberals need to make themselves available to respond to the reasonable requests and questions of Parliamentarians, and Conservatives need to work collaboratively to design a structure that permits the critical work of Parliament to continue. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is already investigating the WE charity scandal. The commissioner is independent of political influence, unlike parliamentary committees.
The motion did not pass in the House of Commons and the game of parliamentary “chicken” between the Liberals and Conservatives came to an end.
Later on, I submitted Parliamentary Petition e-2794, which I sponsored. This petition calls upon the Federal Government to treat climate change like the emergency that it is.
I also spoke during the debate on Bill C-7. I talked about my own family’s experience with medical assistance in dying, as well as the need for greater care for people with disabilities.
Thursday, October 22nd
Debate on Thursday was on a Conservative motion to direct the health committee to undertake a comprehensive study of the government’s response to the pandemic. I spoke about the urgent need for a comprehensive national mental health strategy. Mental health issues are a crisis in Canada, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19, and need to be addressed as such.
In the afternoon, I had the privilege of speaking at an Indigenous rights rally at Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. While there, I spoke about the necessity for the government to uphold the Marshall Decision. In the 21 years since the Supreme Court of Canada issued the Marshall Decision, the government has failed in its obligation to uphold Indigenous Treaty rights that were reaffirmed by that decision. The violence toward and intimidation of Mi'kmaw fishers in Nova Scotia are a direct result of the government's failure.
Friday, October 23rd
Friday’s debate was on Bill C-5, which is regarding the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Orange Shirt Day). Bill C-5 implements one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
My day and week concluded with a meeting concerning emergency access to Trikafta. Trikafta is a life-saving drug for people with Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis Canada set up this meeting with MPs from all parties to discuss the lack of access to the drug, which is available in the US and many parts of the EU but not in Canada. I’ve been approached by several constituents about their family members not having access to this drug, and I’ve written two letters to the Minister of Health about the problem. The MPs in attendance agreed to form an All-Party parliamentary caucus to work on the issue.