Monday Dec. 9th
In the morning I met with Réal Lavergne, President of Fair Vote Canada, to discuss electoral reform. We spoke about the need to put electoral reform on the Liberals’ agenda and Réal’s hopes to see a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue. Later in the week I was fortunate to be able to sponsor my first online petition of this new parliament. The petition was drafted by Don Giberson and calls for action on the very issue that Réal and I discussed. It's open online for signatures until March 9th, 2020. There has been a renewed interest in electoral reform at the federal level following the results of the October 2019 federal election. That's a good thing, because our first-past-the-post system does not deliver what Canadians vote for, and that needs to change.
In the afternoon I presented a petition in the House of Commons regarding the preservation of wild salmon.
Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition today to save the wild salmon, and specifically, to act on the precautionary principle and immediately implement all 75 recommendations made by Justice Cohen to save the Pacific salmon by removing Fisheries and Oceans Canada's mandate to promote salmon farming, to remove salmon farming from migratory routes and to look at prohibiting net-pen farming in British Columbia.
Later in the afternoon I met with Mike Meneer and Jason Hwang of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. They outlined the five calls to action that the Pacific Salmon Foundation are making to BC MPs:
The need for urgent action to clear the Big Bar rock slide obstructing salmon migrating up the Fraser River.
Restore an adequate budget for salmon stock assessments.
Commit more resources to the DFO’s salmon enhancement program.
Increase the salmon conservation stamp on fishing licences.
And move to closed containment salmon farms and away from open net farms.
On Monday evening I had the honour of being the Green Party representative for the lighting of the Menorah on Parliament Hill.
It's not often that I speak at the same events as the prime minister and the leader of the opposition! Here's a short excerpt from my speech:
The story of Hanukkah is a story of freedom and a lesson against religious oppression. It teaches us that then, like today, it is often a small number of committed individuals who have to fight against great odds in order to guarantee a secure future. Sometimes such a group can be as small as a caucus of three.
Tuesday Dec. 10th
I attended and co-sponsored the annual Human Rights Day round table. This is an event MP Gary Anandasangaree (Liberal) has hosted for the past few years. Initially it was a Liberal caucus event, but now representatives from all parties participate, because international human rights is a non-partisan issue. Presentations were made by representatives from organizations working on human rights issues. Topics covered included human rights issues in specific countries, including Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, Canada, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka, as well as topics that are not specific to one geographic location, including LGBTQxx rights, the climate crisis, female marginalization, and youth participation. There was also discussion around the implementation of UNDRIP at the federal level and a proposal for a Human Rights Ambassador here in Canada. There was discussion around making the round table a bi-annual event and I think that would be a positive step.
After the roundtable I was back in my office in time to catch the live web broadcast of the historic first test flight of Harbour Air's fully electric seaplane!
Later in the House of Commons, during the debate on the Conservative motion to create a committee on Canada-China relations I took the opportunity to bring up a problematic foreign investment situation that is impacting vulnerable seniors on Vancouver Island.
There has been considerable media coverage about the on-going health and safety crisis at seniors residences operated by Retirement Concepts. After numerous complaints, and a lack of improvement in conditions, the Vancouver Island Health Authority has been forced to take over administration of Retirement Concepts facilities in Comox, Nanaimo, and Victoria due to health and safety violations. Both the provincial and federal government approved the sale of Retirement Concepts to Chinese insurance corporation Anbang in 2017. Anbang was subsequently nationalized due to financial insolvency, and we are now in a situation where 23 seniors residences in British Columbia, including seven on Vancouver Island, are owned by a Chinese state-owned corporation. As evidenced by the VIHA takeovers, this situation is problematic. Poor standards of care in these seniors residences places additional stress on our health care system, so we all pay for the consequences. Seniors care, like the rest of our health care system, should be off-limits to foreign investment. The seniors living in these facilities worked all of their lives and contributed much to Canada's social safety net, they deserve better.
On Tuesday, December 10th, the Parliament voted on Bill C-2, a supplementary funding bill designed to make sure the government has the funds it needs to keep things going until it brings forward a budget in March. Funding bills are confidence bills and I voted “no” on this bill. As you can see if you watch though this video, I am one of the last MPs to vote in the House of Commons. I knew that my vote was not putting the government in any jeopardy. I voted no on principle and I outlined my reasons in a blog post I wrote the next day.
Green Party house leader Elizabeth May was at COP25 in Madrid during this vote. The fact that Green MP Jenica Atwin and myself voted differently on a matter of confidence caused a kerfuffle in the house, in the media, and on Twitter.
On Tuesday evening I participated in a holiday tradition on The West Block (Global News) where MPs read a holiday story. This year it was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer! You can watch the segment online, the story reading starts around the 20 minute mark.
Wednesday Dec. 11th
On Wednesday morning I met with Charlie Thompson and Jonathan Mitchell from HealthCareCan. They represent approximately 50 health research institutes and healthcare organizations such as hospitals. The key issue that we discussed is that hospital and health organizations are largely ineligible for infrastructure funding, including green infrastructure funding! We also discussed the lack of funding for research and innovation, which is leading to a "brain drain" to the US.
Later in the day I participated in a phone survey sponsored by Rio Tinto. Many constituents may be unaware of this but industry surveys of MPs are fairly commonplace. I was also recently surveyed by the Canadian Nuclear Association. Generally speaking, these surveys seem to be used to gauge overall attitudes towards, knowledge of, and support for particular industries.
After the House of Commons adjorned on Wednesday I was given a briefing on CUSMA (the new NAFTA) by Steve Verheul, the Chief Negotiator for the Government on this deal. It was a good opportunity to get some clarity on certain aspects of the agreement, which will be voted on in the House of Commons next year.
Thursday Dec. 12th
On Thursday morning I took the opportunity to congratulate Harbour Air on their successful e-plane test flight and to highlight their accomplishments as green tech innovators in Canadian aviation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to give my warmest holiday wishes to my constituents in Nanaimo—Ladysmith and to all Canadians. I also want to congratulate Greg McDougall and the innovative team at Harbour Air. On Tuesday morning, I watched with enormous pride as Harbour Air made history with a test flight of the world's first fully electric commercial aircraft. Harbour Air is a regional airline that provides an important transportation link between coastal communities in southern B.C. It has been working in partnership with magniX to become the world's first fully electric airline by converting their seaplanes to e-planes. With the success of Tuesday's test flight, they moved closer to the goal and positioned a Canadian business as a global leader in zero emissions air travel. This company has seen both the challenge and opportunity posed by climate change, and has stepped up for our children and grandchildren. I cannot wait to take my first trip on an e-plane. Congratulations to Harbour Air.
During Question Period I pointedly asked the government about it's intentions regarding the proposed Teck Frontier oil sands mine in Northern Alberta. I wrote a blog post dedicated to this topic last week in hopes of raising awareness about Teck Frontier. I hope you'll take the time to read it and learn more because approval of this proposed project should be unthinkable in a climate emergency.
Friday Dec. 13th
On Friday morning I met with Karina Albert and Dr. Kim Hollihan of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. We discussed issues with access to care and ensuring appropriateness of care (i.e. seeking the right type of professional at the right time). A key issue is lack of regulations across provinces for counsellors and psychotherapists. They also told me about the #TalkingCanHelp campaign, which aims to show Canadians that mental health care is often more accessible than they think.
In the House of Commons on Friday I presented a petition calling on the government to "eliminate the practice of charging interest on all outstanding and future Canada student loans." This seems like the least we can do to reduce the financial hardships for new graduates. I support the model of tuition-free higher education that has been implemented with great success in parts of Europe and South America, but until we get there no one should be profiting from student debt.
I spoke again during the on-going debate of the Speech from the Throne. This time I focused on the financial and social impacts of climate change.
Mr. Speaker, in the debate earlier today, we heard about the Canada child benefit. I heard the hon. member across the way talk about reducing debt for the next generation and reducing taxes. In addition, there was the analogy of getting married, having children and then having a foreclosure sign. In this time of a climate crisis, it is far more likely that the last image is going to be of a family who lost their house to a wildfire, who fled a flood or who had their house decimated by a hurricane or tornado. Right now, we are at the end of the COP25 conference in Madrid and the government has not brought forward a change to its climate targets for 2030. They have set net-zero for 2050. That is a long way away. I am going to be a very old man by then. My oldest daughter and my granddaughter appreciate the child tax benefit, but my youngest daughter is anxious. She is anxious like other people who worked on my election campaign who are on a child strike right now. They do not want to have children because they are worried about the future. As parliamentarians and leaders, we need to deal with this climate crisis properly.
After a very busy two weeks in Ottawa I recorded a quick holiday message to my constituents before heading home to Nanaimo. It's great to be back on the West Coast. I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.