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Thank you for visiting my website. I hope this offers you useful information on the work I am doing as Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.
If you have any questions or comments about any federal program or service, or need help dealing with any department or agency of the Government of Canada, please don’t hesitate to contact my Constituency Office. It is an honour to serve our community.
Last week, as world petroleum prices tumbled, triggering a slump in stock markets, a lower Canadian dollar and renewed warnings about government revenues, there was a clear policy message for the Harper government – your plans for the economy are too narrowly based, leaving Canada unnecessarily exposed to greater risks.
Since taking power in 2006, Mr. Harper has had only two clear economic policy thrusts. First, his obsession with eviscerating the Government of Canada in every way he possibly can, regardless of the impact on important federal services. And second, his predominant reliance on the natural resources private sector for investment, growth and jobs.
The weakness in such an approach is obvious. The markets for most Canadian natural resources are global. When those markets are booming, the benefits for Canada can be impressive. And thank goodness they have been, because without growth in basic resource industries in provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada might not have had any net economic growth at all over the past half-decade.
But here’s the rub – when resources hit a rough patch, Canada has too little to fall back on because our national economic base has become too limited. We don’t have enough eggs in other baskets. We need to become more proficient at many more things than exporting raw resources alone.
And even within the resources sector, the Harper government’s narrow focus is counterproductive.
In their near-mindless hacking and slashing of the federal role in relation to environmental integrity, for example, they have created a global reputation for Canada as an irresponsible environmental laggard. That negative image – deserved or not – is the biggest single impediment blocking US government approval for the Keystone-XL pipeline. If Mr. Harper had even a modicum of environmental credibility, this project could have been green-lit long ago.
The lack of market access for Canadian energy products brought on by Mr. Harper’s policy delinquency is costing producers billions of dollars in lost global prices.
Beyond convincing our trading partners that Canada can be trusted once again on key global concerns like the environment, the federal government also urgently needs a growth agenda that includes, but extends far beyond, resource developments.
The Harper government seems caught in a time warp, out-of-touch with the current realities and aspirations of typical middle-class Canadians and all those who are working so hard just to make it to the middle-class. It’s just like 2008 all over again when Mr. Harper dismissed a looming recession as merely “a good buying opportunity” and prescribed five years of federal austerity as the solution. He was so, so wrong.
And now, he is presiding over over the worst economic growth record of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the 1930s, global growth is sputtering, Europe is in big trouble, even China is slowing, the energy sector is showing some vulnerability, new global security risks and health threats have emerged, and what’s the Harper plan? The same mistaken scheme he tried in 2008!
But Canadians have moved on. A clear majority feel neither this government nor the country are headed in the right direction. They want change, including an economic agenda for broad-based growth that doesn’t leave out big regions of the country, sectors of the economy or portions of the population.
The elements of such a growth agenda are becoming clearer.
Transformative investments in public infrastructure are one cornerstone – the most cost-effective way to drive jobs and growth nationally, improve productivity and capture the value of low interest rates in long-term capital assets. Another key component is greater access to all forms of post-secondary education and higher skills. Another is science and innovation. Another is persistent global branding and marketing to build a consistent Canadian trade surplus.
Policies like these would help to broaden and deepen the economy nationally and in all of Canada’s regions. They will get lip service from the Harper government, but little substantive action. His focus will remain narrow. And the winds of political change will continue to grow stronger.
Media reports last week revealed serious structural defects in the ornate stonework and stained glass windows that crown the House of Commons chamber like a cathedral dome. There was a real possibility of falling bricks and debris.
One headline proclaimed that Parliament was at risk of “catastrophic damage”. Repair crews were called in immediately.
Yes, this historic chamber of Canadian democracy must be kept in sound physical condition. But the real catastrophe for Parliament is more likely in the behaviour of the Harper government than in the building they occupy.
Another example of political degradation emerged just a few days ago when a leaked document exposed Mr. Harper’s plan to amend the Copyright Act to allow political parties to swipe video clips out of television news programs – without permission and without remuneration – to be used in partisan attack advertising.
We all have complaints from time to time about how we get treated in particular news stories, but by and large legitimate journalists work hard to make their newscasts professional and accurate. They try to present relevant, useful information in context and in a complete, fair and balanced way. None of these virtues apply to the vicious Conservative attack ads that have so soiled Canadian politics in recent years.
Mr. Harper’s new rules would legalize what amounts to expropriation without compensation. The purloined material could be edited, twisted and distorted out of all proportion, without any possibility of complaint or remedy, and the broadcaster from whom it was stolen would be forced to run the dishonest advertising made from it.
This is a direct assault on the integrity of journalists and freedom of the press. It blurs the line between “news” and propaganda. In the eyes of most Canadians, there is an important difference. When asked whom they trust most in public life, Canadians typically identify people like veteran television news anchor Lloyd Robertson. When asked whom they trust least, a large percentage say Stephen Harper.
Mr. Harper’s problem is hyper-partisanship. To him, political advantage supersedes every other principle by which public life might be conducted. That was the instinct behind his recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act which he forced through Parliament, making it harder for certain groups of Canadians to vote and easier for electoral fraud to go undetected.
It was partisan advantage that drove the Conservative “In-and-Out” election financing scam. It took four years of investigating by Elections Canada and a police raid on Conservative Party headquarters, but in the end charges were laid, the Conservative Party had to plead guilty, was convicted, and the Court imposed the biggest possible penalty the law allows.
It was the same corrosive mentality that led to the deceitful robo-call fiasco in Guelph where a Conservative operative was convicted of electoral fraud. The Federal Court of Canada has, in fact, expressly found that voter suppression and electoral fraud occurred in a number of ridings in the last federal election and, according to the Court, the most likely source of the information used to commit that fraud was the Conservative Party’s database.
And that’s not all. Blatant violations of election rules forced Mr. Harper’s hand-picked Minister from Labrador to resign. On another front, his former Parliamentary Secretary is now on trial in Peterborough on other election financing charges. Then there was Mr. Harper’s attempt to use robo-calls to twist the work of an independent Electoral Boundaries Commission in Saskatchewan. And don’t forget the Mike Duffy/PMO ethics scandal about a secret $90,000 cheque and interference in a Senate audit. That trial starts next spring.
These are the kinds of truly debilitating things that make for real catastrophes in Parliament.
With the support of transit employees, their unions, municipalities and other transit operators, police officers, the Canadian Urban Transit Association and others, I have spent the past year promoting legislation to better protect bus drivers and other transportation workers.
These people provide vital services to the general public in all sorts of locations in all weather conditions and at all hours of the day and night. They are often on duty alone, operating powerful vehicles on public streets and thoroughfares. By the nature of their employment, they assume serious responsibilities for public service and safety, and put themselves in a vulnerable position.
Statistics show that a wide array of offences are committed against bus drivers and similar employees some 2,000 times every year. Surely this is unacceptable.
That’s why I proposed Private Member’s Bill C-533 which would require all judges, when sentencing anyone convicted of any criminal offence against a “public transportation employee”, to take into account as an “aggravating factor” the vulnerable nature of the victim’s employment. The same factor would also apply to anyone coming to the aid of such an employee.
Bill C-533 has earned broad public support, but remains on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. Such Private Member’s Business is selected for debate and a vote by the luck of a draw. Other MP’s from all other Parties have also advanced similar proposals from time to time. This is not a partisan issue that divides along political lines.
A few months ago, a Conservative Senator (Bob Runciman) brought forward his own proposed “bus driver” legislation (Bill S-221). It differs in detail, but is similar to mine in principle. The procedure applying to Senate Bills has allowed S-221 to move more quickly. It has passed the Senate and is coming before the House of Commons today.
I encourage all MP’s to support it.
S-221 is not as broad as my proposal. It applies only to certain specific offences in the Criminal Code, not every offence. And it doesn’t make any reference to persons coming to the aid of a bus driver under attack. On the positive side, it does include a useful definition of “transportation employee” that covers certain others like taxi drivers too.
I have said from the outset that I do not consider this to be a matter of partisan politics. I just want to see useful legislation enacted as quickly as possible.
Once it becomes the law, transit operators need to launch prominent communications campaigns informing the public that offences against people like bus drivers are serious criminal matters carrying serious penalties. And offenders will be prosecuted.
Work also needs to continue on such things as better structural designs for transit vehicles and the installation of video monitors to augment safety conditions.
I hope S-221 will be successful. I am happy to have played a role in bringing this issue of bus driver safety to broad public attention and developing momentum in Parliament to strengthen the law.
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