An independent Environment Commissioner: Something else the Liberals never got done

Our good friends at the New Democratic Party of Canada write today to point out a couple of things about the idea that the Environment Commissioner ought to become independent of the Office of the Auditor General and report straight through to Parliament. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has been saying that he would support the idea of an independent Environment Commissioner and, today in Question Period, Liberal whip Karen Redman was asking the government to support such an idea:

“Mr. Speaker, in 1997, the Liberal government created the position of environment commissioner to provide sound, independent advice to Parliament about protecting Canada's environment and working toward sustainable development, but after this past week, it appears that the environment commissioner is not as independent as Parliament had originally thought she would be. Will the Prime Minister support a motion to establish an independent environment commissioner as an officer of Parliament?” – Karen Redman, Hansard, 2 February 2007

But the New Democrats point out — in what’s becoming a refrain repeated in Ottawa nowadays with such frequency that it’s almost become a bit boring — that the Liberals had 13 years to get that done!

Our second task will be to appoint an Environmental Auditor General, reporting directly to Parliament, with powers of investigation similar to the powers of the Auditor General.” – 1993 Liberal Platform, p. 64

For the record, NDP Leader Jack  Layton asked the Prime Minister yesterday to support an Environment Commissioner. Here’s that exchange:

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): 
    Mr. Speaker, the dismissal of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development came as an unpleasant surprise. Ms. Gélinas provided a non-partisan voice here on matters of the environment. Her studies were always based on science and fact. And now she is gone.

 Will the Prime Minister support a proposal, an amendment to the legislation, proposed by the NDP to ensure that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will be a senior public servant who answers directly to the House and its members, and to no one else?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 
    Mr. Speaker, the government regrets Ms. Gélinas' departure. At the same time, legislation exists and the legislation is clear: the position of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is within the Office of the Auditor General, but both report directly to Parliament. 

We are certainly willing to study the NDP leader's proposals.

The Iron Man

So it wasn’t enough yesterday that NDP MP Peter Julian spent 12 hours at the Commons Committee on International Trade trying to force changes to the softwood lumber deal by staging a one-man day-long filibuster. Nope. When the string finally played out at that committee somewhere around 10 pm last night, Julian popped next door into the House of Commons to support his party’s defence critic Dawn Black in last night’s Committee of Whole debate on defence department spending. Julian looked a little weary but gamely clapped and cheered on Black in the debate’s final hours.


Mr. Julian Goes to Ottawa

Peter JulianYou remember that famous filibuster Jimmy Stewart’s character tried to pull off in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Well, NDP MP Peter Julian (left)is mounting his own filibuster today — although one suspects it may not have the same satisfying ending that the movie had.

A few minutes ago, Julian began introducing one of 98 amendments he has in his pocket to the softwood lumber deal. He’s doing this at the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade. The committee has limited Julian’s remarks in support of each amendment to just 3 minutes. Still, even with just three minutes each, Julian believes he can keep the committee at work until midnight tonight.

From the NDP press release on this:

Julian is seeking to, among many other points: lower the penalties on companies that do not participate in the so-called softwood deal and eliminate the double taxation of Canadian lumber companies.

“I’m going to debate and opposes this deal until I have no voice – literally,” said Julian. “This softwood sellout is a raw deal for Canadian lumber workers and their families.”


Guns on our lakes – the political reaction

The issue of U.S. Coast Guard cutters conducting machine gun fire exercises on the Great Lakes has percolated up to Ottawa. Here's an exchange from Question Period:

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, recently Mayor Bradley of Sarnia added his name to the chorus of Canadians who are concerned about the U.S. coast guard firing live ammunition into the Great Lakes. This is on top of the fact that the vessels of the coast guard have very powerful machine guns on them now.
Will the Prime Minister tell us how firing live ammunition into the Great Lakes where Canadians live, work and play is making them any safer?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it was actually in 2003 that the previous government affirmed a treaty that had been in place since 1817 and permitted this type of exercise. It is currently under review. There has been a suspension of all activities of live fire exercises until November. There will be a public consultation. Canada has made its views known to the United States. Clearly, we will follow these consultations in the United States to make those views further known on the environmental side and the security side to see that we get a proper resolution.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, a proper resolution is to make sure that the shooting in the Great Lakes is stopped.
We all know that the Liberals sold us out when they allowed a treaty concocted two centuries ago to keep the Great Lakes demilitarized to be violated.
The question is whether the Conservative government is going to put on the table a Canadian position that says there will be no firing of live ammunition in the Great Lakes because of the environmental, safety, tourism, economic and sovereignty consequences.
Will the Prime Minister stand in this place and say that he is going to tell the Americans to shut down the firing in the Great Lakes?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, obviously the leader of the NDP was not listening and he has taken the usual approach of ready, fire, aim.
I have said that the exercises are not taking place while the consultation is under way. In fact, there will be three public consultations, one taking place in Minneapolis and the others in Detroit and Buffalo. They are currently under way.
In April 2003 both countries agreed to an interpretation of an age-old contract, the Rush Bagot contract. We are pursuing this with the Americans. We have made our views known. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Later, Layton addresses reporters in the House of Commons foyer after Question Period:

“Well, the Liberals apparently opened the door to this arming of Coast Guard vessels in the Great Lakes without much fanfare. That was a grave error and Canadians should have in fact been consulted at that point. Now we see that live firing of ammunition on the Great Lakes is taking place and there are no hearings in Canada. The minister talked about hearings but they’re all in the States. What? Do Canadians not matter? These are our Great Lakes too. …
… I know that the mayor of Kingston, the mayor of Sarnia, the mayor of Toronto, mayors on the Canadian side and I understand some mayors on the American side are very concerned about the fact that a place that has been a place of work, a place of pleasure, a place for environment to thrive and ecosystems is now going to be shot at by the Coast Guard with these massive machine guns. There’s an awful lot of people out there on those looks who aren’t necessarily listening to their radios to get alerts that there’s going to be live fire with a range of up to 4,000 feet or more taking place on the Great Lakes. And our government needs to make a clear statement on the record with the United States administration to say that this must stop.

Technorati Tags:

Softwood lumber: Good says Emerson; bad says NDP

International Trade Minister David Emerson issued a press release Friday titled:


The New Democratic Party, in a press release issued a few hours after this, had a, erm, slightly different view:

2,500 jobs lost in Softwood Sellout and more to come:

First, here’s Emerson and the PR spinners at DFAIT.

“Today, Canada’s softwood lumber industry breaks free from the endless cycle of conflict, uncertainty and costly litigation, [said Minister Emerson].

“Very shortly, sawmills and producers in many of the more than 300 forestry-dependent communities across the country will see the return of more than C$5 billion dollars, breathing new life into the sector at this crucial time.

“This long-term agreement with the United States brings stability and certainty to our softwood lumber industry and to the many Canadian families and communities who depend on it.”

To which NDP MP Peter Julian says bollocks. Julian, a Vancouver-area MP and his party's critic on softwood lumber issues, blames the Tories for layoffs but also hung some of the responsibility on the Bloc Quebecois:

“Stephen Harper has provoked a melt-down in the softwood lumber industry by forcing through this sell-out. We have lost over 2,500 jobs in the first six days since the announcement of its entry into force”, said Julian. “David Emerson was warned that job loss would happen if they bullied this bad deal into place.”

Julian is calling for Bloc Quebecois MP’s to vote with the NDP to stop the sellout deal and to put into place immediately loan guarantees for companies and support for softwood communities.

“The Bloc is the sticking point. They have chosen short term political expediency over the interests of Québec. As the meltdown accelerates, provinces can no longer take action to protect their industry. Quebec is announcing changes in stumpage fees today that are illegal under the Harper-Bush softwood agreement.” said Julian. “How the US will react is anybody’s guess – but one thing is certain – this instability is going to mean more jobs lost in mills all across this country.”


Commons trade committee cancels softwood hearings

Conservative members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, with support from Liberal members of that committee, have decided to cancel hearings the same committee agreed to earlier this year that were to be held this fall  in northern Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

“I'm not in favour of travelling,” Conservative MP Helena Guergis said at a committee meeting on Tuesday. Ms. Guergis is the Parliamentary Secretary to International Trade Minister David Emerson.  “I think the legislation is here and we need to move forward and talk about the next steps in every way we can, and I've also spoken with the minister and he's happy to come before us again as well.”

Committee members held a discussion on what sorts of issues it ought to tackle this fall.

“I think that with the [enabling] legislation [for the softwood lumber deal] now in the House that we should be changing gears,” said Ms. Guergis. “It's past. We should be looking to the future and having a conversation on what the future of this agreement is going to look like in terms of maybe what the binational council is going to look like, Canada's role in the meritorious issues, and there are various other committees. I'm learning there are other things that we, as a committee, can play a very important role in the next steps in the future for this agreement, and even going beyond what we think will happen after seven to nine years, what we think could happen at that point.”

NDP MP Peter Julian unsuccessfully pushed the committee to continue with the hearings, which were to occur in Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Ont., Saguenay-Lac St. Jean, Que.

“We have a bill that will be coming forward—presumably, if it passes second reading—and it will involve hearings in any event,” Julian said. “So, we're not talking about past business, we're talking about current business. We need to know what the impact is in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region. We need to know what the impact is in northwestern Ontario. We need to know what the impact is in British Columbia.

“It's very pertinent, it's very relevant. I think the residents of those areas have already expressed real interest in these hearings. If this committee adopts a motion that cancels those hearings, I think folks in those regions would like to hear about it.  I would suggest we just continue given that we have the motion, and given that we have adopted this attempt to go to those three regions, and that we proceed to mesh the hearings on second reading of Bill C-24, assuming it passes second reading, at committee stage with hearings in the region. Rather than having folks, the few [who are] wealthy, come to Ottawa and express their point of view, we go to the region. That's what we should be doing as parliamentarians to hear first-hand what the impact of Bill C-24 will be in those regions.”


Nik's numbers: August 25

If an election were held today — the result might be just about the same as it was on January 24. But, as pollster Nik Nanos notes, the Conservatives might not have 10 MPs from Quebec. Maybe they’d pick up one or two more each in Atlantic Canada, in Ontario, and in Manitoba and B.C.?

The key to a Conservative majorty, everyone says, is more seats in Quebec. So how’s that going? Well, according to the latest poll from Nanos’ company SES Research, Conservative support has dropped nine points in la belle province since his firm was last in the field three months ago. (35 per cent on May 9 vs 26 per cent at August 23).

The leaderless Liberals actually gained in Quebec compared to May and are up to 22 per cent. The BQ had the biggest bounceback, jumping up five points to 42 per cent. “The softening of support in Quebec this quarter should be worrisome for the Tories,” Nanos writes.

The big story in Ontario: The Conservatives are spinning their wheels (36 per cent three months ago – 37 per cent now) but the Liberals — remember: They have no leader — have jumped eight points (34 per cent then to 42 per cent now). The NDP — remember: they have a leader -has slipped in Ontario (24 then, 18 now) and nationally (18 now, 19 then).

Important note: Because of a smaller sample size at the regional level there is a larger margin of error.

The latest national numbers from SES are:

  • Conservatives 36% (-2)

  • Liberals 30% (+2)

  • NDP 18% (-1)

  • Bloc Quebecois 11% (+2)

  • Green 5% (-1)

  • Undecided 12% (+4)

The pollster says this result is accurate to within 3.3 percentage points 19 times out of 20. The survey was conducted between August 18 and August 23.