Back to whatever passes for work among the parliamentary democrats in Ottawa

Jan 26th, 2014 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

On one theory at least, what goes on in Canada’s federal parliament is crucial to the vitality of our parliamentary democracy. Whatever else, it forms a convenient framework for professional media coverage of Canadian federal politics. And on an old (and now almost certainly obsolete) Anglo Central Canadian theory, hockey and federal (or as some used to say, “national”) politics are/were the two key subjects of serious Canadian journalism.

On the theory that some version of all this at least still counts for something, it remains of interest that MP s and Senators in Ottawa will return to work this coming week. The more or less democratically elected Canadian House of Commons will resume on Monday, January 27, 2014. The still appointed companion chamber of alleged sober second thought in the Senate (about which so much has been heard recently) will meet on Tuesday, January 28. Both legislative bodies were last in session on Thursday, December 12, 2013.

According to Postmedia News, we can expect action or at any rate attention on seven different fronts when “Parliament resumes Monday” :  (1) The federal budget ; (2) Pipeline decisions ; (3) The Senate ; (4) Tough on crime, again ; (5) Defining citizenship ;  (6) Mental health and the military ; and (7) Consumer issues (as in : “The results of the latest wireless spectrum auction will be announced in the coming weeks and the CRTC will present a report to the government by April on unbundling TV packages. Both developments will have implications for consumers, though most won’t feel the actual impacts for months, if not years.”)

(1) BUDGET. For more on the upcoming federal budget, see “Conservatives slashing jobs and spending in bid to balance budget.”

The trick here is not to balance the budget this year. But : “The government’s annual fiscal blueprint will be a main theme of the parliamentary session that resumes Monday … Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is scheduled to meet Monday with private-sector economists to discuss the state of the Canadian economy, and it’s possible he could announce the budget date following their meeting … Flaherty is expected to table a no-frills budget … as the Conservative government looks to balance the books by next year and save tax breaks for the 2015 budget in the lead-up to the federal election.” [UPDATE JANUARY 27:Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Monday afternoon that he will deliver his 2014 budget on Tuesday, Feb. 11 …  the budget will be tabled during the Sochi Olympic Games, leading to opposition criticism that the Conservatives are trying to hide a ‘do-nothing’ budget.”]

(And, as you may recall, the next “fixed date” Canadian federal election is currently legislated to take place on October 19, 2015.)

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(2) PIPELINES. It does seem true enough that the Harper government’s key constituency is the Alberta oil industry. But trying to sell the “Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast of Texas” as a “no brainer” has still proved a dumb strategy in the age of even (or especially) the Obama Democrats in the White House.

Karl Marx on cover of Time magazine, February 23, 1948.

On the other hand : “At home, cabinet has less than six months to review the Northern Gateway proposal and decide whether it can approve it with the 209 conditions recommended by an expert panel — at the same time federal departments responsible for monitoring are engaged in major cost-cutting.” There are those who already say a Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada’s Pacific Coast is a dead letter. But the Harper Conservatives do have a comfortable majority in the Canadian House of Commons. And if the lovely premiers of Alberta and BC can come to some sort of agreement on the issue … ?????

(3) SENATE. The opposition parties will no doubt try to keep the Senate expense scandal alive in 2014. On some higher plane : “The Supreme Court of Canada will decide questions around reform or abolition this year.”

Meanwhile : “Preston Manning launches new Senate reform initiative.” (For the horse’s mouth here see his website “Senate : Reform or Abolish.”) Judging from Mr. Manning’s new initiative, Western Canada still does not accept or perhaps even realistically understand that Quebec must play some unique role in any successful Senate reform strategy.

Karl Marx on cover of Time magazine, Europe, Middle East and Africa edition, February 2, 2009.

While we continue to believe in Mr. Harper’s step-by-step minimalist agenda of reduced term limits and “consultative elections,” the Supreme Court reference may finally make this impossible too. (Why the Harper government didn’t simply pass its minimalist reform legislation after it won its May 2011 majority — and then face whatever  challenges arose in court — remains to us a mystery, that casts fundamental doubt on its real interest in Senate reform.)

What Mr. Harper himself has nicely called this “relic of the 19th century” could be with us for all too many more years — as a growing cancer on the democratic soul and credibility of the Parliament of Canada.

(4) TOUGH ON CRIME. We will just quote Postmedia News here : “Justice Minister Peter MacKay is expected to usher in a much-anticipated Victims Bill of Rights; he also must manage the redrafting of Canada’s prostitution laws after the Supreme Court of Canada struck them down as unconstitutional. He will also have to deal with the controversial Supreme Court appointment of Marc Nadon, whose ascent to the top has been contested, and he will try to navigate new cyberbullying legislation through Parliament as quickly as possible … The government is “trying to rebalance the system to place the rights of victims a little higher on the agenda,” [government House leader Peter] Van Loan said.”

(5) CITIZENSHIP. According to the CBC News site: “The federal government will introduce several changes to Canada’s citizenship rules after members of Parliament return to Ottawa next Monday following a six-week hiatus, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander … In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Alexander said the government will table a bill in the next session of Parliament that will see ‘the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation?.’”

Karl Marx and his wife, Jenny von Westphalen. She “ transcribed his notoriously indecipherable handwriting so that printers could read it.”

One long overdue reform the economic and other royalists in the Harper government won’t be making was proposed by the Toronto Star this past summer : “New citizens should swear loyalty to Canada …  New Canadian citizens should have an opportunity to affirm their loyalty to their adopted country, not to the monarch … our Commonwealth cousins in Australia are way ahead of us on this. Back in 1994 they dropped the oath to the Queen in favour of an elegant and rather moving ‘Pledge of Commitment’ in which new citizens declare: From this time forward, under God / I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people /  whose democratic beliefs I share, / whose rights and liberties I respect, and / whose laws I will uphold and obey.”

(6) MENTAL HEALTH AND THE MILITARY. We can do no better than quote Postmedia News on this front as well : “The apparent suicides of eight Canadian Forces members over the past two months have left many politicians, military commanders and average Canadians wondering what more can be done to help those suffering mental injuries. The issue will become all the more important given the official end of Canada’s role in the Afghan mission in March, and deep defence spending cuts.”

Karl Marx’s daughter Laura, in London in 1860.

Moreover : “Meanwhile, ongoing questions of what to do about Canada’s military procurement system will remain on the political radar. In particular, the highly charged debate over whether Canada should buy the F-35 stealth fighter will re-emerge as defence officials wrap up a review of the stealth fighter and its competitors in the coming weeks.”

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OTHER ISSUES. For (7) Consumer issues, see the third paragraph above. Private members bills, on the other hand, seldom go very far, but are sometimes interesting. See, eg : “Backbench MPs set to grab the spotlight with motions on tax evasion, bilingualism, seal hunt.”

LATEST POLLS. Two recent Canada-wide polls reported on by the Hill Times both put the Trudeau Jr Liberals ahead at the moment : FORUM : Canada — Lib 37%, Con 28%, NDP 25%, BQ 5&, Green 4% ; ABACUS : Canada — Lib 34%, Con 28%, NDP 24% , Green 7%, BQ 5%

Karl Marx’s daughter, Jenny, born in 1844.

REGIONAL POLLING RESULTS AND REGIONAL ECONOMIES. Some are saying the big split between pro and anti federal government forces right now  is just a traditional east-west geographic cleavage. But if you read the Hill Times report above back to back with the latest Labour force characteristics by province – Seasonally adjusted, the most obvious observation is just that the Harper Conservatives are still doing well in provinces with comparatively low unemployment rates — and badly in provinces with higher unemployment rates. So who knows? Maybe the next election finally will just be “It’s the economy stupid”! (And the Harper Conservatives better start praying that their current ideologically inspired economic bromides actually work in, oh say, how about Ontario?)

MARX IS BACK …The global working class is starting to unite — and that’s a good thing.” So says ForeignPolicy.com in the USA. What’s being talked about in this case is a revolution of some rising global “middle class” against an obscenely greedy global plutocracy.

Friedrich Engels (left), Karl Marx (right), and his wife Jenny, and their children Laura and Eleanor, presumably in London, unknown date.

Of course all parties in Canada claim to be working hard for the middle class. But if the greedy plutocracy is the real enemy, in Canada as elsewhere conservatives (and Conservatives) have arguably been the best friends of plutocracies everywhere — since the early 20th century at least. And that just may be the best short explanation of why the Liberals are currently ahead in the federal polls in Canada.

Of course as well, on the other hand, the Harper Conservatives greatest asset right now is that the next election is still quite a long way off. Similarly, no matter what Mayor Rob Ford does in Toronto, his comparative popularity seems to persist. (And he may be the model minor plutocrat who has mastered proletarian jargon in a major way. Maybe Mr. Harper will start taking lessons, and find some of the pot Margaret Trudeau left at 24 Sussex. And then he’ll warmly embrace Justin Trudeau, at a concert where the PM plays Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds on a piano.)

And then, finally, in Canada today you still only need to win a little less than 40% of the cross-country popular vote to get a majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons. That’s how what we call our parliamentary democracy works in the early 21st century — some 196 years after the birth of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany (near the present-day border with Luxemburg).

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