Tag Archives: Parliament

A possible post-COVID Canada, Part 1

By now I hope that many people have figured this out, when restrictions are lifted, when we’re not physically distancing on purpose and when we are no longer making our kitchen tables do double duty as a workspace life will be different; way more different than we expect. Here are two aspects of our lives that could be part of major shifts after COVID-19. The next #redheartbluesign will tackle the care of our seniors,

Just like the renovations on Centre Block on Parliament Hill, there will be change coming to Canada post-COVID-19

The Economy

The phrase “it’s the economy stupid” comes to mind when I consider the actions take to date. For Justin Trudeau, it will be “it’s the green economy stupid”.  An economic shift will take place as we move out of the isolation and restrictive guidelines. The federal government has signalled that they will use this economic recovery to shift to a green economy. The Liberal government has indicated in the past its desire to do this. They introduced the Pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change in 2016. Provincial Environment Ministers met in October of that year, it was at that meeting Minister Catherine McKenna told her provincial counterparts that there were only two options to meet federal regulations in the framework; a carbon tax or cap and trade policy.

As we look to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, this would be the perfect time to restructure our economy in a green direction. The budget Bill Morneau must have been ready to deliver months ago surely has been fed to shredder by now. The economic needs of the country are completely out of whack from they were at the start of March. It is not going to be just about minor adjustments, it will be about shocking the economy to a full restart. The federal government recently announced 1$1.7 billion to clean up orphan oil wells. While the focus of this is might be to get energy workers back to work, it’s a green clean up that has been demanded by environmentalists for years. It is one step that Ottawa has taken to their green economic shift.

There is no doubt that Trudeau will take this road, but how he’ll do it is still the big question. He has the chance to merge from fossil fuels to green energy but don’t discount that he’ll use the end of the COVID lock-up to make a drastic left turn and leave the oil industry scrambling to catch up.

Parliament

Parliament has met thrice since it adjourned on March 13th because of COVID-19. Two sittings were emergency sitting to pass COVID aid packages and Parliament met again as scheduled on Monday April 20th. On each of these occasions’ Parliament met with 32 Members, a proportional representation of the minority parliament. Before sitting on April 20th, the debate leading up to the return was how many times MPs would meet in the House of Commons. Reading the news, or if you believe the Prime Minister, the question was about every 338 MPs return. Negotiations did not go well; the left (The Government + Bloc Quebecois, NDP and Green Party) was facing off against the Conservatives on this. One side wanted fewer live sittings, the other more. The heart of this matter is, does a virtual sitting benefit Canadians and ensure effective governing is on place. The Conservatives final offer was on three in person sessions. The left won out and now Parliament has to figure out how to do it.

There is more to Parliament than sitting in the House; Members of Parliament come to Ottawa for a number of purposes, yes MPs are required to sit in the House for Questions Periods everyday then one full day a week as ‘house duty’. Much of an MP’s time is spent in committee, at stakeholder meetings, meeting with other MPs, meetings with constituents and meeting up with groups that come to Ottawa for a tour of the parliamentary buildings. Informal gatherings are a huge part of life on the Hill, cultural and political worlds collide for informal discussions and introductions on many topics of interest. Does moving to a virtual parliament benefit how parliamentarians meet and listen to Canadians? What is the balance and how does Parliament come up with it?

When COVID restrictions are lifted, what becomes of the work taken to establish virtual House sittings? Will virtual be the way of the future, will Parliament make having 338 MP’s in the House the exception rather than the rule? As has happened recently, the government may make votes on economic measures as the only reason for bringing MPs to Ottawa. All other votes, debates and motions could be done remotely. The question is, does this benefit Canadians? Is there a will to have government become less or more accountable? Would a virtual parliament ‘close’ the brick and mortar of our government to Canadians?

Thanks for reading. Stay safe and wash your hands. Part 2 will be posted Wednesday.

Rob

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker & @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook athttp://tiny.cc/n5l97. If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

#elxn43 – West Block awaits

20191114_153417.jpgI have been thinking about Canada’s 43rd Parliament.  I’ve been thinking of this since the Prime Minister announced that the House will reconvene  on Thursday December 5th when MP’s will select the Speaker of the House of Commons and deliver the throne speech.   Because of his announcement there are so many questions to ponder before December 5th.

There will be questions about the party leaders, the regional divisions, the province vs Ottawa battle lines and who is going to be doing what.  There is going to be a new cabinet to consider, who’s out and who stays in.  On the opposition side of the aisle the considerations are just as enormous as there are key players not returning.

I fully expect to hear from the parties and the leaders and what they want out of this session.  I wonder how effective the NDP be with a much smaller representation (the NDP is now fourth in the House of Commons), will the Bloc Quebecois eclipse how team orange operates and can the BQ ever think about anything else besides themselves and Quebec?  The Conservatives have a much larger team, but will they be able to keep their focus on the government when everyone else (including some in the party and the House) are focused on Andrew Scheer’s hold on the  CPC leadership? Does three elected Green MPs mean more from them? Finally, what will Jody Wilson-Raybould do to get under the skin of the Prime Minister this session?

Of course there will be the issues,  there will be no shortage of issues to legislate and debate, but who’ll control the agenda in this minority parliament?  While the last parliament was a Liberal majority, Trudeau still struggled at controlling the house and the legislative agenda.  He’ll need a stronger and more congenial House Leader to quarterback Trudeau’s agenda. Bardish Chagger did not demonstrate the qualities of being approachable, accommodating and amiable to working with others, traits that are needed for a majority, – so there’s a chance she will not be asked to do it for a minority.  When the Prime Minister unveils his new cabinet on November we’ll finally see how he plans to stick handle his way through this parliament.

Leading up to December 5th I’ll  look at the Parties and their priorities; the People and their roles  and finally the issues and expected legislation. I hope you’ll catch all three posts leading to the speech from the throne.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker & @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook athttp://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

Goodbye, Hello and a Sad Farewell

The Headlines say it all…

Closed for Renovations: The Home of Canada’s Democracy 

(Toronto Star Dec. 18, 2018)

Lots of unresolved issues as Centre Block closes

(Penticton Herald Dec. 24, 2018)

The iconic Centre Block is closing indefinitely 

(The Globe and Mail Dec. 14, 2018)

Parliament adjourns for 2018, ending a final sitting in Centre Block for a Decade

(CTV News Dec. 13, 2018)

Closing Centre Block: Parliament Prepares to Leave

(CPAC, Dec. 17, 2018)

An empty House of Commons, December 2018

I have only been working on Parliament Hill for three years, but Centre Block, she is a grand old lady.  There are many areas to discover and to halls to wander down. The Library is an essential visit; there is the hall of Prime Minister portraits (including the story of the ‘wall’ between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin).  Working there, the committee rooms hold amazing artwork that captures our history, the Peace Tower and the memorial Chamber housing the books of those that have died in wars past. 

So much has been written about the “good-bye” to Centre Block that I figure the words on the new home of the House of Commons will be eventually written in January when MPs return to Ottawa.  Walking into the House and watching Question Period is always a thrill, I don’t always have to like the answer but its fun to hear the questions.   The many halls that take some getting used to may not be missed, but the meeting rooms, the corner offices, the Main Rotunda and the House and Senate Lobbies will certainly be missed.  They all have history and a person can get lost in thought when pondering the footsteps of thousands of MPs, Prime Ministers, foreign leaders, Governor Generals and many many many Canadians that might be only a echo in our history – but those steps loom large when you yourself have a chance to walk in Centre Block. 

The grand ole building will be missed, but boy oh boy do we have something amazing to call home for the next 10+ years!  Say hello the new West Block Chamber and the Senate chamber in the old Ottawa Conference Centre, that before that was the Union Station for trains coming in and out of Ottawa.

The work that has been done is phenomenal, the engineering in adding a major infrastructure within a building is something to behold.  The West Block doesn’t have the beauty of 100 years, but it is a beautifully renovated building that will house two large committee rooms that will also serve as the Government and Opposition Caucus meeting rooms.  The attention to detail in the West Block is intricate, the use of what were once outside walls to be indoor, the high glass ceiling in the House chambers creates a sense of limitless opportunities for MP’s all add to the awe of what is now our House of Commons.  

It is going to take a while to know exactly where the offices of the Prime Minister, Opposition and Third Party are and what is the fastest way to get there.  I imagine the many stairs and elevators will lead me astray – I will need a few weeks before I can adequately show guests around the building efficiently. 

Luckily I had the chance to walk through the West Block in November.  It was difficult to decide if I should take photos or just look at the transformation because you didn’t want to miss anything. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10161038762890858&set=pcb.10161038769540858&type=3&theater

Bruce Addo with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011

Finally, a goodbye to a giant of a man, Bruce Addo passed away suddenly on Christmas day.  He had just started working in the Minister of Environment, Rod Phillip’s office, in Queens Park after the election.  I knew Bruce briefly, we worked on the Larry O’Brien campaign in 2010 together in Ottawa, but the memory of him stuck with you.  He was a hard person to forget, because he broke the mould on how a political person should act.  He never had a bad word for his political opponents, but never shied away from a debate with them. 

He had a smile that never quit and time for everyone for a conversation.   I don’t need to say more about him, the tributes on Facebook have flowed non-stop since the news of his death.  I mentioned to someone that if we all did politics the way Bruce did, Canadians would have a better opinion of politicians.  Bruce had a great future in the governing of Ontario and eventually Canada with a Conservative government.  He would have gone far, now he is gone far away but his smile will always be near.  

We will miss you Bruce.

“On the House” by Rob Walsh

In a year of living politically, it challenges me to read more so I know and understand more. The first challenge was to learn about what my political reality really is. As a ‘staffer’ on Parliament Hill I had knowledge of the happening of the activities of how Parliament Hill “works. What I needed was an understanding of why it works the way it does and the historical and constitutional contexts that Canada is governed by.

It could be a book for dreamers, those that dream of becoming an elected Member ofOn the House Parliament. At least by reading the book before making the decision to run, it could weed out a few who might be considering a ‘run’ when the weight of the position is understood.

On the House is written by Rob Walsh, who had a 20-year career as a Law Clerk working with Members of Parliament and their staff on Parliamentary procedure and regulations. On the House introduces the players that support MP’s and staff and also reveals a few secrets that take the mystery out of the daily procedures that rule all that are allowed to be in the House of Commons.

The book arrived at a time when there were ethical questions raised by members on the activities of the government. On the House covers the everyday activities of from the moment a newly elected MP arrives in Ottawa to set up an office, attending Member “school” and to be sworn in, all this to be done before setting one foot into the House of Commons.

Beyond the first steps following an election, On the House, takes the reader (and the new MP) through an exercise of understanding how our constitution was developed going back to before the Magna Carta and the development of the separation of the Crown and Parliament in the United Kingdom.   What follows through in the pages is an evolution of ‘privilege’, ‘ethics’, tradition where much of the work of governing take place. Walsh takes us into committee rooms, into the law clerks office and of course into the House of Commons as he explains how the procedures, with even the smallest alteration would have an large impact.

In light of what has been making recent headlines, the sections on ethics and parliamentary privilege are of particular interest. I should note here that skipping ahead to read these chapters should not be encouraged; having the constitutional context of privilege is needed to know that Canada is governed by history as much as it is by a changing political and social landscape.

The idea of Parliamentary privilege might seem unlawful to Canadians, protecting our elected officials from what is said in ‘the House’ and on Committee? Walsh does a good job to explain why the privilege exists and where it comes from. While privilege exists in the House and in Committee, it does not outside of these, hence the reason you’ll hear requests to have something said in privilege repeated outside the doors of the house (which are used as the cover of On the House).

Through case histories, parliamentary debates and parliamentary procedures outside of the House of Commons Walsh give the reader the experience that even though there are flaws, our form of government that was first set out in the British North America Act of 1867 works. Walsh also uses cases of law that defend the privilege that MP’s enjoy. While Walsh worked to defend many of Parliaments privileges – he does disagree with a few and puts his case forward – but history more than often not wins out and unwritten laws or traditions of privilege remain in place.

It might seem that On the House is a book for the Ottawa bubble, but the reality is that Walsh has provided Canadians with a “how to book” for comprehending how our government and the opposition how each play their roles.  There is legalese to navigate, but would you expect anything else considering the topic? Walsh’s view as Parliamentary Council on our Parliament is unique and one that should be read and shared.

On the House is available through McGill Queens University Press.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net