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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is M-312 nothing but a Distraction from the Omnibus Budget Bill?

Sometimes it's hard to tell if Art is imitating Life or Life is imitating Art.

Canadian Playwright Michael Healey wrote a satirical play called "Proud" which is about a fictional Prime Minister who bears a remarkable resemblance to Stephen Harper. The Globe and Mail published an excerpt of "Proud" in which the PM asks a backbencher to put forward a pro-life bill to distract Canadians from his real agenda. Oh dear. As soon as I read it, I felt the truth of it. That's the great thing about fiction, how it can sometimes get at truth that, ironically, non-fiction can't reach. 

Meanwhile, in real life, here we are waiting for the second hour of debate on an anti-choice motion being floated by a backbencher, Motion M-312, while Stephen Harper pushes through Bill C-38, a bill that changes so much in Canada it boggles the mind. This bill has everything but the kitchen sink in it. Besides a budget which apparently is buried in it somewhere, here is a partial list of what
Bill C-38 includes: 

  • massive changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. According to Davis LLP, this is "one of the most fundamental shifts in Canada’s regulatory and environmental policy in its history." This is the part of the bill that seems to have attracted the most attention. A close reading of this bill indicates the Harper government really has a hate on for anything "environmental."
  • amendments to 60 different acts, including changes that weaken and undermine the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act,  the Energy Board Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Nuclear Safety Control Act (the latter two described in earlier links)
  • cuts to water programs and the monitoring of effluent. See the Green Party for more on this.
  • the end of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • severe cuts to ecological oversight and research at Parks Canada and many cultural and heritage programs. As one Parks employee put it in an article by Anne McIlroy, this is a "lobotomy" of the parks system.
  • the end of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • the end of several acts including the Fair Wages and Hours of Work Act
  • cuts to workers' eligibility for Employment Insurance. If this passes, if a worker on EI won't take a job, any job, that the Minister of Human Resources deems suitable for them, they will no longer receive benefits. In the past, workers have been able to look for work in their field and work at a comparable salary to what they had. Laid off from a high tech firm as a software developer? Get used to the phrase, "Would you like fries with that?"
  • the removal of independent oversight from 12 key government agencies—including the Northern Pipeline Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Revenue Agency
  • changes that give final say over pipeline project approvals to Conservative cabinet ministers regardless of environmental impacts
  • changes that exclude concerned citizens from assessments of major projects like the Enbridge pipeline
  • the end of access to primary health care for refugee claimants
  • the implementation of controversial changes to pension eligibility, meaning Canadians will not retire until age 67
  • implementation of yet another round of cuts into the CBC, this after the CBC has already undergone one round of cuts, and ironically, at a time when the organization seems to be doing quite well with the public according to former president, Richard Stursberg
  • the end of audits of internal government departments while $8M is added to audit capacity to harass charities suspected of political advocacy
  • changes the regulations in agriculture, including how downer cows are assessed and whether they can be put back into the food system. In the past dead cows were excluded from the food chain. Now, apparently, someone will glance at them and decide it they are fit to eat, throw them in the back of a truck and add them to the live cows that go into the slaughterhouses. The bill paves the way for private contractors to perform food safety inspections. This change particularly grossed me out. I might become a vegetarian after all.

As Andrew Coyne recently wrote in the National Post, "Omnibus bills are not unknown.... But lately the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated." He goes on to say, "There is no common thread that runs between [items in the bill], no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet."

There has been critique, of course. Elizabeth May calls it "The Environmental Destruction Act." Many are noting how the bill is bad for democracy because it rolls so much into one bill, limits the time for debate, obfuscates the individual issues by slipping them into a bill too long to really comprehend, that it guts environmental protection and so on. The NDP tried to get the bill split up so some of these radical changes could be considered individually, but the CONs have a majority, so this will not happen.

But Canadians are all sleeping through this.

In a recent column, Richard Poplak writes that with Omnibus Bill C-38, we are at the cusp of a moment in history. Canadians have to decide if they will protest this bill, a bill that is sure to pass with a majority CON government. As Poplak says, "Good policies? Bad policies? Doesn't matter. Properly, each of those items should be sent to committees and considered individually. That's how our system is designed to work. What the Conservatives have engineered isn't illegal, merely rotten - another in a long line of tricks defiling the democratic process." Proroguing Parliament comes to mind. While I personally agree with ending the production of the penny (another item in this bill), even this should see some debate. That's what Parliament is for. But in Harper's government, a government allergic to transparency according to Poplak, our Parliamentary tradition of debating key public issues is dead.

Meanwhile, what is being debated? Motion 312. A distraction, for sure. And we are protesting it with all of our strength and capacity. And protest it we must, because if I don't have control of my body, little else matters. But, if the CONs really wanted a personhood bill, they would have thrown it in with C-38. Just sayin'. That is why I am convinced that M-312 is exactly what Healey describes in "Proud," an attempt to distract us from the real agenda.

So much to protest, so little time.

And here's another meanwhile. Meanwhile, in Quebec, the students protest tuition increases. As Poplak notes, this is one of the biggest protests we've ever seen in Canada, in a province with a history of protest. Now going far beyond the original issue, the protest has become a more broad scale renunciation of the Charest's government attempts to infringe on personal freedoms and the right to express dissent. Quebec students are showing us the way.

We need to Occupy this.

Go petitions has a sad little petition with about a hundred signatures on it right now. Avaaz has one that is attempting to reach 500. Sad. Change.org has one that hasn't met 200 names yet. Honestly, what is wrong with us?   Here's a link to the Green Party's petition, one that you print, sign and send in. Maybe they are doing better. And anyway, hard copy petitions mean more in Parliament, so Go Green. But for heaven's sake, protest this bill. If you have time to protest M-312, take an extra minute to do something about Bill C-38. Please. It matters.

Now, to finish the story of Healey and "Proud." When Tarragon theatre in Toronto, a theatre to which Healey had been playwright-in-residence for eleven years, refused to produce the play on the grounds that it may be libellous and defamatory to the real Prime Minister, Healey resigned from Tarragon. As a recent article in the Globe and Mail described the situation, "A playwright writes a play about a famously controlling prime minister with a reputation for punishing people who cross him, only to have the play refused by producers who fear being punished by the famously controlling prime minister."

I hope  Michael Healey finds the cash to produce "Proud." May I be so bold to suggest that like me, when you can't find a producer, DIY. Sometimes, it's the only way to get your work out there. I think this is a play Canadians need to see and I hope I get the opportunity to see it.

While Healey works on that, the rest of us can put together some DIY activism. Get busy.

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