Published | PubliÃ©: 2015-01-26
Received | ReÃ§u: 2015-01-26 6:03 AM
Rachel Aiello, The Hill Times
While the government indicates it will move ahead with the two key issues it planned to prioritize at the end of last year, security and the economy, a number of serious and impactful events have unfolded both in Canada and around the world that will have the opposition parties returning to the House with an amplified level of scrutiny, say NDP and Liberal House leaders.
Over the Parliamentary break, twin brothers in Ottawa and a connected third man were charged with terrorism-related offences, and gunmen acting on behalf of Al Qaeda stormed the Paris offices of French satirical newsmagazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people. Just last week the leader of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda branch who took responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo shooting released a video calling for more "lone wolf" terrorism in Canada.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc (BeausÃ©jour, N.B.) said it's these events that heighten the importance of getting the federal government's forthcoming terror legislation right.
"The tragedy in Paris makes it doubly important that people ask those questions, like, 'What are the right instruments? Are there things missing? Dots that aren't being connected? Is there information-sharing problems?' " he said in an interview with The Hill Times. "Because god knows if you can prevent one of those horrible events from happening..."
Before the six-week House break, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) told The Hill Times that the new anti-terrorism legislation, which could be introduced as early as this week, will take precedence, as will passing its counterpart Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, which was introduced in October by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney (LÃ©vis-Bellechasse, Que.) shortly after the shootings on Parliament Hill.
"We have been able to identify, with the help of some recent events, some ways in which we can fill gaps and make Canadians safer, and we will be doing that with that legislation," said Mr. Van Loan. Bill C-44 is at report stage in the House.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) said the NDP will have its own questions about the terror legislation.
"Are there checks and balances in this legislation? Is the government just pushing ahead a partisan agenda? Is the government looking to in a prudent, wise, targeted way so that civil liberties and democratic rights and freedoms are maintained?" he said in an interview.
Mr. LeBlanc said the Liberals will be open to working with the government on "responsible and appropriate tools" for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
"Security at home for us is a top priority and if the government makes a case for appropriate measures that keep Canadians safer, we will not hesitate to support them," he said.
However, the Liberals cautioned that in making the case for new powers, the government should also be responsible for ensuring that the civilian oversight function is strengthened.
In response to the Paris shooting, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) said the government would be moving forward "very early in the new session" with the new legislation. The bill is likely to contain "additional powers to make sure that our security agencies have the range of tools available to them to identify potential terror threats and to take arrests and other actions," he told reporters on Jan. 8 in Vancouver.
Through various statements made to the media about the new legislation, the government has hinted at some of its elements, such as preventative arrests, clamping down on speech that glorifies or encourages terrorist activity, and tightening Canadian borders and surveillance.
Another element of the debate will be the RCMP's ability to fully use any new laws. Mr. LeBlanc pointed to the RCMP saying it doesn't have the resources to properly monitor some potential terrorism threats.
"In the terrorism context, they have a number of powers that frankly go back to the ChrÃ©tien 2001 anti-terrorism legislation," said Mr. LeBlanc, who is concerned that some of the powers already on the books aren't being used.
Canada's first terrorism bill was brought in under Jean ChrÃ©tien's Liberals in 2001, following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Called the Anti-Terrorism Act, it set up new categories of terrorist crime and imposed new rules on imprisonment, among other measures.
"Whether it's preventative arrest or recognizance instruments, a number of the resources they asked for over a decade ago they're not using. So is it the wrong resources? Not enough resources? Those are the kinds of discussions we want to have," said Mr. LeBlanc.
Status of Canada's mission in Iraq:
As the last session wrapped up, the mission in Iraq was progressing in the non-combat assisting role as Canadians understood it, but Canadian soldiers have since been part of a direct exchange of fire on the front lines. No injuries to the Canadian forces were reported but the conversation around Canada's role shifted: both the NDP and the Liberals have indicated that they will be raising the issue in the House and agree that the government should be forthcoming and transparent about its plans for the mission.
"The government should come before Parliament and provide a complete accounting of how this circumstance came about and what is Canada doing to make sure we're not subject to that kind of situation again. Or they decide to change the mission, and if they have, they should again be transparent about that," said Mr. LeBlanc.
At the House leaders' meeting on Tuesday, both Mr. Julian and Mr. LeBlanc said they would raise the issue of a special debate or a committee examination of the mission.
"We raised concerns when the mission was proposed about mission creep and really what we're seeing is mission leap. What Mr. Harper and his minister said in the House of Commons about how this mission was going to be structured has simply turned out to be not true," said Mr. Julian. "In a time where we have a mission abroad, the government shouldn't be trying to make it a partisan issue but rather work-if there are changes that need to be made, improvements that need to be made in legislation-to actually work with the opposition."
The Hill Times asked Mr. Van Loan's spokesperson Darlene Stone whether the government would hold a special debate or some form of committee to reevaluate or update the mission in Iraq, as well as how the recent events in Paris and the falling price of oil would impact the government's priorities in the House. That would "be decided as we proceed," she wrote in an email.
The economy and the 2015 budget:
Before the holidays, the 2015 federal budget was anticipated to be tabled sometime in February but the drop in oil prices prompted an unexpected announcement from Finance Minister Joe Oliver (Eglington-Lawrence, Ont.) on Jan. 15 that it won't be brought forward until April due to "market instability." Last week, Bank of Canada Govenor Stephen Poloz announced the bank would be reducing its interest rate by one-quarter to 0.75 per cent.
In the House, both the NDP and the Liberals have plans to bring the government's economic and fiscal planning into question during Question Period.
"No doubt that puts them on the defensive," said Mr. Julian of recent events. "They put all their eggs in the raw resource extraction basket, which is why we now see the finances impacted by the price of oil at the same time that we've lost half a million manufacturing jobs."
Mr. Oliver continued to insist last week that the government would balance the budget in 2015-16.
However, the Liberals remain skeptical. "There are a number of continuing and painful economic realities that people are facing right across the country and it's not reassuring when the Finance Minister starts the return of Parliament in January looking like he's in a mad scramble," said Mr. LeBlanc.
New legislation before the House:
In a legislative blitz between Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, the Conservatives tabled five new bills: Bill C-46, the Pipeline Safety Act, which is currently at second reading in the House; Bill C-47, the Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Act, 2014, currently at second reading in the Senate; Bill C-48, the Modernization of Canada's Grain Industry Act, which is at second reading in the House; Bill C-49, the long-anticipated Price Transparency Act announced by Industry Minister James Moore on Dec. 9 that is also at second reading in the House; and Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre's Bill C-50, the Citizen Voting Act, also at second reading.
There will be two opposition days next week. The NDP is still weighing its options as to how to use its time, and the Liberals reiterated their determination to get leader Justin Trudeau's Private Member's Bill C-613, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency), through the last remaining hour of debate and into committee by March.
The Hill Tumes