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NEWS: The return of Parliament on Sept. 19 approaches

Postmedia News reports, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus has gathered on Parliament Hill to plot strategy for a fall parliamentary session that promises to be politically stormy. The caucus of 166 MPs arrived back from their constituencies and were to have an informal dinner Wednesday evening before getting down to work at their closed-door session on Thursday (September 8). The Conservative MPs…are gearing up for the return of Parliament on Sept. 19. They say they will stay focused on the economy — while moving ahead with contentious initiatives, such as killing the gun registry, introducing sweeping law-and-order legislation, and preparing the way for major deficit-reduction cuts to government programs.” The CBC specifies, “The government is also planning for a round of budget cuts and have asked every federal department and agency to submit proposals for five and 10 per cent budget cuts. Those are expected to be included in the 2012 budget.”

With respect to those budget cuts:

– In May, the Globe and Mail reported, “(Conservative MP John) Baird says about 80,000 public servants are expected to leave within the next five to seven years, meaning attrition could be a source of savings. He said the government hasn’t set a target, though.” The Ottawa Citizen reported then that, “Treasury Board president Tony Clement (says) he remains confident he can meet his targets ‘mainly’ by not replacing the approximately 11,000 public servants who leave or retire each year.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that no more than 40,000 jobs can be eliminated through attrition, meaning 40,000 employees would have to be laid off. Overall, the loss of 80,000 jobs would mean a 45 percent cut to the 178,000 member public service.

– In June, the parliamentary budget officer projected that Environment Canada would need to eliminate 1,211 jobs over the next three years in order to meet the targeted spending cuts identified by the Harper government. In July, the Council of Canadians issued a media release stating, “Prominent scientists, environmentalists and groups issued a statement addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper decrying cuts to Environment Canada and the impact they will have on Canada’s freshwater sources.” More on that at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9838.

– In mid-July Postmedia News reported that, “The federal government will slash funding to the environmental agency that evaluates potentially harmful policies and projects before they get the green light. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is looking at a 43.1 per cent cut in spending, dropping from $30 million in 2011-12 to $17.1 million in 2012-13, according to the agency’s planning documents. This cut follows a 6.9 per cent, or $2.2-million, drop in the funds government allocated to the agency in 2010-11. Along with the budget cuts, the 17-year-old agency is facing a one-third reduction in the number of full-time staff…”

The opposition parties are now preparing for the fall session: CTV has reported that, “The NDP holds its summer caucus retreat in September to set out the direction and strategy for the fall Parliamentary session beginning less than a week later. The meetings in Quebec City will take place from Sept. 13-15 before the scheduled return of Parliament on Sept. 19.” And Postmedia notes, “The Liberals, with interim leader Bob Rae at the helm, say they will focus on job-creation as their main issue while also trying to put the spotlight on the health-care system.”

Legislation to be debated in this Parliament: While standing committee and House debates are expected on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in 2012, and a Senate hearing on the Canada Health Act is expected in November or December, as well key votes, and more pieces of legislation introduced in the coming months, here are a few bills that were introduced in the late-June session that we are watching:

C-224, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change
Megan Leslie

C-211, An Act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (prohibition against oil tankers in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound)
Finn Donnelly

C-237, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act (deposit in lakes)
Peter Stoffer

C-257, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods)
Alex Atamanenko

It is also expected that Bill C-354, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), will be reintroduced. As explained by Peter Julian, “The bill would ensure corporate accountability for Canadian firms operating abroad. It would broaden the mandate of the Federal Court so that it protects foreign citizens against rights violations committed by corporations operating outside of Canada. This bill would hold violators accountable for gross human rights abuses, regardless of where they take place, and it would allow lawsuits in Canada for a host of universal human rights violations. Essentially, this bill would provide legal protection for those in other countries who are the victims of gross human rights violations.” This legislation is of particular significance given the harmful actions of Canadian-owned mining companies in Latin America, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=10311.

And Postmedia News notes, “In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Chretien government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2001. Two items in the legislation caused controversy. Police were given new powers to arrest and detain people suspected of planning a terrorist attack. Under this change, they could keep people in jail for up to three days without having to lay a charge. As well, people suspected of having information about terrorist activity could be compelled to testify before a judge at a secret hearing. The law required Parliament to re-examine those two powers — known as preventive arrests and investigative hearings — in five years. …In 2007, with Harper’s Tories in office, the Opposition Liberals and other parties in the minority Parliament banded together to rescind those two contentious powers. But now, with their majority, the Conservatives have the power in Parliament to roll back the clock and restore the measures.” As the Council of Canadians did in 2007, we will be arguing against these two measures.