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Hill Dispatches: This week there will be lots of action as the government pushes its agenda vigorously

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The Government will continue expediting its agenda this week, which includes:

* Wheat Board reorganization (as Bill C-18 euphemistically describes its purpose);

* the omnibus crime bill, C-10 (the providing for longer sentences and reduced leeway for judges while doing nothing about prevention bill);

* and the deceptively titled "human smuggling" legislation (it applies sanctions against   refugee claimants based on how they got here, rather than focusing on so-called smugglers).

They are all in the legislation mill. And the government is pushing them through with what many see as unseemly haste.

      The House will continue debating the refugee bill and the Wheat Board this week, while the omnibus crime bill is still before committee. It is interesting that even witnesses before the committee who say they support the bill do so with considerable reservations.

      Irvin Waller is an internationally respected victims' rights advocate and criminologist at the University of Ottawa. He told the committee he supported the measures in Bill C-10, but then spent most of his time saying that increased and mandatory sentences and other punitive measures would only make sense if there were corresponding muscular and serious measures on the prevention side.

      With supporters like these...?

      The government members of the Justice and Human Rights Committee must have been squirming when Prof. Waller and other witnesses expressed at best tepid support for Bill C-10. In Waller's case we can get a good sense of where he stands by looking at his own website.

      Here are a few quotes (all from http://irvinwaller.org/crime-victims-rights/2011/10/1066/ ):

      "Numerous studies by economists and others show that attempts to increase the deterrent effect of incarceration by adding minimum penalties to criminal codes and lengthening already long sentences have failed to demonstrate success. .  ."

      "As US super-cop Bill Bratton says, you cannot arrest your way out of crime. . ."

      "Alberta has a comprehensive, permanent and evidence based crime reduction and community safety strategy balancing smart enforcement, treatment programs and effective pre-crime prevention. This strategy is framed in terms of reducing the numbers of victims of crime and harm to victims."

      "In Canada, the Tories have an opportunity to show they really care about making Canadians less likely to be harmed by crime. They can balance a bill that is only about reaction to crime after it has happened with a commitment to stopping crime before it does harm to victims."

      "Pre-crime prevention is not only proven to make Canadians less likely to be harmed by crime but does it faster and more cost effectively than adding prison time to lengthy prison sentences.  Tough on criminals without tough on causes is tough on potential victims and taxpayers."

      With supporters like Irvin Waller Bill C-10 hardly needs critics!

      Committees and private members' initiatives 

      At the same time as the government is pushing through is favourite hobby horse laws, Parliamentary  Committees are in full swing and this week private members' bills start coming to the floor of the House. These very rarely get passed, especially when proposed by opposition members, and, when they do, can be ignored by the government if they involve expenditure of public money.

      Olivia Chow's bill proposing a National Public Transit Strategy will be debated in the House, for the first time, on Wednesday. The Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities Committee has already started dealing with that issue. This week Ms. Chow will try to get the committee members to put aside partisanship and consider the various proposed measures separately, in the hope that members can reach agreement on something.

      The Finance Committee will continue its fall ritual of hearing pre-budget submissions. This is the start of a steadily building drum beat for the government's centrepiece legislative package, the 2012 budget. The government is giving indication that it wants to focus exclusively on austerity and cuts; but the deteriorating Canadian and world economies, and heightened awareness of the increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us -- thanks largely to the Occupy movement -- may make that a bit difficult. This Conservative government has shown itself capable of taking a pragmatic, more-or-less non-ideological approach in the past. Just consider its massive infrastructure program. But that was during a minority situation. What will its fiscal policy be now that it has a majority?

      More on failure to provide services to aboriginal communities, and on the CBC

      Among other Committee meetings, there is one, Monday afternoon, of the Public Accounts Committee. The members of that committee will continue to hear from senior officials of the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry and the Auditor General's office. In June, the AG condemned the inadequate funding and poor management of services to aboriginal communities. That report received considerable media attention at the time. Last week the Public Accounts Committee started to get the government's response to that damning report, but media organizations seemed to have lost interest.

      Setting the stage for Monday's Public Accounts meeting is a statement from former PM, Paul Martin, who said on the weekend that aboriginal Canadians are shortchanged when it comes to education. Postmedia quotes Martin as saying:

      ". . .the provinces spend 25 to 30 per cent, per student, more on primary and secondary education than the federal government does on reserve. If you live on reserve, you're getting one-third less in your education, which is morally wrong."

      In addition, this week the CBC will be the subject of much Parliamentary talk when the Canadian Heritage Committee hears from its President, Hubert Lacroix, on the Corporation's five-year plan.

      Last week Montreal-based media magnate, Quebecor President Pierre-Karl Peladeau, unloaded with all barrels on the CBC at the Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee. His main complaint was that, as a Crown Corporation, the CBC had been resisting access requests from Quebecor's Sun Media.

      For instance, Peladeau said, Sun Media wanted to know how many vehicles CBC/Radio-Canada had in its news-gathering fleet, but the Corporation obfuscated that information. While opposition committee members challenged Peladeau (with mixed results; many members of Parliament need to learn the art of asking a clear, open-ended question which is much more effective that spouting rhetoric) Government committee members were unusually fawning toward the witness. They seemed surprisingly ignorant of the facts concerning a major Crown Corporation that reports to Parliament.

      Hubert Lacroix will have a major challenge to combat all the misinformation circulating about Canada's public broadcaster when he appears before committee. It will be interesting to see how government members treat this Harper-appointed president of an institution for which they seem to have an irrational and almost instinctive loathing.

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