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MPs take a break with a full plate awaiting them back in Parliament

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Members of Parliament left Ottawa for a two week break on Friday last, the day after the shock of Jim Flaherty's sudden death.

Parliamentarians are going home just as the challenges they face have grown bigger and more daunting than ever.

To start with, the Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23, is still very much in play.

The Conservatives and some pundits say it is all too technical and "inside Ottawa" for the general public. And, in any case, good, stolid, god-fearing Canadians, such as Gerta, who commented on a previous rabble piece, agree with Minister Poilievre that it is perfectly reasonable to ask folks to present ID when they go to vote.

That's not what the Fair Elections Act is, in truth, all about.

But Harper's team may have suckered those with grave doubts about Bill C-23 -- including virtually every witness who has so far appeared before the House and Senate committees studying the bill -- into focusing on the ID and vouching issue. It is a small shortcoming of Bill C-23, compared, for instance, to the bill's sneaky and malicious attack on investigators' chances of ever catching the robocall culprits, or any future similar cheaters

The ID issue gives Harper and Poilievre cheap and easy lines such as "secret ballot but not secret voters." The Conservatives must think such reductionist and simplistic arguments make sense to the legions of "low information voters" out there.

When you look closely at what the Fair Elections Act actually does, those lines seem utterly hollow and vaguely ridiculous. But who's looking closely? Harper and Poilievre hope the answer is: hardly anyone.

Bill C-23 is still before House and Senate Committees. If the Conservative majority has its way, it will return to both houses for a final vote sometime this spring.

The NDP has intimated that it has a parliamentary strategy to at least delay, if not derail, this highly flawed piece of legislation.

Of course, the Official Opposition won't tip its hand in advance.

Oh, and by the way: Gerta asked how she and like-minded friends might go about speaking to the Committees considering the bill. This writer suggested she get in touch with the clerks of the Committees.  

Failing to put any of the Gertas of Canada before Committee -- no doubt for fear they might have to engage with well-briefed Opposition MPs -- has been a craven and cynical sin of omission on the part of the Harper government.

'Omnibus' yet again, and reform of First Nations schools

Bill C-23 is not the whole of what awaits MPs when they return in two weeks.

The government's 2014 version of the omnibus budget implementation bill, one of Flaherty's less praiseworthy legacies, is still winding its way through the legislative process to much Opposition protest.

The many previously unannounced bits and pieces of this latest Harper government affront to normal democratic process have not yet received all the public attention they deserve.

There will be more time for that, perhaps, after the April break.

And then, the day before the April break, the Indian Affairs Minister tabled the government's long-awaited bill to reform First Nations education. The devil is in the details in this one, and there are a great many details.

Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and his officials are right on one point, though. They finally recognize what former Auditor General Sheila Fraser repeated for many years: the renewable contribution agreement system for funding First Nation band schools, on a reserve-by-reserve basis, is no way to run an education system.

Valcourt's reform bill (a second effort after First Nations almost unanimously rejected the first) offers First Nations communities all kinds of new options. Bands could do everything from joining forces with provincial systems to setting up regional school board type entities that group together a number of bands.

But the government has not yet spelled out how all of these options would work in practice. Stay tuned.

Billions for contamination; far-reaching measures to combat climate change

Then, if those two biggies were not enough, as the MPs were preparing to leave town, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) published a frightening report on the cost of remediating federal contaminated sites.

Those are contaminated sites that lie on land for which the federal government is responsible. The sites are in the territories, on military bases, on First Nations lands and other federally regulated areas. And the cost, the PBO said, will be -- wait for it -- $2 billion higher than the figure the Conservatives put into their most recent budget.

That little numerical difference is more than double the annual federal contribution to the CBC, to cite just one (beleaguered) example.

Contaminated sites are everywhere in Canada -- from the monsters such as the Giant Mine in Yellowknife, the Goose Bay air base in Labrador and the radioactive sites around Port Hope, Ontario, to the thousands of smaller sites scattered throughout the country in what the PBO calls the general inventory.

The government is obliged to list the cleanup cost of such sites as an ongoing financial liability. The PBO report means that the actual federal deficit is now $2 billion bigger than the figure in the most recent budget.

Finally, there is the most recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Two weeks ago the IPCC reported on the massive and exhaustive findings of this large, worldwide group of scientists. The report showed that current science allows us to say with certainty that all kinds of catastrophic climate events -- such as last year's floods in Alberta -- are directly attributable to human-caused climate change.

The newest report lays out the mitigation strategies necessary if we, as a planet, are to avoid total calamity for future generations. Its recommendations go way beyond anything the Harper government has ever been willing to contemplate.

A government that took its responsibilities seriously would put measures to respond to climate change at the top of its agenda, and MPs would all be thinking about those measures over their current break.

This government seems more interested in attacking the independent election agency and undermining democracy than worrying about future generations.

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