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Parliament to consider motion on creating national anti-bullying strategy

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In the wake of Amanda Todd's suicide the Commons is to consider an NDP member's motion on bullying on Monday.

Dany Morin, MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, is proposing that the House appoint a special committee to develop a "national anti-bullying strategy."

Morin suggests that the committee's job would be to focus on prevention rather than criminalization, identify "evidence-based" anti-bullying strategies and share anti-bullying information with Canadian families.  

This special committee would be mandated to report back to Parliament in a year.

Others think the time is past for studies, and that it is now time for action.  

Ottawa City Councilor Allan Hubley, whose son committed suicide as a result of being bullied, says we don't need more studies. What we need are more "front line resources."

Those resources for counseling and other social services would cost money, of course, and would fall, mostly, within provincial and municipal jurisdiction. 

The main federal government financial contribution would normally come through the big block of funds it ships to the provinces, the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). 

In this time of federal austerity, there is little appetite for new spending programs, and virtually no appetite for enriching the CHST. 

Just ask Finance Minister Flaherty about that.

That's why an all-party study that might bring forward tangible recommendations could be a way of enlisting Conservative support for any financial commitment to anti-bullying resources.

Not the first backbench undertaking

 Other opposition MPs have tried to get Parliament to accept low- or no- cost proposals to study significant national issues without much success.

Shortly after he was elected for the first time, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau proposed a private member's bill on youth volunteering. 

It was no-cost. Trudeau only wanted the House to invite the Commons Social Affairs Committee to consider studying the matter. 

The Conservatives expressed some qualified interest, at first; but, in the end, they voted it down.

It seems the governing party (then in a minority situation) was worried about helping the new member for the Papineau riding in Montreal plant a feather in his cap.

NDP MP Olivia Chow has put forward a private member's bill calling on the government to establish a national transportation strategy. 

The Toronto MP points out that the largest Canadian cities suffer huge gridlock problems, some of the worst in the world, while Canada is one of the few highly developed countries without a coordinated, countrywide approach to transportation. 

In committee, Conservative MPs have been generally dismissive of Chow's idea. 

They point to the fact that much of transport falls within the jurisdiction of the provinces and remind the NDP member that, in any event, this frugal Government doesn’t have any extra cash lying around for noble ventures. 

Another opposition effort on a pressing public need

 This Monday, in addition to Dany Morin's motion, two other Quebec NDP MPs, Housing Critic Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Marie-Claude Morin, the MP for St-Hyacinthe-Bagot, will speak to another private member's bill that deals with a major, near-crisis situation for many thousands of Canadians. 

The two MPs will discuss Morin's bill that would require the government to establish a national housing strategy, with the goal of assuring a minimum level of adequate housing for all Canadians. 

This bill expressly recognizes that the federal government cannot act in this area alone. 

It calls on the federal government to work with the provinces, municipalities, aboriginal communities and organizations, and other community-level groups.

As Morin sees it, the federal government's role would be to "develop standards and set objectives and targets for the national housing strategy -- including targets to end homelessness -- with clear timelines and accountability mechanisms, and develop programs to carry out the strategy."

Good for the poor, good for the government, good for the economy

 Speaking in the House on another matter, Boutin-Sweet talked about the urgency of the housing issue, what with thousands of homeless Canadians sleeping on the streets or in shelters. She explained how, in the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (the CMHC), the federal government already has the means to make a useful contribution.

"Why not invest a portion of the CMHC's profits in new social housing, in conjunction with the provinces and territories," Boutin-Sweet argued, “People wait years for social and community housing. In the meantime, all of the money they spend on rent, which costs them much more than 25 per cent of their income, could be helping other sectors of the economy. That money could also help them avoid having to choose between buying food or paying the rent. In the end, it would be better for the government too."

Members of Parliament do a lot more than vote like trained seals and applaud on cue during Question Period. 

Many bring concrete proposals to the House that might make a difference. 

Sadly, in Canada's highly partisan, majority party dominated system, such MP efforts are mostly Quixotic. 

Dany Morin's initiative on bullying is getting a lot of attention because it coincides with a tragic and well-publicized death. It may go somewhere. Or, it may get initial verbal support then disappear from view.

Whatever the House decides, the Conservative powers-that-be will still want to tightly control the entire agenda in a way that happens in very few other parliamentary democracies. 

 

Karl Nerenberg covers news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Donate to support his efforts todayKarl has been a journalist for over 25 years including eight years as the producer of the CBC show The House. 

 

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