Elizabeth May’s Wish List to Repair Stephen Harper’s Decade of Damage


The leader of the Green Party, MP Elizabeth May wrote the following "Fixing what Harper broke: A to-do list for the incoming government" on rabble.ca. AFP PHOTO / GEOFF ROBINSGEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images
The leader of the Green Party, MP Elizabeth May wrote the following “Fixing what Harper broke: A to-do list for the incoming government” on rabble.ca. AFP PHOTO / GEOFF ROBINSGEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

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Elizabeth May is leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands. On May 2, 2011, she became the first and only member of the Green Party of Canada to be elected as a Member of Parliament. On October 19, 2015 she managed again, to be the only member of the Green Party of Canada, to be elected as a Member of Parliment for a second consecutive term. As well as an MP, Ms. May is an environmentalist, writer, activist, and lawyer.

The leader of the Green Party, MP Elizabeth May wrote the following “Fixing what Harper broke: A to-do list for the incoming government” on rabble.ca.

We need a stock-taking. A “to-do” list. Some of what the Harper administration broke will be easy to fix; much will be very hard indeed.

What we must do is insist the damage be reversed. There is an equally long list of steps to take moving forward — but we need to repair immense damage to nearly every aspect of federal law and policy.

Here’s a start:

1) Fixing security law:

  • Repeal Bill C-51. As a compromise, the Liberals could amend part 2 (No Fly lists) while repealing Parts 1 (info sharing), 3 (terrorism in general propaganda), 4 (the most dangerous, unleashing CSIS as covert disruptors) and 5 (allowing evidence obtained by torture).
  • Repeal C-44 — allowing CSIS agents to operate over-seas.
  • Repeal C-38 — with a section eliminating the Inspector General for CSIS.
  • Repeal C-3 (2007 legislation that introduced unconstitutional security certificates).
  • Instead — build security law drawn from advice from the Arar and Air India Commissions of Inquiry.

2) Rebuilding our criminal law system:

  • Reinstate the Law Reform Commission and Court Challenges programme.
  • Repeal C-10 and other mandatory minimum provisions.
  • Repeal C-2 (Insite).
  • Repeal C-14 (NCR).
  • Repeal C-25 (Truth in Sentencing Act).
  • Repeal C-309 (Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act).

3) Reverse trend to slippery citizenship:

  • Return Canada’s embassies to aggressively act for Canadians abroad in trouble — including on death row.
  • Repeal C-24 (only one citizenship exists — unless obtained by fraud, citizenship is citizenship).
  • Repeal FATCA (found in omnibus C-31).
  • Restore citizenship for Lost Canadians.

4) Immigration and refugee law:

  • Repeal the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Fall 2011 that puts refugees arriving by boat in jail for a year (C-31).
  • Return to principles of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — create a predictable path to citizenship.
  • Prioritize family reunification.
  • Create a sponsor-friendly refugee support process. Restore health, housing, language and other supports to refugee claimants.
  • Appoint board members to Immigration appeal board to deal with backlog.

5) Restore evidence-based decision making:

  • Restore Long Form Census. Rehire Munir Sheik as Chief Statistician of Canada and give him the Order of Canada.
  • Repeal C-38 sections that wrecked environmental assessment (EA). Eliminate any EA role for energy regulatory agencies (NEB, offshore petroleum boards, CNSC, etc) and return EA to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Repeal C-38 destruction of CEAA, and further amend the Act to remove the conflict of interest found in the pre-2011 CEAA. A good model can be found in the Liberal 1993 Red Book (never implemented).
  • Repeal C-38 elimination of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.
  • Re-hire scientists.
  • Restore funding to the Canadian Climate Forum (formerly the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences).
  • Restore funding to Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL).
  • Restore the Marine Mammals Contaminants Programme.
  • Restore testing of smokestacks for air quality.
  • Restore ozone layer testing.
  • Restore freshwater science. Resume funding and DFO work in Experimental Lakes Area.
  • Restore research funding and monitoring for ecological integrity to Parks Canada.

6) Repair environmental laws and policy:

  • Repeal C-38:

I. Damage to Fisheries Act (restore habitat protection, reverse administrative changes in interpretation of “deleterious to fish” as meaning acute toxicity at LD50, as well as removing the equivalency provisions for provincial down-loading);
II. Section that amended NEB also damaged Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Protection At, Fisheries Act exempting these acts — as not applying along route of a pipeline;
III. As above in decision-making section, restore CEAA as sole agency to oversee environmental reviews.

  • Repeal C-45:

I. Restore Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), and repeal the 2009 omnibus bill that re-defined “navigable waters” to a matter of ministerial discretion. Return NWPA to its pre-2006 condition. Navigable waters are any and all waters that can be navigated.

  • Restore funding to Canadian Environmental Network.

7) Climate action:

  • Ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Work with other Kyoto parties and support the information sections and the mechanisms, especially the Clean Development Mechanism. No new targets need be established within the KP as our new targets will evolve in the new comprehensive COP21 agreement.
  • Restore ecoENERGY Retrofit — Homes program.
  • Consider the other actions in place in 2006 that the Harper administration cancelled.

8) Repair Official Development Assistance:

  • Restore funding to MATCH, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, etc.
  • Consider re-establishing CIDA as its own agency, but at a minimum reverse funding cuts and restore goal of poverty alleviation.

9) Service Canada:

  • In what was described as an effort to save money, the Harper administration created a new department to house administrative, IT and finance roles. Call for a full audit by the Auditor General and determine if Service Canada has in fact resulted in savings, or, if, as many suspect, it has been a boondoggle. Consider restoring functionality in the public service.

10) Reverse monumental mistakes:

  • Cancel any federal funding to Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism and cancel plans for its current location. Allow it to proceed in another location with a more modest and reasonable design as a private charitable project.
  • Restore land from Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the park, reversing private give-away to private sector interests. Allow the so-called Mother Canada statue to be built on an appropriate site in industrial Cape Breton.

11) Repair national parks:

  • Cancel any and all plans to further privatize within national parks.
  • Amend the Sable Island National Parks Act to remove the role of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board as a regulator within the park. Ban seismic testing, drilling and any industrial activity in the park.
  • Amend the Rouge Valley National Parks Act to restore ecological integrity.
  • Re-affirm the guiding principle of the National Parks Act to protect ecological integrity.

12) Repair legislative damage to First Nations rights and title:

  • Amend the NWT devolution act to restore the water boards and other agencies created by treaty.
  • Repeal C-27 (First Nations Financial Transparency Act) and S-2 (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act).
  • Restore funding and re-open the National Aboriginal Health Organization and the First Nations Statistical Institute.

13) Women’s rights:

  • Restore purpose of Status of Women Canada to include achieving equality for women.
  • Restore funding to Canadian Association of Women and the Law, National Action Committee, etc.
  • Institute an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
  • Implement pay equity for women in federal civil service.
  • Repeal manipulative laws that contort women’s rights creating increased risks to women:

I. S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act)
II. C-36 (Sex trade worker law)

14) Restore funding to CBC-Radio Canada:

  • Cancel sale of assets

15) Reverse cessation of home delivery by Canada Post

16) Re-engage with international sustainable development:

  • Restore funding to CIDA.
  • Halt sales of diplomatic residences.
  • Ratify the Convention to Combat Desertification (from which we withdrew under the Harper Conservatives).

17) Investor State agreements that cannot be undone:

  • Canada-China Investment Treaty was signed and ratified without any hearings in Parliament, without a ratification vote in the House or Senate.
  • The earliest Canada can be out from under this treaty is 2045. To protect Canadian interests and sovereignty, we need a law requiring immediate public disclosure of any and all complaints by the People’s Republic of China against Canadian legislation, regulation or policy changes, pending or concluded, at all levels of government. This notification includes any diplomatic pressure from the PRC in the six month window for conflict resolution prior to the lodging of an actual arbitration claim. Canada must be prepared to pay damages to the People’s Republic of China if our environment, labour or safety laws require it. The Canada-China Investment Treaty is the worst of the changes wrought in the Harper era. It could operate to stop the needed repairs. All we can do now is ask to re-negotiate while ensuring our domestic legislation guarantees transparency.

Fixing What Harper Broke – Part Two

The first “to-do” list focussed on changes to policy and legislation brought in under the Harper administration. But the damage was not confined to omnibus laws and brutal ideologically motivated cuts. More subtle damage was done to the principles that underpin Westminster parliamentary democracy. Our system of government has limitations on abuse of power, but they are not codified.

Unlike the United States, with its Constitution riddled with checks and balances against those who would misuse their power, our system of government has largely depended on self-restraint of those in power. Previous prime ministers had not prorogued Parliament to avoid a confidence vote they knew they would lose because it was simply not done. For example, Prime Minister Paul Martin knew the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc planned to bring down his government on November 28, 2005. He never would have imagined going to the Governor General to shut down Parliament. It was not illegal; it was unthinkable. Into this very vulnerable system, the rule of Stephen Harper has been typified by unprecedented abuse of power.  As the Rt. Hon Joe Clark said in January 2015 in a speech in Sidney BC, “Stephen Harper is violating Magna Carta.”

Under Stephen Harper, debate was shut down one hundred times in the 42nd Parliament – breaking all historical records by nearly 100%. Under Stephen Harper, we have had two quite illegitimate prorogations, unprecedented not only in Canada but in the entire Commonwealth. We have had the prime minister and his government found guilty of contempt – again unprecedented. The PMO has extended its reach to demand evidence be prepared by civil servants to buttress government policy. This abuse of the federal civil service is also unprecedented. I know of justice department lawyers that have been asked for their legal opinion with the added instruction “and this is what we want you to say.”

Parliamentary committees have been controlled by PMO with every vote on every amendment a whipped vote.  That is how a bill like C-38, the omnibus budget bill of spring 2012, could move from First Reading to Royal Assent – all 440 pages of it, changing or repealing 70 different laws – without a single alteration. Witnesses before committee have been subjected to personal inquisitions if their testimony did not align with Conservative dogma. Again – unprecedented.

The result is that we now need to take steps to ensure such abuses of power never happen again.

There is a good list of suggested fixes in the Liberal platform (more detail than anything on their platform on climate change, for comparison).

The scale of the damage done must be understood by Canadians. Should we hold a hearing into abuse of power over the last 10 years? Demand that the investigation into robo-calls and voter fraud be re-opened? Insist that we have an inquiry into the security failures in protecting the House while the prime minister bolstered his personal security, but not that of the House of Commons?

We need to scale back the budget of the Prime Minister’s Office. Greens suggest cutting it in half, but that’s only a good start. The dividing line between PMO and Privy Council Office (PCO) needs to be repaired. Civil servants must never again be told to fabricate or hide evidence. Scientists must not be muzzled. The position of Science Advisor to the Prime Minister must be restored.

The role of members of Cabinet as Ministers of the Crown must be honoured. Ministers are not sock-puppets, the chief public relations spokespersons for policies about which they know only what they are told by PMO. Ministers should actually know what is going on in their departments. There should be actual Cabinet meetings where ministers put forward their departmental plans and requests. Central control by PMO must be slashed.

Here’s more of the to-do list:

  1. Prorogations must now require a vote in the House constituting more than a majority vote. It must be based on a formula to ensure the majority party is not running roughshod over smaller parties to avoid accountability.
  2. Omnibus bills must be curtailed and only allowed when the subject matter of the bill meets one central purpose. We must never again allow unrelated pieces of legislation to be bundled together to avoid adequate study or review.
  3. Parliamentary Committees must be free of whipped votes. The parliamentary secretaries should not sit on committees. Committee chairs should be elected by committee members. Witnesses should be given adequate time to testify. The Conservative practice of throwing four or five unrelated witnesses on the same panel, given an insultingly brief time to speak, to be abused by government MPs must stop. Forcing unrealistic and abbreviated time for hearings must stop.
  4. We need to revise the Elections Act. We need to create rules for leaders’ debates and have them under Elections Canada supervision. We need to undo the damage to Elections Act since 2006. C-23 was the second major change. We need to enhance the investigative powers of Elections Canada into election fraud.
  5. The House proceedings should return to the standing rules. The use of separate motions in every committee to deprive MPs in smaller parties of the right to present amendments at Report Stage must end.
  6. Heckling in the House should be controlled by the next Speaker. It is a deliberate technique to discourage public interest in parliamentary affairs.
  7. We must restore transparency. Access to Information laws need to be overhauled (see Democracy Watch recommendations).
  8. Documents required by MPs must not be hidden. Fundamental principles of the Supremacy of Parliament must be restored.
  9. Budgetary information must be available to Parliament prior to budget votes. “Deemed” review of billions of dollars in supplementary estimates must end. The PBO must be strengthened and the Parliamentary Budget Officer be made an Officer of Parliament.
  10. Whipped votes on other than confidence motions must end. We need to restore the link between members and their constituencies.
  11. We must legislate to control abuse of power. The above is a first cut and inadequate. Ideally, a parliamentary committee will be mandated to review the abuses of the last ten years and recommend a full suite of measures to ensure it never happens again.

Post script:

The first to-do list should have mentioned the cuts to Veterans Affairs and the changes in the treatment of our veterans. Those must be reversed. The first list also omitted the end of the Canada Wheat Board.  I don’t know how we can repair that damage since the Conservatives sold the Wheat Board assets to a Saudi Arabian company. But if farmers can see a way to restore the Wheat Board, it should be considered.

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