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Perspectives — May 1-3, 2018
Perspectives — May 1-3, 2018
May 8, 2018
OPINION

Last week at the Senate: workforce training, cannabis legalization, borrowing authority and Indigenous youth.

Government

Here in Canada, like elsewhere in the world, workers celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1. The day is an opportunity to call for decent working conditions for all and to remember past battles for better working conditions through the ages.

Having a well-paying and stimulating job has always been a major concern for everyone. And many labour issues remain relevant today. Isn’t it reasonable for workers to know what their work schedule will be at least five days in advance and to have 10 paid days a year of leave for illness or family responsibilities? What about the increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour? These are pressing issues that deserve our attention.

At a time when globalization and technological change are causing upheaval in our lives, we need new policies to help people adapt to these changes more quickly. In addition to improving working conditions in Canada, we must create learning conditions that promote lifelong skills development.

It has always been clear to me, throughout my career as an economist, that promoting good jobs is a matter of economic prosperity, social justice and sustainable economics. It’s essential and possible to create economic conditions that enable everyone to hold a productive and decent job. For these reasons, and many others, it’s high time to start a national conversation in Canada on best practices in employment and workforce training for the future.


Opposition

After weeks of consultations, the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples released their report on Bill C-45 (Cannabis Act). The Committee heard from a diverse group of witnesses and officials from five federal government departments.

Many of the witnesses informed the Committee that there was an alarming lack of consultation on Bill C-45. The committee came to the conclusion that the Government should delay the coming into force of this bill for one year.

Many problems have been identified on topics pertaining to culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate public education materials; police training and public safety; mental health and addictions services; the application of the legislation on reserve, on treaty and settlement lands; and jurisdiction over regulation, sale, consumption and taxation of cannabis.

Chief Randall Phillips of the Oneida Nation of the Thames pointed out that many communities in Ontario want to slow down the implementation of this legislation because they “haven’t had good discussions with the federal and provincial government[s].”

This week, the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution at a Special Chiefs Assembly asking the Government to make an amendment to Bill C-45 regarding the excise tax revenue. First Nations want to be properly consulted to ensure they receive a fair share of tax revenues.

Senator Scott Tannas, Deputy Chair of the committee: “The government claims consultation with Indigenous groups was adequate — the people we heard from said otherwise. Representatives of Indigenous communities from across the country told us they are not ready. We listened. The government should too.”


Senate Liberals

Last week I moved second reading of Bill S-246, An Act to amend the Borrowing Authority Act, which will restore Parliament’s authority over borrowing by the government.

Parliament’s authority over the public purse is fundamental to our democracy, and has been the norm for centuries. Whenever the government believed it needed to borrow money for the upcoming year, it would come to Parliament and ask for authority to borrow the necessary funds. In 2001, the process was even enshrined in the Financial Administration Act, so that if the government wanted to borrow money, it needed to pass a bill in Parliament.

But in 2007, centuries of tradition and practice were overturned. Slipped into the middle of a long omnibus budget bill was a small, one-sentence clause that gave away Parliament’s authority over borrowing by the government, and transferred it to cabinet.

This tiny clause was missed at first, but over the years multiple Senate Public Bills have been introduced to fix it. The new Liberal government promised to make the necessary changes, but did not restore full Parliamentary authority and implemented reporting periods of only every three years.

My bill is simple: it requires that the government come to Parliament annually to ask permission to borrow, if they wish to borrow, and report on it annually. This type of oversight – to hold the government to account for its management of the public purse – is a fundamental role of Parliament.


Independent Senators Group

When Prime Minister Trudeau called to invite me to the Senate, I told him that a priority for me would be to bring the Senate to youth and youth to the Senate. My first official trip as a senator was to Thunder Bay at the invitation of teachers and students from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFC), where all the students are of Indigenous origin. In the 2016 inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous students by suicide in Thunder Bay - six of those students were from DFC. Student leaders in Grade 9-12 at DFC, travelled all this way because of the slow response to their calls for safe housing for Indigenous students who must come to Thunder Bay for high school. When I was there, I encouraged the students to visit the Senate.

With their principal Sharon Angeconeb, teachers Sean Spenrath and Greg Chomut, and executive director Norma Kejick, students were welcomed to Parliament Hill on May 3rd and 4th, by senators and MPs.

In my statement in Chamber on May 3rd, I paid tribute to the students and teachers of DFC high school – along with active and engaged youth across our country – who demonstrate resilience and tenacity. We must continue to seek ways to undo injustices in our legal system, exacerbated by the legacy of Canada’s residential school system. Young people like the students of DFC are living, breathing examples of youth as true leaders in making our democracy more inclusive and effective.