Monday, June 4, 2012

‘Perhaps we’re paranoid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us’



The following quotes were gathered Sunday afternoon in St. John’s at a forum hosted by NDP MPs Ryan Cleary and Jack Harris to discuss Bill C-38, the Conservative omnibus budget bill.

“Stephen Harper is not my Prime Minister — he’s the CEO of corporate Canada, and his cabinet are the board of directors.”
— Ken Kavanagh, head of the Northeast Avalon Regional Economic Development Board. 

“It will come to the point where a mariner will be asked, ‘Are you up to your neck in water yet? Call back when it gets there.’ ”
— Merv Wiseman, recently retired rescue co-ordinator at the now closed Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s, on various cutbacks to search and rescue. 

 “Perhaps we’re paranoid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us.”
— Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union. McCurdy listed off the various aspects of the omnibus bill (he called it an “ominous” bill) that are detrimental to NL — including cuts to DFO, search and rescue, changes to Employment Insurance, and a reduction in air surveillance outside the 200-mile limit.

“Stephen Harper doesn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground.”
— A Memorial University student (male). 

“The man (Stephen Harper) is not only a dictator, he’s acting like a man totally vindictive against the province.”
— Jim Morgan, former Tory cabinet minister. 

“The man (Harper) may have the support of a majority government, but he doesn’t have the support of a majority of Canadians.”
— Young woman in the audience. 

“Less science equals less knowledge. It’s basically like driving with the lights off.”
— Chris Hogan, executive-director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network. 

•••

The following are my opening remarks at the Sunday forum:

Good afternoon, and welcome to our Town Hall at the lovely Battery Hotel. 

Where better to take on the Conservative budget, Bill C-38 — what’s been described as the worst budget in Canadian history — than here at The Battery.

Where better to take a stand and put up a fight than in The Battery, one definition of which is a fortified emplacement for heavy guns. 

We’ll need those heavy guns — metaphorically speaking, of course — for the fight ahead of us. 

We’ve got some heavy guns out today. 

I’d like to our introduce Jack Harris, New Democrat MP for St. John’s East, and a senior critic with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition responsible for Defence. 

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union. 

Mark Power, national vice-president of the Union of Environment Workers, representing employees of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s. 

Merv Wiseman, recently retired rescue co-ordinator at the one-time Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s. 

And Chris Hogan, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network. 

Welcome to all our guests, and welcome to every member of the audience for coming to this important Town Hall.

The way this will work this afternoon is myself and Jack will speak, and then each of our guests will have the floor for a few minutes. 

Then we’ll open the mike to the floor. 

I’ll start with an overview: 

Bill C-38 is a massive omnibus bill, what we describe as a Trojan Horse budget. 

A normal budget would be 20 or 30 pages, but the Conservative omnibus bill contains 421 pages. 

And if it passes — and there’s a good chance it will, because Harper has a majority (the reality of life until 2015) — it will touch every aspect of our lives.

From direct federal job cuts in Newfoundland and Labrador — you’ll hear more about that from our panelists, including how some of the federal Fisheries jobs we’re losing will move directly to Fredricton, which just so happens to be in the land-locked riding of federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, emphasis on land-locked. 

The budget is called a Trojan Horse because it contains so many items that are unrelated to the budget. 

The budget changes the age of eligibility for Old-Age Security to 67 from 65. 

The budget changes to Employment insurance will — as I said in a speech in the House of Commons this week on a motion that calls on the Conservatives to abandon its changes to EI — empty what’s left of the outports. 

The theme of my speech was this: First the fish were destroyed, with no effort to rebuild the stocks, now the fishermen and their communities are being taken out. 

The Conservative government is telling frequent EI claimants that they will be required — after 6 weeks of collecting benefits — to take any work available within an hour commute, providing it pay at least 70 per cent of what they were making before they were laid off. 

That’s two hours of commuting a day to a job that pays 70 per cent of what they made before. 

Tell me that won’t hurt. 

Tell me that won’t drive more people from the outports. 

And probably translate into a lot of Thai workers being brought in to work at Newfoundland and Labrador fish plants. 

If Stephen Harper gets his way the face of Canada — the face of Atlantic Canada — is destined to change. \

And I can tell you this, we won’t recognize Canada, we certainly won’t like what we see. 

One third of the Trojan Horse budget is dedicated to environmental deregulation, giving Conservative cabinet ministers the power to approve major oil and gas projects, at the possible expense of the environment. 

The Trojan Horse budget will threaten fisheries and resources — removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act and gutting legislative protection for waterways.

As was pointed out in an editorial in the Weekend Telegram, the changes in the Fisheries Act in the budget will also interfere with a right to public access to the fishery that dates back to Queen Victoria. 

“The changes will let the federal Fisheries minister give special fishing rights or quotas to particular groups or friends.”

As one BC fisherman put it, “Canada’s fisheries will be in the ands of DFO bureaucrats and ministers who want to use fish to reward friends and punish enemies.”

Tell me, how scary is that?

Our party has tried — unsuccessfully so far — to break apart the omnibus budget bill into a number of smaller bills, so that committees can examine the impacts and repercussions of every proposed change. 

The Conservatives, who dominate the committees, won’t allow it. 

I want to touch on the big picture perspective for a moment. 

Peter McKenna, a professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island, also had an interesting piece in the weekend paper. 

He wrote that Atlantic Canada is in the crosshairs of the Harper government. 

I say he’s right. 

And I said as much this week in the House of Commons. 

Between the proposed elimination of the fleet separation and owner operator policies, and the changes to EI — which disproportionately impact Newfoundland and Labrador because of our number of seasonal workers and the frequency with which they claim EI — it certainly looks like we’re being punished. 

Harper claimed years ago that Atlantic Canada has a culture of defeat, but it is the Conservatives who have a defeatist attitude toward our region.

Let me quote one final letter in the weekend paper:

“The lumping together of so many disparate items in one bill is a travesty to our democracy.”

“It’s time for Conservative MPs to refuse to support Harper’s undemocratic agenda and insist that changes to important maters such as EI, OAS and the country’s environment policy be removed from the budget bill and be individually presented and thoroughly debated in the House of Commons.”

I agree. 

The last time I held a Town Hall meeting, Jack Harris and I were here in this hotel a few months ago to discuss changes to Old-Age Security. 

And one man said he feared Canada was on its way to losing its soul. 

I believe that man has a point. 

We can’t lose our soul. 

We can’t let our province, and our country, go down without a fight. 

Thank you. 

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