More on the year that was

The holidays and the end of another year finally are upon us, so this will be my final column of 2013 and the second part of the “year in review.”
As summer came upon us in 2013, so did an incredible human tragedy. Early on the morning of July 6, a runaway train carrying 72 cars full of heavy crude oil derailed and crashed into Lac Megantic, a town of 5,900 people in eastern Quebec, killing 47 people.
The scale of the disaster was incredible as the entire downtown core essentially was destroyed.
The cause of the disaster will be determined by the ongoing Transportation Safety Board investigation but we do know that the rail operator, Montreal Maine and Atlantic, was uniquely licensed to have one engineer maintaining the train (instead of the usual two).
There also are some early indications that the crude oil it was transporting was possibly miscategorized and more volatile than indicated on the required paperwork.
In the wake of this disaster, Canada’s NDP reaffirmed our long-standing commitment for stricter regulations for our railways and the transportation of hazardous materials, but more recommendations may come when the TSB investigation concludes.
In August, Auditor General Michael Ferguson agreed to look at the travel and expenses of all senators who sit in our Upper Chamber (which is more than 100). Mr. Ferguson wants an in-depth look at their spending on housing, travel, and office expenses.
You no doubt will recall that the current Senate scandal came to be after a routine and superficial audit of just seven random senators, including Sen. Duffy, Brazeau, and Wallin.
With more than 90 additional audits coming over the next two years, I think we can expect many more fraudulent expense claims—or worse—to surface.
Because of the Senate scandal plaguing his government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to prorogue Parliament beginning in June. It’s become commonplace now really–his government gets into trouble and Mr. Harper runs away.
In the past, Mr. Harper prorogued when he faced a non-confidence motion in 2008 for declaring that Canada would “never” enter a recession under his watch even as economic data showed that we already were in one.
And again when his government faced accusations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, but decided to hide this fact from the Canadian public and prevent Parliament from looking into the issue as it had done in the past.
This time, the prorogation period turned the usual 10-week summer parliamentary break into a 17-week lay-off without Question Period.
As a result, Parliament sat just seven weeks between mid-June and January, 2014, and the prime minister showed up to answer questions just 16 times in the last half of the year.
Over the summer, NDP leader Tom Mulcair proclaimed that “Mr. Harper can run but he can’t hide from accountability,” and in October he was proven to be bang on.
Just a week after Parliament finally resumed, the RCMP released court documents that provided a great amount of detail about their investigation into the Senate scandal. For example, in June the prime minister had claimed his chief of staff acted alone in offering Sen. Duffy a $90,000 bribe to remain silent on his expense problems.
Then in the October court documents, we learned that at least 12 current and former staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, including the prime minister’s own personal legal counsel, knew of the five-point legal arrangement between Wright and Duffy.
This is one of many contradictions between the prime minister’s story in Question Period and reality, and I would expect more to come in 2014.
Toward the end of the year, several stories emerged that will impact my work moving forward. The Auditor General released another report that showed our food safety and recall system, as well as rail safety measures, are failing Canadians, and that the $35-billion ship-building contract the Harper government signed last year is already over budget before a set of blueprints could be produced.
And finally, earlier this month we learned that home delivery is being phased out at Canada Post after 145 years of good service—and despite the fact the corporation has turned a profit for 11 of the past 12 years.
So as 2013 draws to a close, I want to wish you, your family, and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
For my part, I will do everything in my power to keep the government transparent and honest, and to make 2014 a better year for you and yours.

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