Opportunities, challenges lie ahead

With the end of a busy 2010 and a quiet holiday now behind us, my focus is shifting to 2011 and what opportunities and challenges lie ahead in Ottawa.
One thing is for certain, it will be a busy year.
There are some large issues that likely are to dominate our work in 2011, but the biggest one is again set to be the economy. The rising cost of living, the stubbornly high unemployment rate, the ongoing debt crisis in Europe, and a stalling Canadian economy all are cause for high concern in Ottawa.
New Democrats understand these challenges require firm action, as well as a budget that makes sense and helps Canadian families get through the rough patches. That’s why we have been calling on the government to cut the HST on home-heating costs, rein in billions of spending on unnecessary prisons and huge military purchases like the F-35, and consider using the extra cash to extend the stimulus program for another year.
Budget negotiations are ongoing with the Conservatives, but these moves would provide a good starting point in a responsible federal budget.
Along the same economic vein, I will be continuing to work with other parties to pass Bill C-501 and protect up to six million pensions in Canada.
As 2010 drew to a close, I was hearing some very mixed messages from the other parties in Ottawa about C-501. Privately, many individual MPs confided the bill was needed and was “the right thing” to do, but publicly they have started to line up in opposition to it.
I fear that the partisanship of some MPs may be starting to get the better of them, so I will continue to work and build some relationships with MPs from other caucuses and see if we can reach some agreement on amending the bill.
If we are successful, then it could be a very good year for hard-working Canadians whose companies are struggling and who fear for the security of their retirement income.
On the legislation front, a few government-sponsored and private members’ bills are coming up for debate and votes. The “spring” session of Parliament begins Jan. 31 but the big piece of legislation that everyone is looking forward to is the federal budget.
The budget can be presented at anytime the government chooses, but rumours have the Conservative government proroguing Parliament for a week or two after the winter break and then bringing forward a budget shortly thereafter.
The timing of a budget in that scenario would be mid-February, with debates occurring until March and votes coming shortly thereafter.
Other rumours have a mid-March budget, with votes in early to mid-April, but only the prime minister knows for sure.
As always, the budget votes this year will be confidence votes and if the budget is defeated on any of these, then we will find ourselves with a spring election.
The two most notable pieces of private members’ legislation coming up for debates and/or votes this spring, in my opinion, are C-501 and C-572. As mentioned above, C-501 still is in the process of being amended at the Industry Committee, where one final meeting will be held sometime in early to mid-February.
Following that final meeting, a final version of the bill will be presented to the House for a final two hours of debate and then a vote sometime in March.
Bill C-572, meanwhile, sponsored by my New Democrat colleague, Paul Dewar (Ottawa-Centre), is meant to ensure greater fiscal transparency at the federal level. Too many times federal governments have gotten their numbers wrong—sometimes missing their marks by the tens of billions of dollars.
Whether the government is inept or dishonest doesn’t really matter, but the need for accurate estimates and figures is necessary for the proper functioning of Parliament, where the effectiveness of some programs and the affordability of others is of prime concern.
Mr. Dewar’s bill would give the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) more freedom from government interference, sustainable financing, and a greater status in Parliament.
As of right now, Kevin Page, the current PBO, works out of a small office in the Library of Parliament and has a skeleton staff of three economists to evaluate, monitor, and test the government’s budget numbers for MPs and the general public.
If passed, C-572 would drastically change that and help Mr. Page do his job to the benefit of all Canadians.
As you can see, Parliament has a busy spring session ahead of it. As always, I will keep you informed as to what is happening in our nation’s capital throughout 2011 and how it affects you and your family moving forward.

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