Five days after Parliament resumed in December, it became even clearer that Canada’s current minority government situation will require the Liberals to engage in even deeper cross-party collaboration to accomplish their goals.
On Dec. 10, the Liberals experienced their first defeat after opposition parties voted in favour of a Conservative motion to strike a special parliamentary committee to probe Canada’s tense relationship with China.
House votes in favour of special committee on Canada-China relations
Though the Liberals survived their first confidence vote that same day, they will need to get at least one of the opposition parties on side to ensure that future votes of confidence go their way in the future.
Here are some of the top issues that will be tackled by Parliament over the next year after it’s scheduled to return on Jan. 27.
Income tax cuts
The Liberal Party’s hallmark campaign promise of an income tax cut will likely be one of the easiest ones to follow through on, as the Conservatives had also pushed for large-scale tax cuts.
On the first day of Parliament in early December, the Liberals introduced a motion to increase the amount of tax-exempt income to $15,000 by 2023. The Liberals say that an estimated 20 million Canadians will benefit from this, with individuals saving an average of $300 annually.
Throne Speech: ‘First act’ for new parliament is a tax cut for ‘all non-wealthy Canadians’
“Conservatives always support tax cuts,” Pierre Poilievre, the Conservatives’ finance critic, told reporters in response to the Liberal motion. “It’s in our DNA. it’s who we are.”
Climate change and pipelines
The Liberals’ speech from the throne highlighted the government’s “ambitious, but necessary” plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A government report from April warned that Canada’s climate, especially in the north, is warming at twice the global rate.
While the speech did not explicitly refer to pipelines or the oil and gas industry in western provinces, the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline is predicted to induce the most division in Parliament.
During meetings with federal leaders in Ottawa earlier this month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued five demands for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including that the government put a hard deadline on completing the pipeline project as the province’s unemployment rate rose a percentage point to 7.2 per cent in November.
Debate over pipelines clouds concern for climate change
A recent poll found that just 15 per cent of people who supported the Liberals during the fall election said the pipeline expansion should be a top priority, strikingly lower than the 52 per cent of Conservative Party voters who said it should be top of mind.
The NDP and the Greens vehemently oppose pipelines and have vowed to urge the Liberals to take aggressive stances to tackle climate change. Trudeau has said that his government would use proceeds from the government-owned TransMountain pipeline to invest in initiatives to lower Canada’s overall emissions.
Medical assistance in dying
In September, a Quebec judge struck down the part of the Liberals’ 2016 assisted death legislation that limits eligibility to terminally ill patients whose death is “reasonably foreseeable.” The court stated that this requirement is unconstitutional because it can force patients to live in significant pain.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin suspended the ruling for six months to allow federal lawmakers to respond. In the meantime, she allowed the two plaintiffs to proceed with their request for a medically assisted death.
Leaders’ Debate: Trudeau says he would “relax” assisted dying law in next 6 months
During the campaign, the Liberals vowed to “relax” the assisted death legislation. Trudeau urged Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti in his mandate letter on Dec. 13 to expand the legislation.
During the French leaders’ debate in October, the Greens, NDP and Bloc Québécois said they would support expanding the assisted death criteria. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party would “evaluate” the court’s decision and would be devoted to the protection of “vulnerable people.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh opposed the Liberals’ speech from the throne, in part, for being too vague on its pharmacare promise.
Trudeau’s mandate letter to new federal health minister Patty Hajdu tasked her with implementing national universal pharmacare, including the establishment of the Canada Drug Agency and a national formulary to reduce the cost of expensive drugs for rare diseases.
In June, a national advisory council struck by the Liberals and overseen by former Liberal provincial health minister Eric Hoskins called for a universal, single-payer pharmacare program, the cost of which would be $15 billion a year by the time it’s fully implemented by 2027.
Scheer and the Conservatives had previously opposed such a program.
Earlier in December, on the 30th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in which a gunman killed 14 women, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair renewed the government’s gun reform pledges and said that it will soon draw up a list of semi-automatic weapons it wants to ban.
The Liberals had promised during the election to ban military-style assault rifles and allow municipal governments to implement their own restrictions on handguns. Trudeau has also said the government will buy back roughly 250,000 military-style assault rifles at an estimated cost of $400 million.
In his mandate letter, Blair is tasked with bringing this about and also imposing stronger penalties for gun smuggling. However, the government will not re-impose the scrapped long-gun registry.
The NDP, Green and Conservative parties had their own gun reform proposals that overlap with the Liberal plans, signalling possible consensus on those plans. However, the Conservatives had proposed harsher mandatory minimums and halting bail for repeat “gang” offenders.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Fortnight: The must-read political magazine making a comeback – BBC News
Fortnight magazine was once such a must-read for Northern Ireland’s political classes that Gerry Adams apparently said “a month without Fortnight would be twice as long”.
In that case the past nine years must have seemed like an eternity for the former Sinn Féin president.
That’s how long its been since the monthly cultural and political magazine was on sale.
But now it’s back to mark what would have been its 50th anniversary and there are plans for more editions in both printed and digital format.
It’s just like old times – though it’s different world since that first edition in September 1970.
The Troubles were in their infancy – there were articles on direct rule, the then Ulster Unionist Stormont minister John Taylor (now Lord Kilclooney) and a new party called the SDLP.
But the big issue of the constitutional question still remains, hence the front page headline: “What Future for Northern Ireland?”
Even the editor is the same: Lawyer Tom Hadden retains his passion for Northern Ireland, even thought he lives in England.
“John Hume, Gerry Adams, the leading unionist David Trimble, everybody in those days wrote for Fortnight when asked,” he told BBC News NI’s The View programme.
“The main articles in this issue are about how to retain the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, in the event of possible unification or possible joint authority, or just getting things as they are.
“We think it’s important for people to think about these things in advance, rather than rush into a yes-no referendum.”
‘Too slow to go digital’
The relaunched magazine’s literary editor is the daughter of the well-known civil rights activist and politician Paddy Devlin.
Anne Devlin lived most of her earlier life outside Northern Ireland and Fortnight provided a link with home.
“It kept a diary of the events of the past month,” she said.
“So every single detail of the past month, every day, every significant political thing that happened, violent and nonviolent was logged.”
She has recruited several younger writers for the new Fortnight, including sociologist Claire Mitchell.
“The piece for the magazine takes our decision to send our kids to Catholic school as a jumping off point,” said Ms Mitchell.
“That felt culturally adventurous to us because we’re from a Protestant background. We’ve made loads of great friends and have had new experiences but what it really underlined for me is how mixed most people’s everyday lives are.
“People are organising their lives around their kids activities, going into Slimming World, online dating. It’s a world really far removed from big ‘P’ politics and the rot of green and orange.
“I do think there’s a disconnect between the binary structure of our party system in the assembly and how most people are just getting on with their everyday lives.”
Mr Hadden said one of the reasons Fortnight folded was because it was too slow to go digital.
So can it nose its way back into a crowded market place filled with the likes of the political website Slugger O’Toole?
“I don’t think it can necessarily do what it did back in its heyday,” said Slugger’s deputy editor David McCann.
“It’s going to need something a bit more than that because, for one, people’s views and attention span for longer analysis pieces have shortened since then.
“The other key factor is that I think people, with the advent of social media – and we’ve had to change this on Slugger – want their news, they want immediacy and they want to be able to interact with the news content that’s in front of them.”
Meet the Socialists Keeping Alive Working-Class Politics in Melbourne – Jacobin magazine
In March 2019, in the outer northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, a crowd of residents gathered outside the Hume City Council meeting, chanting “poison air isn’t fair!”
The snap protest was called by the Victorian Socialists (VS) in response to a factory fire at Bradbury Industrial Service’s chemical handling facility. The fire burned for days, blanketing parts of Campbellfield in toxic smoke. A speaker addressed the crowd, asking: “How many times do the people of the north and the west in the industrial suburbs of Melbourne have to get blasted with toxic waste?”
Almost one year later, residents of the same area won an important victory, blocking a proposed waste incinerator. At a meeting called to celebrate, one local activist commented “when the socialists got involved, the council really started to take notice.”
These scenes of collective action are a far cry from what is usually viewed as the “small-p politics” of local government, characterized by the petty rivalries, corruption, and managerial babble. Yet they demonstrate the class divides that run deep in Melbourne.
Take Stony Creek, a waterway in Melbourne’s working-class west. It’s still poisoned after a fire in an illegal chemical store in Tottenham. As Jorge Jorquera, Victorian Socialists candidate for Yarraville explained, “If this was happening in Toorak it would be a different story.”
Class Struggle Council Elections
The success of socialists such as Seattle’s Kshama Sawant and the democratic socialists on the Chicago City Council shows that efforts in local politics can both serve the needs of working-class constituencies and offer a platform for national interventions.
This was the spirit with which VS launched its municipal elections campaign in July 2020 at an online meeting of 250 supporters. Founded in 2018 as an electoral alliance, VS won close to twenty thousand votes in the 2018 and 2019 state and federal elections. Though the pandemic has made organizing much more difficult, the party has grown steadily. It now claims 520 financial members; with a further 1,200 registered as volunteers.
As a result, VS is standing an ambitious slate of nineteen candidates across five municipalities in Melbourne. Among them are a number of high-profile activists, such as Roz Ward, best known for her role in founding Safe Schools, a sexual and gender diversity program, or Ali Hogg, a key leader of the successful marriage equality campaign.
Despite this promising starting point, the introduction of single-member wards in Darebin, as well as restrictions imposed by Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown will make it an uphill battle, tipping the scales further toward well-heeled major parties and developer-backed dummy candidates. Yet if even a fraction of VS’s council candidates are successful, it will be one of the most significant electoral breakthroughs for socialists in Australia in decades.
Policing the Pandemic
In Victoria, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted working-class and migrant communities. This was graphically illustrated when Australian Labor Party (ALP) premier Daniel Andrews imposed a “hard lockdown” on many high-rise public housing estates in Melbourne’s north and west on July 4.
Daniel Nair Dadich, deputy mayor candidate for Melbourne City Council and Flemington local, livestreamed on the night the hard lockdown unfolded: “They’ve sent in the cops to deal with a health crisis … one police officer for every six residents. They’ve blocked the entrances to the flats and they’re harassing the residents.”
As he spoke, hundreds of police flooded the estates, home to approximately three thousand people, largely migrants and refugees working in precarious jobs. Deliveries of food and medical supplies promised to residents were botched, forcing them to rely entirely on volunteer organizations who were actively hindered by police. Victorian Socialists, alongside community organizations, raised funds and campaigned for the police to be immediately withdrawn.
These estates have endured more than their share of racism in recent years. Mexican-Australian Nahui Jimenez, VS candidate for Moreland council, recalls that the Flemington estate was the site of a mobilization against now-discredited far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos. Memorably, when residents of the flats caught wind of the far-right mobilization, they came down to join the anti-racist protest, helping disrupt Yiannopoulos’s event.
More recently, the Victorian Socialists backed a thriving local Black Lives Matter movement against police racism and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Defying bans on demonstrating, the “Black Lives Matter movement is a reminder that mass solidarity has the power to win,” argued Liz Walsh, VS vice president. “We’re committed to a politics of solidarity that can relate to these movements when they emerge, amplifying the voices of those subject to racism.”
This was the aim of the livestreamed public forum, coordinated by Jimenez at the height of the hard lockdown, where public housing residents gave firsthand accounts of failures of cleaning and infection control. Given the long history of police harassment of residents, residents were appalled at the use of police to contain a health crisis. In response, Jimenez and Dadich are proposing to establish elected public housing residents committees to strengthen residents’ voices
Insecure Work Is a Disease
A special emphasis, of course, has been placed by local socialist candidates on working conditions, particularly the insecure work that has spread in Victoria in recent years. The chemical factory that burned in Broadmeadows was staffed by a predominately Tamil migrant workforce, who were routinely exposed to dangerous chemicals and afraid of speaking out for fear of employer retaliation.
Similarly, Dadich points out that the source of the public housing outbreak was lax infection control at the “quarantine hotels,” where overseas travelers are isolated for fourteen days:
Andrews (the Victorian premier) gave money to dodgy security contractors to deal with quarantine in hotels — the workers didn’t get proper training, didn’t get protective equipment, and they’ve gone on to spread the virus. Meanwhile people here in the flats were locked in, uncertain of what’s going to happen to their jobs or livelihoods. Don’t get it twisted — only poor and migrant communities would be treated with such contempt.
Indeed, COVID-19 has focused attention on the prevalence and danger of insecure work — the virus spreads readily in industries where precarious work prevails. Liz Walsh, running for office in the western suburbs, organized VS solidarity for meat industry staff in Brooklyn who refused to return to work until their virus safety concerns were dealt with. Walsh argues that local government can bolster these practical solidarity efforts: she is calling for the creation of a council committee to provide food, supplies, and free childcare for striking workers.
On the other side of the Maribyrnong River, Kath Larkin, a frontline public transport worker and union delegate with the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union, is running for “Lord Mayor.” She is arguing that the Melbourne City Council should directly represent city workers — and that “Lord” should be stripped from the mayor’s title.
“Workers run our city: stacking shelves in the supermarket, cleaning offices, and transporting health care workers to their jobs” says Larkin, “yet we get no say in how our city is run. City workers don’t get a vote, unless you live in the city. Soaring rents and property prices make that next to impossible for us.” To remedy this, Kath is campaigning to end the bizarre, plutocratic voting system that gives business and nonresident landlords two votes — instead arguing that city workers should be given voting rights, regardless of where they reside.
Councils are themselves major employers who have, in lockstep with neoliberalism, long privatized services while casualizing and outsourcing their workforces. Just this year, despite a budget surplus, Maribyrnong Council sacked a hundred and fifty workers from libraries, pools, and community centers as a cost-saving response to the pandemic. The Australian Services Union, representing council employees, is calling on local government candidates to pledge support for secure jobs and pandemic leave for council workers. All Victorian Socialists candidates have signed on to this pledge.
The consequences of privatization have been most disastrous in aged care — COVID-19 has taken a shocking toll on run-down, underfunded aged care services, leading to thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths.
Jorquera is scathing about Maribyrnong Council’s recent decision to permanently privatize its in-home aged care service and relinquish its oversight of the sector. VS is also resisting a similar move underway in the inner north municipality of Darebin.
Local socialist campaigns on aged care have already encouraged several whistleblowers to come forward with stories of inadequate training and personal protective equipment (PPE). Jorquera argues that as a first step, the council must investigate every aged care service in the municipality, and systematically expose cost cutting and underpayment. This should be followed by moves to reverse privatization. It’s an ambitious program, but a very feasible one, especially compared to the human cost of the current arrangement.
Our City, Our Housing, Our Communities
It is likely that rent deferrals, income insecurity, and mortgage stress will result in a wave of evictions and foreclosures in Melbourne’s expensive inner north and west. Banks are set to end payment deferrals just as the federal government winds back unemployment payments and wage subsidies.
As Jorquera and other VS candidates argue, councils can support impacted residents by offering full rate relief to households suffering financial hardship. Without measures such as these, working-class people will be forced to seek cheaper rent and housing prices in outer suburbs.
Combatting gentrification also means defending low-cost and culturally diverse services, and infrastructure. Fresh food markets are an important case in point, providing affordable food and vibrant culture. Darebin candidate George Kanjere criticizes council’s support for plans by private developer Salta to move the Preston Market in order to make way for multistory apartment buildings. So long as this important community space is privately owned, it will be at risk: this is why Kanjere proposes that the land be compulsorily acquired by the state government and the market preserved by extending heritage protection.
The Party Continues
The Victorian Socialists is still a very young party, but the party’s growing activist base means it can field a large ground campaign. The 2018 and 2019 electoral campaigns, both with up to 750 volunteers handing out materials on election day, as well as door knocking efforts that matched local Greens and ALP campaigns. Of course, this advantage has been neutralized by Victoria’s lockdown.
Socialists have pivoted toward more online organizing instead. Two large party meetings, including a June all-member conference, were held totally online, electing a new leadership and introducing a number of structural changes, such as campaign committees, an increased dues rate, and an improved approach to communications.
These efforts have borne fruit — so far VS has drawn in A$20,000 in donations and organized forums and campaign meetings attracting hundreds of attendees. Volunteers have distributed 410,000 leaflets in the last month. Two hundred thousand more will be distributed in coming weeks. A phone-banking campaign has so far made over eleven thousand calls, and it is estimated that volunteers will have contacted at least twenty-five thousand before the election is over. Of those who have answered their phones, 15 percent have indicated support for VS.
Despite these promising achievements, in-person organizing and one-on-one discussions are the lifeblood of socialist organizing. Without these tools, it remains to be seen whether VS members’ resolve can translate into victory.
However, as Liz Walsh notes,
We see elections as a way to connect a socialist message with working people. If we win, it’s going to be because we were upfront about our politics, and because people voted for socialist fighters. And if we don’t win, we’ve forged new connections and put local councils on notice.
NDP candidate Babchuk a fixture in local politics since 2005 – Campbell River Mirror
Michele Babchuk is no stranger to the local political scene having sat on board of school trustees between 2005 and 2014 and then on city council for three terms beginning 2014.
She’s always had an interest in provincial politics and now is pursuing the MLA seat for North Island in the Oct. 24 election as a New Democrat.
“I’ve been interested in provincial politics for a long, long time,” Babchuk said.
In her role as a school trustee, city councillor and as chair of the Strathcona Regional District Board, a position she currently holds, Babchuk has worked her way around provincial ministries for years now. But despite her interest, there hadn’t been an opportunity to get involved at a higher level as outgoing MLA and Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena has held the position since 2005. Trevena announced Sept. 20 she would be stepping down, a day before Premier John Horgan called a snap election.
Later that same day, it was announced that Babchuk had been nominated as the NDP candidate.
“It is something I have been dabbling in for quite a while,” Babchuk said, “but I didn’t know I was going to get the opportunity until quite recently.”
Babchuk sees the top issues for the North Island going into the election campaign are the COVID-19 pandemic and the province’s handling of the crisis, economic recovery, community resilience and connectivity.
Babchuk says she is “extremely happy” with the way the COVID-19 emergency has been handled by the provincial government.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be top of mind for North Islanders for the foreseeable future and I am extremely happy with the way the emergency has been handled by Premier Horgan and his government,” Babchuk said.
But out of that, economic recovery and jobs are going to be an issue moving forward, Babchuk said. Resiliency refers to the community’s ability to keep jobs in the community re-start the local economy.
Community resiliency and the environment are going to be big issues as well. Another issue of importance is connectivity
“I also believe that connectivity is going to be on the list,” Babchuk said. “That’s what people on the North Island keep telling me are important.”
Connectivity more so than ever has become “absolutely imperative” for rural and remote communities because we are finding through the COVID-19 pandemic that people are even more isolated and so we have to do things differently, Babchuk said. The Strathcona Regional District and the Connected Coast project has been developing plans for improving community broadband Internet plans for rural communities like Kyuqyot, Quadra Island, Sayward, Tahsis and Zeballos.
The BC Recovery Plan has contributed $90 million into connectivity and to be able to start delivering the connectivity that those communities and the regional district have been pursuing is “amazing,” Babchuk said.
Homelessness has been a big issue for the City of Campbell River and Babchuk has been in the thick of that as a city councillor. It is technically a provincial responsibility and Babchuk will continue to advocate for housing issues.
She points out that the province has been investing heavily in social housing in Campbell River with a number of housing projects coming online through BC Housing. She referenced the Makola housing project, the purchase of the Heritage River Inn to provide housing for victims of an apartment fire, the acquisition of the Rose Bowl Restaurant to be converted into transitional housing and also the announcement last month about the construction of a supportive housing facility on Dogwood Street. In addition, Linda’s Place was brought onstream through the Head Injury Support Society and soon we will see an expansion to Rose Harbour, the supportive housing facility for women.
“I am really happy and really excited to take up this challenge to run as the NDP candidate in the North Island,” Babchuk said. “We need to do the policy and relationship building. We don’t do this in silos. It takes the whole community and it takes a whole bunch of collaboration and relationship-building to make all of this happen. So I am excited to be part of that team I am excited to work in caucus with a great premier, Premier Horgan, and I hope the people will consider me on Oct. 24.”
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