• James Armstrong

Federal Liberals celebrate anniversary of first year in government


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Preparing for upcoming legislation in the House of Commons is part of Vaudreuil-Soulanges Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke and his assistant Sarah Marinier-Doucet’s daily schedule and Your Local Journal was along for the day in Ottawa last October 6.

Watching, hearing, experiencing the verbal exchange of the House of Commons Question Period from the Visitors’ Gallery on Thursday October 6 was a riveting experience. In sharp contrast to the House of Commons was the calm silence of the Victorian Gothic Revival Library of Parliament, the only part of the original parliament buildings to survive the devastating fire of February 3, 1916. The library survived because someone had the foresight to close the cast iron entrance doors preventing the flames from entering the room.

Access to the House of Commons for Your Local Journal was made possible by an invitation from Vaudreuil-Soulanges Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke to spend a day shadowing the local MP during the course of his work. It was all part of Schiefke’s plan to mark his first year in office. “I am confident in what we are doing as a government and why we are doing it – I want to explain that to people,” said Schiefke.

At the end of his first year in office, Schiefke says he sees tangible results in the riding as a direct result of Liberal policy. “You can’t grow the economy from the top down. You have to empower people to contribute to the economy. The first step was cutting income taxes for the middle class.”

“The second step, as of July 20, was the first Canada Child Benefit cheques that went out in the mail,” he said. “That put $2300 per child into the pockets of their parents – and it is non-taxable,” he added.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

A statue of a young Queen Victoria holds court in the center of the recently restored and refurbished Library of Parliament.

Thirdly, Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities stand to benefit from the Liberal government’s commitment to investing $120 billion in municipal infrastructure. “We have met with many municipalities to find out their infrastructure needs,” said Schiefke. “Many of them were really surprised because it was the first time they had ever been invited to meet with a federal member of parliament.” He said municipal infrastructure is the determining factor for industrial development and attracting international investment. In Quebec, the goal is to work in concert with the provincial government and the municipalities. “The infrastructure project proposed by a municipality has to be on the province’s list of priorities,” said the MP. In reference to the proposed regional hospital for the area, Schiefke said Quebec has allocated funds for studies that need to be done and that a building site has been chosen. “Whatever support we give is money we are freeing up for municipalities to work on projects – for example, the hospital,” he said.

For Scheifke, the day began meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for Youth, our local MP meets frequently with the PM who takes the youth portfolio quite seriously. On September 29, Schiefke addressed the House of Commons welcoming the first 15 young Canadians selected to serve on the Prime Minister’s youth council. In a similar fashion, Schiefke is organizing a Vaudreuil-Soulanges youth council. The deadline for applications has passed and the youth council members will be announced in the near future.

A briefing session with his administrative assistant prepared the MP for House of Commons business in the coming weeks. “Bill C16 will be coming up in the next session. It’s an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based upon gender identity or expression,” said assistant Sarah Marinier-Doucet. Also coming up is Bill S201 prohibiting genetic discrimination. “It’s a case of the law needing to catch up with technology,” said Schiefke. “This law is intended to protect individuals from having genetic information used against them,” he added. As an example, he described how a genetic predisposition for a disease could lose an individual a job opportunity or insurance benefits based upon genetic testing.

The trip from Schiefke’s office in the Justice building, formerly the headquarters for the RCMP, to the House of Commons provided a moment for Schiefke to explain what was happening to buildings on Parliament Hill.

“By 2018, everything in the center block will be moved to the west block, including the House of Commons,” he said. Currently, a temporary House of Commons is being constructed in what was the central courtyard of the west block. “It will take about 10 years to completely refurbish the center block,” he added.

Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday, October 6, is a matter of record. However, actually being in the House and witnessing the thrust and parry, the maneuvering for position is an experience not to be forgotten. The government was criticized for putting off legislation providing equal pay for women until 2018. “We have to do due diligence on this legislation,” said Schiefke outside the House. “As the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk explained, all of the 874,000 employees and 10,800 employers included in the legislation have to be consulted. It takes time and it’s a complicated process.”

It was also the day when Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion was taken to task by the opposition for a gesture he made in response to a statement made by Conservative MP Michael Cooper regarding the return of four missing children to Canada from Iran. In his statement, Cooper described how the Prime Minister had met with the children’s mother Alison Azer and assured her he was preoccupied with the case. Cooper pointed out the 5-month delay stating, “It is time for the Prime Minister to demonstrate leadership, take action and make the return of these four Canadian children a priority.”

In response, Dion said the gesture was in reference to the criticism of the Prime Minister, not Azer or her family. In the end, he apologized to Azer for the gesture. According to Schiefke, the case in question is very complicated. “The previous Conservative government severed all diplomatic relations with Iran. We have to work through channels with other countries that do have a diplomatic relationship to make this happen,” he said later in the day. “Having a diplomatic relationship with a country does not mean that we agree with everything they do. It means we are able to communicate with them.”

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