Last week Canada suffered an attack in our nation’s capital, at our very centre of government. It was an attack on both our democracy and our values as Canadians.
No, I am not talking about the shooting that left one soldier dead. That attack was horrendous and violent, and much has been and should be said about it. Our leaders have expressed resolve not to let that attack change our nation, but the truth is, Canada has already changed.
The day after the shooting, the government resumed sitting, and the Conservatives tabled their latest budget bill. It was yet another omnibus budget. This may hardly seem newsworthy, but it needs to be said again and again: the Conservative’s omnibus budget bills are nothing short of an affront to our democratic system. The Conservatives have made a habit of stuffing their budgets with a vast array of non-budgetary items, ensuring that none get the scrutiny they deserve and require. Debate in the House is limited, and the only examination a budget gets is from a finance committee, which for obvious reasons is inherently ill-equipped to scrutinize unrelated matters.
Prior to the Conservatives taking power, budget bills hovered in the range of 50 to 120 pages. The controversial 2012 omnibus budgets weighed in at 425 and 443 pages—the latter, it was noted, being roughly the length of Crime and Punishment (my partner suggests War and Peace as more apt, given that no one can get through it). This most recent omnibus budget surpasses those two, at 458 pages.
Pity the poor refugee
Buried somewhere in those 458 pages is a change to how Canada treats its refugees—to once again make things more difficult for them. There is currently a safeguard in place to allow refugee claimants to access social assistance, in that provinces (who administer social assistance) are not allowed to impose a minimum residency requirement for eligibility. The omnibus budget bill will remove this safeguard, opening the door for provinces to deny refugee claimants much-needed financial assistance during the months or years that it takes to have a claim accepted.
For refugees who come here with few, if any, resources, social assistance is one way of ensuring that they integrate into society and do not remain marginalized. It is a humanitarian and compassionate measure that we as a nation put in place deliberately. Why did we do this? Because we believed in not just equality of opportunity but the value and dignity of every person and the right to a decent, prosperous life. We believed that it was important to help our neighbours, no matter their place of origin, and to build inclusive, supportive communities.
These are Canadian values, or at least they should be.
After Wednesday’s shooting, Prime Minister Harper addressed the nation, saying that attacks “on our institutions of governance are by their very nature attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.”
He was not talking about what I wish he was talking about.