New Democrats led the way in 2012, proposing solutions to today’s challenges and effectively holding Conservatives to account for their mismanagement and ethical scandals.
For Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, 2012 was a banner year for getting it wrong. In order to help the Conservatives with their New Year’s resolutions, we've counted down the top ten worst Conservative lowlights from the past year.
10) Heartless refugee health care cuts
While Minister Kenney has been on the re-announcement circuit since the House rose (in some cases repeating press conferences almost verbatim), it’s worth remembering his record of putting partisanship ahead of sound public policy.
Case in point: cutting refugees off from health care treatment and leaving some of the neediest members of our communities behind – with provinces holding the bag. All the while, his government demonized refugees and misled Canadians into thinking refugees were getting better health care than they were.
Even conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was critical of the move, stating:
It’s unbelievable that some of the decisions that have been taken federally are having this impact on people who are clearly the most vulnerable, refugees who are obviously fleeing something quite terrible — that’s why they’re refugees.
9) Conservatives’ war on the environment
If there’s one thing Conservatives can’t stand, it’s environmental protection. In 2012, they pushed their attacks against environmental laws even further.
They used omnibus budget bills as Trojan horses to roll back the clock on decades of environmental protection efforts: thousands of lakes and rivers are not covered anymore by the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Environmental Assessment Act has been shredded to pieces, fish habitat protection disappeared from the Fisheries Act, they even gave Conservative politicians the final word on approving pipeline projects.
And then, the cherry on top of this irresponsible sundae, 2012 also is the year when Canada officially withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. Surprising exactly no one, Conservatives actually celebrated this contempt towards not only our international obligations but our obligation to future generations of Canadians as well.
8) Cutting Employment Insurance benefits and eligibility
Conservative Minister Diane Finley has been methodically dismantling EI to ensure fewer Canadians qualify for fewer benefits. From decimating the appeals tribunal to slowing claims processing to demanding that Canadians leave their home communities to find work – it has been one attack after another on seasonal industries and underemployed regions of our country.
But perhaps the most offensive aspect of all is their utter lack of consultation with the people, businesses and communities affected. Conservative indifference to the concerns of the provinces prompted this apt observation from Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale:
“There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of peoples' lives”
The Conservatives' excuses for why they choose to go after EI evolved with time, but the one thread that unites all these changes is a federal government focused on lowering wages for Canadians.
7) Scandals, ethical lapses and naughtiness by Conservative cabinet ministers
As Santa is making his list and checking it twice, we thought he could use some help today with who’s been naughty in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.
- Bev Oda strikes a serious blow to Stephen Harper's credibility as a responsible caretaker of public funds - $1,000 a day for limo rides, $665 per night at London’s Savoy hotel and the now infamous $16 orange juice.
- Christian Paradis is a repeat offender. With three conflict of interest complaints and one conviction so far, Minister Paradis is a one man stimulus package for employment at the Conflict of Interest Commissioner office.
- Peter MacKay in a basket. The Minister of Defence is airlifted by a search and rescue helicopter after a stay at a friend’s exclusive fishing lodge in Newfoundland to a Conservative fundraiser in Nova Scotia.
- Vic Toews’ acerbic tongue. Public Safety minister Vic Toews attacks lowered the bar to never-seen levels for public discourse. After introducing a new bill on Internet security, Toews responded to criticism with his now infamous "You Either Stand With Us Or With The Child Pornographers" comment. Not only did Minister Toews have to eat his words, he also had to eat his new bill - C-30 is still languishing on the Order Paper.
- Peter Penashue’s never ending problems. Already in hot water because of accusations of overspending and illegal corporate donations, Peter Penashue was also on the defensive for his lackluster performance as Intergovernmental Affairs minister when it was revealed almost all of his ministerial travel was within his own province.
- Dean Del Maestro silenced by Elections Canada investigation. After spending months giving misleading and offensive answers in the House to allegations of Conservative voter suppression, Del Mastro himself came under investigation by Elections Canada for an alleged kick-back scheme and charges he exceeded campaign spending limits.
6) CFIA cuts and Conservative food safety failures
While the largest meat recall in Canadian history was occurring, the Minister of Agriculture gave a master’s course on how to mismanage a crisis and shirk one's responsibilities. He avoided the House of Commons for a week; blamed bureaucrats; refused to explain why Canadians continued to buy tainted meat 2 weeks after the US pulled it from American store shelves; blamed the NDP for the outbreak; refused to explain his budget cuts to food inspection; and in the midst of the crisis he even stated at a luncheon serving beef:
"I don't know where it came from, I don't care. I know it's safe."
Undermining bureaucrats and safety warnings, joking about a life threatening E. coli outbreak and never taking responsibility – all in a day's work for this damaged Minister.
5) OAS eligibility to be raised from 65 to 67
In front of an audience of billionaires in Davos, Switzerland, Stephen Harper announced his plan to raise the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative MPs then spent weeks making up excuses for the decision and trying to hide details from Canadians about this new policy.
The answer finally came from the Auditor General. When fully implemented, this policy takes $10 billion a year from the pockets of Canada's poorest seniors. Stephen Harper's priority is cutting retirement security and a promise of less for future generations.
4) Monster budget bills – the omnibus approach to unaccountable government
As if the accountability bar couldn’t be lowered any further, Conservatives did the opacity limbo by putting almost all of their legislative agenda into one bill, for both the Fall and Spring sessions.
From dismantling environmental reviews; to rewriting the Fisheries Act; to eliminating wildlife habitat protection; to repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act; to reducing the powers of the Auditor General; to dissolving the Public Appointments Commission meant to fight patronage; to gutting food safety inspections, it was a one-stop shop of Conservative slicing and dicing through services Canadians rely on, while making changes to a slew of laws never once mentioned in their budget.
By forcing these omnibus budget bills through the House, Conservatives have mastered the art of circumventing the democratic process and ignoring the concerns of Canadians.
3) Stories of Conservative voter suppression
In 2012, thousands of Canadians came forward with complaints of dirty tricks on Election Day 2011.
Evidence emerged of an organized scheme to discourage people from voting across the country - 56 ridings under investigation by Elections Canada, and counting.
And according to court documents, the phone number trail appears to lead back to the Conservative Party HQ's database of identified voters.
Instead of taking seriously what could end up being the largest electoral fraud in Canadian history, Conservatives didn't even respond to Elections Canada investigators for three months.
And in the House of Commons, Conservatives used bizarre unfounded counter attacks to try and deflect questions away from the subject. Fortunately, Canadians are not that gullible.
Hopefully 2013 will be the year Conservatives start cooperating with Elections Canada's investigation and finally come clean about this shameful episode.
2) Replacing our aging CF-18’s – the F-35 fiasco
After running an election campaign on a platform promise to buy the sole-sourced F-35 fighter, Conservatives are now claiming to have hit the “reset button” on this boondoggle in the making.
This buzzword is meant to distract Canadians from the reports of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Auditor General and KPMG who all concluded that the cost of the F-35s is billions more than Conservatives were willing to admit.
The AG's scathing report went even further, demonstrating that the Conservatives procurement process was irresponsible, made mincemeat of the rules and the government even went so far as keeping two sets of books – real numbers for the Conservative cabinet and make believe books for the public.
This issue has it all: Conservative Ministers hurling vile attacks at the opposition, a government caught red-handed misleading Canadians and mismanagement on a titanic scale that starts and stops at the Prime Minister’s front door.
Indeed, the tale of the F-35 procurement process will one day be filed in the annals of history under ‘Conservative Procurement, how we did everything wrong’.
1) State-owned Chinese company takeover of Nexen rubber stamped by Stephen Harper
A key Canadian oil sands company, Nexen, was bought out by Chinese state company CNOOC in a $15 billion deal. In a press conference that reached the highest heights of hypocrisy, Stephen Harper denounced takeovers of our natural resources by state-owned companies while announcing that he was approving exactly that.
To add insult to injury, Conservatives also negotiated in backrooms a new Canada-China FIPA treaty deal with China that gives increased access to our strategic natural resources to companies like the now Chinese state-owned Nexen.
But don’t worry, brave Canadians! Conservatives, always fond of transparency, say that if we want any answers to why they made this poorly-thought decisions, all we need to do is ask the Communist government of China for answers. Maybe they’ll add a seat in Parliament for the Chinese politburo next session?
While Conservatives listen only to lobbyists and their insider friends, New Democrats will continue to provide practical leadership in the New Year, focused on building a fairer, greener and more prosperous Canada.