Austerity budget, free trade, crime bill: Conservatives eye sweeping changes with 2012 legislation
The government has promised not to touch pensions in their 2012 budget, despite much outcry around Prime Minister Harper's Swiss announcement of pension cuts, but that surprise move set the tone for dire predictions about job losses (60,000 job cuts, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) and social service slashing.
But the government has also promised to eliminate its $31-billion deficit by 2015-16 – the only question is not if, but when.
In Europe, austerity measures have led to uprisings, rioting and general strikes in countries from Greece to England. How far will Canada's go? And how will Canadians react?
2. Bill C-10: Safe Streets and Communities Act
Status: Bill C-10 was quickly sent to the Senate for review, where it cleared its second reading and is currently before the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee.
This one's got many names – the media calls it the “omnibus crime bill,” its Parliamentary short name is the “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” and Bill C-10's official name would take up an entire paragraph – giving a hint of just how sweeping its changes will be:
“An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts.”
This act has arguably raised more controversy than any other currently before parliament. Bill C-10 has come under fire from high quarters.
The draconian bill's sentencing increases and California-style mandatory minimum sentences (removing judges' discretion in drug cases) would undo decades of progress in Canada's correctional system, warned David Daubney, a former Conservative MP and just-retired from his long-time position as a senior Department of justice advisor.
“It was clear the government wasn’t interested in what the research said or in evidence that was quite convincingly set out,” Daubney told the Globe and Mail. “The policy is based on fear – fear of criminals and fear of people who are different.
“Overcrowding is already severe at both the federal and provincial levels. It’s going to get tougher, and prisons will be more violent places. We may go back to the era of riots in prisons. I’m afraid it is going to get worse before it gets any better.”
Last week, Nunavut was the latest province to criticize the act. Provinces have balked at what they say is the federal government off-loading prison costs onto provinces, who will have to stomach the dramatic increase in inmates as well as more time in courtrooms.
Justice minister Rob Nicholson promised to amend some portions of the act after it was criticized in the Senate – particularly after newspapers noticed that under the bill, sentences would become worse for drug-related offences than for pedophiles:
“Growing 201 pot plants in a rental unit would receive a longer mandatory sentence than someone who rapes a toddler or forces a five-year-old to have sex with an animal,” wrote Province columnist Ethan Baron – and only six plants would land one with double the sentence of someone who lured a child to watch pornography. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper took notice and promised that sex offenders would get tougher sentences.
The government says that Bill C-10 will ensure justice for victims of crime and protect the public – despite statistics showing dropping crime rates across the country.
“Let's not talk about statistics,” public safety minister Vic Toews told a Senate committee. “Let's talk about danger... I want people to be safe.”
“I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down... If there's a danger to (the public), that danger needs to be addressed and this legislation addresses that.”