First question period of the new session
They're back! The first question period of the fall session of parliament took place this afternoon and was even somewhat interesting.
It started with a moment of silence for the victim of the Dawson college shooting and ended with a moment of silence for the latest deaths in Afghanistan, followed by half an hour of tributes to Benoit Sauvageau, an MP killed in a car accident earlier this year, and a third moment of silence. In the interim, here are some of the things that were said and my immediate reaction:
Bill Graham's first question of the session was why Stephen Harper believes now is not the time to talk about the government's pursuit of the removal of the long gun registry. Harper's answer was that his thoughts are with the family and that we should have mandatory minimum sentences for firearm-related offences, though he failed to show how that would have proven beneficial in this recent case. Harper said in response to the English version of the question that the incident at Dawson proves that our gun laws don't work. He takes no pleasure, he said, in saying 'I told you so' over the uselessness of the gun registry. The exchange continued with Graham insisting that we should use all available tools, and with Harper responding that the gun registry was a wasted decade. What we need, he said, is to reduce the possibility of crime.
The gun registry came up several more times with Lucienne Robillard, Raymonde Folco, and Marlene Jennings pressing the Tories on the issue. Jennings noted that the gun lobby contributed $133,000 to the Tory campaign in the last election, asking if the Tory's reluctance to keep the registry is related to a debt owed to the lobby. Stockwell Day noted that tax payers have contributed over a billion dollars to the existing system and that it remains inefficient. Day also made note of the pending addition of 3,500 more police in the country.
Day's responses to questions about the gun registry were a bit confusing. One answer he gave suggested that all aspects of the gun registry would be kept, but not the gun registry itself. I note here that he never once said the gun registry is ineffective or does not work, only that it is inefficient, which Jennings contradicted noting that even the Auditor General said inefficiency was no longer an issue in the last couple of years. He also noted that the current database would continue to be available to the police. I'm sure that a database that is no longer being maintained will be tremendously useful to the police.
Predictably, there were a number of questions over the war in Afghanistan. The government, apparently, is sending an additional 200 soldiers to Afghanistan. Asked why, Gordon O'Connor, minister of defence, replied that the military says they need more infantry, armour, and engineers to complete their mission. Not to draw more parallels than are needed, but the US military in Viet Nam also said they needed more troops... and more... and more... resulting in a draft and ultimately 500,000 soldiers in the war. And we all know how well that one turned out.
O'Connor commented that only the Taliban and the NDP want us out of Afghanistan, though I challenge him to answer the real questions that were asked during question period: what are we doing besides fighting? Keith Martin asked how many people we have working in construction in Afghanistan, and asked how many clinics and schools we have built in the country. The evasive answer from the government side didn't provide any kind of numbers for what has been accomplished, but suggested a bit clumsily that there were three teams of 90-113 people doing... something.
The last major set of questions in today's question period was perhaps the most telling of the real problems with our new government.
Several opposition MPs asked about how the conservatives managed to get 30 party hacks into lobbying roles, collecting 327 lobbying contracts in the space of only seven months, and how this jibes with the Conservative party's Accountability Act. Former Harris cabinet minister John Baird, now the President of the Treasury Board's answers amounted to: the liberal senate is holding it up; I dare the liberals to make it retroactive. It sounds like a bluff to me. The accountability act should, perhaps, be amended to be retroactive - with stiff penalties - to January 23rd. But first, liberals, don't forget to amend it so that party members get to Montreal this fall.
I would like to understand first why it is that the new government believes that gun control is a waste of money. More police does not necessarily equate to less crime. The United States have gobs and gobs of police, but their murder rate is still substantially higher than ours per capita and the country has high crime rates over all. An infinite number of improperly equipped police will not do anything to curtail crime, only every possible tool available will help.
The second major item I don't understand from our government is what our mission in Afghanistan really is. We've lost a lot of soldiers; we are likely to lose a lot more. There is no clear exit strategy. There is no evidence of progress after nearly five years at war in the country. Most of the progress was made in the first few weeks of the war, when various parts of the country were "liberated" from the Taliban and people started going to school and a passable infrastructure was created, allowing a vote. Since then, it has just turned into a protracted guerrilla war with no end in sight and no serious effort to rebuild the country. If the allies had as many soldiers in Afghanistan as there had been US soldiers in Vietnam, around half a million, there probably would still not be any progress if their role was only military. Two hundred additional soldiers certainly won't make a bit of difference, except to provide additional targets for local guerrillas. A half million soldiers, half of which are defending the other half while they completely rebuild the country's national infrastructure ala Marshall plan might get somewhere, but the pittance of a military force in the country is not likely to accomplish much of anything in the short, or in the long run. I've been over this before, I suppose. I just find it endlessly frustrating that our country is divided over a war that no-one is really quite sure how to end.
Posted at 15:19 on September 18, 2006
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