Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.
Matthew Kellway foreshadowed dark days ahead for Canadians who love a good trip to the mailbox. Kellway, the NDP’s urban affairs critic who represents Toronto’s east end, always speaks with a measured tone in the House of Commons. He seems almost allergic to the sort of voice-raising so common during question period. It’s almost as if Kellway prefers to lull his opponents into submission. Today, he spoke of Canada Post’s five-year plan to deprive hard-working Canadians of their own mailboxes.
“Mayors and councillors across this country are furious with this government’s imposition of community mailboxes in the neighbourhoods they represent,” he said. “Hamilton is taking Canada Post to court over the unilateral seizure of municipal property.”
Which is true. In fact, the City of Hamilton and Canada Post are taking each other to court. The city’s councillors passed a motion that would force the postal service to consult the city whenever it wants to install a super box. The postal service claims the right to construct mailboxes wherever it wants. Pity poor Justice Robert Reid, who will hear both sides make their cases on May 25.
Hamilton isn’t the only unhappy camper. Stubborn residents of cities and towns everywhere are standing up to Canada Post’s cost-savings plan. They’re the kinds of people who always pop up in the news: Lorne Shalanski, a Calgarian who says a planned super box at a busy street corner will make life difficult for drivers and children; Hans Dybka, a resident of Dorval, Que., who erected a steel fence and dumped a pile of dirt on a spot near his home that’s earmarked for a box; and even Alex Tocher, a 69-year-old Hamiltonian who generally approves of community boxes but twisted his ankle in a nearby snow bank that he says should have been cleared.
These are the people behind the NDP’s sustained parliamentary effort to get in the head of Transport Minister Lisa Raitt. Their goal: convince her to tell Canada Post that its plans are making life miserable for ordinary people like Lorne and Hans. Kellway warned the minister that the postal service’s planned super boxes are “destroying green spaces” and “causing traffic problems” and “making the streets less safe for our kids.”
Yesterday, NDP MP Isabelle Morin raised the same fears about the safety of kids in her riding. “Mr. Speaker, last Friday, a constituent called me and said that Canada Post had decided to put a community mailbox right beside the fence between the street and her day care,” said Morin. “All the parents called Canada Post to say that they were worried about the increased traffic and also about safety. They do not want to see all kinds of people approaching their children. Canada Post responded that there was no problem, everything was okay, and it would not change its plans.” Helen Lovejoy would have been proud of such concern.
Back to today: As Kellway took in his seat, Raitt remained unmoved as she defended Canada Post’s path to prosperity. “The reality is that in 68 per cent of Canadian households, there will be no change through moving to community mailboxes,” she said. And it’s true. Many rural Canadians are already well acquainted with the notion of communal mail-gathering.
But Kellway was talking about cities, so Raitt played another card. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, she said, “overwhelmingly defeated a motion that called on us to reverse Canada Post’s direction.” Fair enough. But the FCM also called on Canada Post to “align with local strategies and processes aimed at fostering and supporting age/disability-friendly communities. Unique strategies must be developed in partnership with local governments and/or individuals.” Hamiltonians might see the wisdom in that particular principle.
New Democrats are hoping this all becomes an election issue. They’re asking questions and tabling petitions whenever they can, which is most days when the House of Commons sits. Conservatives hope people think more about jobs and security when they eventually head to the polls. They’re counting on the neighbours of Lorne and Hans, and all the other good folks who are peacefully rebelling, to not care too much about how they pick up whatever still shows up in their mailbox.
The list of things that dependably take centre stage in question period, no matter the day’s other news, is relatively short. Earlier this week, Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s semi-annual tabling of reliably critical audits reminded everyone of his spot on that list. Mike Duffy’s criminal trial down the street hasn’t fully unleashed its distractive powers on the House of Commons, but it almost certainly will, unless the juiciest stuff emerges in the middle of an election campaign.
Today, we’re reminded of the political power that lingers in Oshawa, Ont., the medium-sized city to Toronto’s east that proudly serves as General Motors Canada’s headquarters north of the border. Bad news in Oshawa is big news in question period. Today, the bad news comes in the form of 1,000 job cuts expected this year as GM winds down production of the Chevrolet Camaro. Unifor, the autoworkers’ union, expected the job losses but couldn’t stop them.
Gerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, also telegraphed the NDP’s attack in question period. Dias told the Canadian Press that both provincial and federal governments, who owned billions of dollars worth of shares in GM Canada, gave up any bargaining power with the company when they sold those shares. “Before they sold any of their shares, they should have solidified General Motors’ footprint in Canada,” said Dias. “But they were all about balancing the budget.”
There you have it: the feds balanced the budget on the backs of GM workers soon to be out of work. The government will reply that GM itself made an $800-million commitment to an assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., and the front bench will boast about Budget 2015’s five-year, $100-million pledge to create a new Automotive Supplier Innovation Program. The rest of us are reminded of one ultimate truth, regardless who is in government and who is in opposition: Everyone in the House of Commons wants to be the champion of the autoworker.