By: Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Liberal MP Chandra Arya says he welcomes Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s suggestion to debate the Liberal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr.
Arya acknowledged that “it’s not just the Conservatives” who are against the reported $10.5 million payout to Khadr.
“Most Canadians … they’re uncomfortable, as the prime minister said.”
The Nepean MP was in the Centre Block Monday morning, delivering introductory remarks to summer school students who were touring Parliament. He spoke with iPolitics between tours.
“Most Canadians are a bit concerned,” he repeated, adding that sometimes the government has to make decisions that are unpopular.
Repeating what Justin Trudeau has said, it’s better than spending $30-$40 million down the road, Arya noted, admitting he too “is a bit concerned.”
He thinks it’s good that Scheer wants to bring forward the debate because the House of Commons is the right place for it and he’d rather debate the issue with his colleagues across the aisle than read their comments in a newspaper.
Arya’s passion for Parliament was evident in his brief talks to the tours.
“This is the most important institution in Canada. What happens here affects us all. This is what Canada is about,” he told the Nepean high school students.
“When I sit in the House of Commons and I look at all 338 members of Parliament I realize that I don’t have to go to every nook and corner of Canada because (the people) here, they represent Canada,” he said.
“I love (being an MP), I love every morning. Honestly I get up and feel I’m blessed.”
The former business executive, who moved to Ottawa from India about 14 years ago with his wife and son, said the highlight of his two-year political career has been seeing his private members bill C-305 pass unanimously in the Commons. Arya’s bill would expand the scope of hate-based mischief relating to places of worship to also include schools, universities, community centres, sports centres, senior residences, or any building or place used for educational, cultural, social or sporting events.
Currently, hate-based mischief against churches, mosques, synagogues and temples can result in a sentence of up to 10 years – whereas sentences for general mischief to other properties are up to two years.
Arya’s “quite happy” about the bill – which is currently stuck at third reading in the Senate – and expects it to pass and become law in the fall.
Given that only five per cent of private members bills become law, he picked this area to champion because he said it’s close to his heart.
“I’m from India, I’m a Hindu. We know the clashes between the religions and the discrimination that’s there … in other parts in the world, but this is Canada. Here we don’t tolerate that.”
After the Quebec mosque attack in February, Arya rose in the Commons and said the attack was a direct result of Conservative and PQ policies.
“The recent killings of Muslims praying in the mosque in Quebec City is not an accident,” he said. “This is the direct result of dog-whistle politics — the politics of fear and division.”
On Monday, Arya said Conservative MP Michael Chong has been more specific than he was on the issue and consequence of rhetoric.
“Words they are important and they can really hurt,” he said.
While all of the political leaders have “really good intentions,” what he was suggesting in February was that the rhetoric had to be toned down. Members of political parties may misconstrue rhetoric and some have extreme views, but he doesn’t think any current MPs have extreme views. Not even Kellie Leitch.
“She wants much more scrutiny of the Canadians coming in, but I don’t think she’s a racist.”
Arya used to publish a newspaper called The Ottawa Star before running for office. Initially it was weekly and then bi-weekly, but he started the paper for new Canadians because he found that the mainstream media was not covering new Canadians’ events well.
When he became the candidate for Nepean, he shut it down because as he put it, “You know, I was funding it from my pocket.”
Now, in the dog days of summer, the Nepean MP spends most of his time in his constituency office or at events.
He said he’s fortunate to represent the riding because the income is above average, unemployment is quite low and there are not many major issues, apart from public service employees who have had issues with the Phoenix payroll system.
“Ottawa-wide issues also affect us of course.”
When asked if he considers the summer a break at all, he laughed.
“No. No way. Last week there were four days I left at 8:15 a.m and was back home at 9:30 p.m.”
That said, for him it’s not a job where he puts on a suit and stares at the clock.
“This is life and I love it.”
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.
By Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.
Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.
Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.
Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”
Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.
Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”
Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”
Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.
“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.
“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.
Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.
But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.
“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.
“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”
Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.
Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”
She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”
“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.
Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.
“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit