Prince Rupert City Council opposes 'undemocratic' C-38 omnibus bill

The City of Prince Rupert has essentially declared its opposition to Bill C-38; the highly controversial 400-page omnibus bill that is expected to pass in the House of Commons in the next few days.

City council voted at their meeting on Monday to send a letter to the Federal Government asking them to remove all non-fiscal items from what is technically a budget implementation bill. Doing so is tantamount to asking to scrapping the bill entirely since C-38 is stuffed full of changes to many federal laws and programs that can have little to do with the country's finances.

There are measures in the bill that will affect Prince Rupert as well.

The bill will be making changes to employment insurance that have been criticized as being bad for seasonal workers – of which Prince Rupert has many. A few weeks ago, Irvin Figg from the Canadian Fisherman and Allied Worker's Union went to council to ask for them to help oppose the cancellation of EI pilot programs by C-38 which would result in seasonal workers getting smaller claims in the off-season.

The motion to send the opposition letter was made by councillor Jennifer Rice whose day-job is working for the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, which has criticized C-38's changes to the Fisheries Act. These changes include a rolling back of fish habitat protections. They say that those protections are important to the commercial and recreational fisheries because they ensure that fish have a place to spawn and replenish their stocks.

Bill C-38 also includes the changes to the Environmental Assessment system for big industrial projects, and the provision that give's the federal cabinet final say over decisions made by the National Energy Board. This change has lead to a considerable loss of confidence in the Enbridge Joint Review Panel hearings by local Northern Gateway opponents, who, at the last hearing in Prince Rupert, repeatedly accused the panel of being stripped of credibility and authority.

But the councillors who voted in favour of the motion to oppose the bill say it's not because of any of its content, the issue is the “anti-democratic” way that measures are being pushed through.

“Can you imagine, your worship, if we decided to roll into our budget package a curfew decision on how late children can stay out at night? Or roll into our budget a decision to let people hunt wolves with bows and arrows on Kaien island? That's the kind of thing they've done and it's absolutely criminal,” says Councillor Joy Thorkelson.

“It's a fundamental attack on our democratic process as far as I'm concerned. It's an attempt to circumvent the dialogue that's needed on important issues by rolling them into a budget and saying 'well, too bad. We're the one's in charge, we can do whatever we want because we're going to vote on whatever we want.' They're making policy decisions removed from the need to discuss them,” says Councillor Anna Ashley.

Not every councillor agreed, although none of them argued against what was said about C-38 at the meeting.

When it came to a vote, Councillor's Jennifer Rice, Joy Thorkelson and Anna Ashley voted in favour. Councillor Nelson Kinney was the only one to vote against. Gina Garon abstained saying that she had not been prepared to deal with the issue so suddenly. Councillor Judy Carlick-Pearson was not at the meeting.

Mayor Jack Mussallem urged the council to get more information before making a decision. MPs started their marathon voting session on Wednesday afternoon, where they will have to go through several hundred amendments to the bill proposed by the Opposition parties to stall it, or at least make passing the bill as painful as possible.


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