70 % of Veterans Affairs Committee meetings held in secret
June 21, 2013:
The recent sitting of the House of Commons ended Tuesday evening, and is scheduled to resume September 16th, 2013.
I wanted to write a bit about my parliamentary responsibilities, specifically my role as Liberal Party spokesperson for Veterans Affairs.
As many of you know, I have the honour of being the opposition critic for veterans issues in Parliament and being the MP for the riding that houses the national headquarters of the department of Veteran Affairs.
Twice weekly, while Parliament is in session, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs meets in a room one floor below the actual Chamber.
The Veterans Committee is under the complete control of the Prime Minister's Office. On the Committee, there are 7 Conservative MPs, one who sits as the Chair, 4 New Democrats and finally, me - the lone Liberal.
The hyper secretive Conservatives decided a long time ago that the Committee would avoid, at all costs, dealing with substantive issues. My efforts to discuss cuts to staff at VAC and its impact on veterans were continually thwarted. Dare to suggest public hearings on matters important to veterans, for example, the New Veterans Charter - the Conservatives would repeatedly shut me down.
So, in place of addressing real issues, the Prime Minister's Office created "make work" projects to keep Conservatives MPs "busy". As a result, the Conservative dominated Veterans Affairs Committee accomplished very little of substance this year. And that was the government`s intent from the beginning.
Even more troubling is the government's efforts to keep most of our meetings out of public view, choosing to have secret meetings instead of public ones. Since September of 2012, to present, there have been 34 meetings of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Less than 30% of those meetings were open to the public. The remaining 70% were either held in complete secrecy or, would revert to secret session at the demand of the Conservatives.
For the record, I opposed all secret meetings that should have been held in public.
Now, some of you may ask: what happens in these secret meetings? Well, the rules of the Committee and Parliament forbid me from disclosing anything. And that is exactly the point. The Conservatives don't want you to know what is happening.
Secret meetings now reign. Regrettably, this is what Parliament has become under Stephen Harper. And this tendency to operate in secret is repeated across the board at most parliamentary committees. It is anti-democratic, and frankly, un-Canadian.
Let's remember though, that is was Stephen Harper who once said that by the time he is done, we won't recognize Canada. Sadly, he is keeping his word.
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.