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Public Safety Minister Vic Toews speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 18, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 18, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Question Period

Inflexible Tories accuse NDP of trying to shut down entire economy Add to ...

Opposition members are pouncing on the Conservative government’s perceived willingness to compromise on some parts of its omnibus crime bill.

But the response from the government during Question Period Friday suggests any apparent flexibility was short lived.

Hélène Laverdière, the New Democrat who led off the session for her party, told the House the Conservatives “finally decided to put water in their wine” by enabling members of Parliament to do their job and to study the clauses of Bill C-10.

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“The Minister of Justice even showed some flexibility by indicating to the government of Quebec the possibility of going back over amendments put by his Quebec counterpart,” Ms. Laverdière said. “Can the government now confirm that it is willing to amend its bill in order to promote rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had assured Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier in a letter released Thursday that amendments to the bill entered by Conservatives would address Mr. Fournier’s concerns it would promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people who have run afoul of the law.

Also Thursday, the Conservatives agreed to extend a Commons committee’s debate of the omnibus bill until next week. They had originally said it would have to be concluded before Friday.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who responded to Ms. Laverdière’s question on behalf of the government said: “Clearly if the opposition parties have amendments to move which will strengthen the objective to protect Canadians from criminals, the government will consider them.”

That prompted Ms. Laverdière to express hope that the Conservatives are saying there is an opening to make changes to the bill to put money into front-line policing rather than forcing the provinces to hire more prison guards.

But Mr. Kenney quickly quashed that notion. The government, he said, has already put money into the RCMP and local police forces as well as prevention initiatives. “Seventy-seven per cent of Quebeckers expect Parliament to adopt harsher sentences for criminals,” he said, “and the government is in the process of doing just that.”

When Ms Laverdière complained about the amount of times the government has invoked closure on key bills, including the crime legislation, Mr. Kenney said there has been plenty of debate and the Conservatives are committed to action.

Now, Question Period is often a time when the rhetoric goes over the top – on all sides. But Public Safety Minister Vic Toews may have upped that bar a little on Friday.

Pierre Jacob, the NDP MP from Brome–Missisquoi in Quebec, wanted to know why the hours at some border crossings in his riding had been scaled back while others had been closed altogether. This has put jobs at stake and is “seriously compromising the socio-economic balance of the border region,” Mr. Jacob said, asking the government to reverse its decision.

Mr. Toews said he would rather talk about the “hundreds of thousands of jobs” the NDP wants to shut down.

“It wants to shut down the seal industry, a vital and important economic activity in many communities,” he said. “It wants to shut down the forestry sector in B.C. and the aerospace sector in Quebec. It wants to shut down the automobile manufacturing of central Canada. It wants to shut down the truck drivers who cross the border everyday. It wants to shut down the GM food sector on farms across the country. Why will the member not work with us to create jobs, rather than shutting down our economy?”

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