Hoback talks upcoming legislative session, Idle No More

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Matt Gardner
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As parliamentary lawmakers prepare to return to the House of Commons on Monday, Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback sat down to discuss the government’s main concerns going forward.

“Really, the priorities haven’t changed much,” Hoback said. “They’re still focused on jobs, the economy, making sure that we’re positioned long-term for growth so that we see prosperity for not only this generation, but the next generation.

“Those things haven’t changed, so you’ll see a new budget coming out probably in the next three months with that type of focus built right into the budget itself.”

Since Parliament adjourned at the end of last year, one of the biggest developments in Canada has been the growth of the Idle No More movement.

First Nations activists and their supporters have focused their ire on Bill C-45, calling it an attack on environmental protection laws and native treaty rights. As a Conservative MP, Hoback faced the brunt of criticism from local Idle No More supporters who have regularly picketed outside his office.

Hoback praised the movement for its commitment to non-violence, and said there was no question supporters had legitimate grievances. However, he believed some of their ideas were “misconceived” and felt their concerns need to be addressed not just at the federal level, but by local governments.

“If (Idle No More has) done one thing, it’s brought to light probably one of the worst-kept secrets, (which) is corruption in some of the different bands and on the different reserves,” Hoback said.

“The days of the chief coming and saying, ‘Well, Ottawa didn’t give us our money’ --and then you had no ability to find out whether you got money from Ottawa, where that money went, being a band member -- are over.

“There needs to be transparency, and that’s no different than any town council, no different than any municipality or the city of Prince Albert or the city of Melfort. That accountability and transparency has to be there, and that’s what’s in that legislation.”

Hoback disputed the charge that alterations to the Navigable Waters Protection Act in C-45 that greatly reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada would cause harm to the environment, saying that the environment and navigable waters were separate issues.

The MP argued that the changes prevent different levels of government from repeating environmental reviews, and that the majority of formerly protected lakes and rivers are not actually used for navigation.

“A lot of our streams and stuff like that, there is no canoeing, there’s nothing going on for that type of activity. And even the local municipalities, they understand that if they see it’s a big enough stream -- let’s say the Shell River -- if they were going to put something over the Shell River, they’re going to take acknowledgement (of) the fact that there’s probably canoes going down the Shell River …

“But when you take a stream that only flows for the month of May and April and they’re being forced to put in a bridge or something like that because somebody says somewhere down the road there may be a canoe on it -- well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Although Bill C-45 has received royal assent to become law, Idle No More supporters still hold out hope that the government will ultimately shelve the bill and consult with native leaders.

According to Hoback, this is unlikely in the extreme.

“Not a chance at all,” he said. “It’s a budget bill. It’s a confidence bill.”

The conflict between business interests and environmental protection is also on display in the Harper government’s planned overhaul of the Species at Risk Act.

Hoback said the original law may have overreached and that it was necessary to achieve a better balance.

“I’ll use the example of woodland caribou in northern Saskatchewan,” he said.

“Here’s a government regulation coming in that, if we’re to enact it, would actually shut down the uranium mining sector in northern Saskatchewan. So you have to create a situation where it’s balanced, so that you still allow the activities to go on, yet you’re still taking care of the species that are in jeopardy in that case.”

If (Idle No More has) done one thing, it’s brought to light probably one of the worst-kept secrets, (which) is corruption in some of the different bands and on the different reserves. MP Randy Hoback

Two additional pieces of legislation that will likely be on the parliamentary agenda in 2013 are Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, and Bill C-43, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.

Hoback said there was a push within the Conservative caucus to refine Bill C-30 and that fellow MP Harold Albrecht was taking the lead.

“I’m not the expert in that area, but I know what Harold was doing was trying to create some legislation in place -- for example, people that encourage kids to commit suicide on the Internet, the encouragement of that … bring in rules and regulations, laws and penalties for people that are engaged in that type of activity.

“The Internet’s a great thing, but it also is a harmful thing. It depends on how you use it, just like any other tool. It can be used for good or used for bad. You don’t want to overregulate it, yet you want to put in the safety measures that protect our kids and protect our society the way society wants to be protected.”

Bill C-30 attracted privacy concerns for some of its clauses, such as requirements that telecom companies hand over customers’ information to police without a court order, or that cell phone companies and internet service providers install real-time surveillance equipment in their products.

Hoback was not aware of any plans to modify these sections of the bill.

The push for Bill C-43 is likely to take place in February. Lamenting a backlog in legitimate immigration to Canada because of false cases, Hoback said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was working with different communities to make sure the bill took a balanced approach focusing on violent criminals rather than petty offenders.

“There’s been a clear message being sent to us in Ottawa from our constituents that they want to deal with criminals in a very abrupt manner, so if you come to this country and are committing crimes and you’re not yet a Canadian citizen, we don’t want to let you in our country.”

One of the more controversial aspects of Bill C-43 is a provision that gives the Immigration minister the power to deny claimants personal residency in Canada due to “public policy reasons,” which remain undefined.

Hoback rejected the possibility that the law would result in people being denied residency for political reasons.

“We’re not like that in Canada,” he said. “If we’re going to deny something, it’s going to be based on a policy or based on a reason. It’s not just going to be based on the whims of a minister or a bureaucrat.”

One wild card in the early months of 2013 has been Canada’s contribution of a C-17 cargo plane to support the ongoing French military action in Mali. Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly considered deploying a second plane.

Not privy to inside discussions on the matter, Hoback knew only that Harper had met with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and that he was looking for general consensus before considering further Canadian military involvement.

“Obviously, there must be some threat,” he said. “Either it’s a threat to Canada indirectly or directly. Obviously there’s an interest there that both France and Canada and other countries are saying need to be dealt with.

“I think that information will probably come forward in the next week and those comments when we start seeing some of the information being brought out during Question Period or during committee. But at this point I just don’t have the proper answer for you.”

Organizations: First Nations, Prince Albert, Protecting Children

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, Shell River Melfort Northern Saskatchewan Mali France

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