COLUMN: Behind the scenes at the Justice, Foreign Affairs and Environment committees

From MP Wayne Stetski

In the nearly two years that I’ve worked as your Member of Parliament, I’ve learned that, while activities in the House of Commons get most of the drama and the media attention, the real work of parliamentarians happens in committees. All legislation and many important issues are dealt with by committees.

We have 30 Standing Committees under the House of Commons, covering everything from Agriculture to Veterans Affairs. Recently, I have become the NDP’s go-to MP for attending committees when the regular member has to be away.

It’s a very good position to be in, because I have the opportunity to speak on your behalf on many different yet important issues, and to hear expert witnesses and ask them the questions that are relevant to you. Let me tell you about the committee work I’ve done over past two weeks.

I’m an Associate Member of the Environment Committee, and I participate on the committee whenever they deal with issues that fall within the mandate of Parks Canada. One of Parks Canada’s responsibilities is heritage — the monuments, sites, and buildings that represent our culture and history.

The Environment Committee is currently studying Canada’s heritage laws and programs and we’ve been hearing from witnesses on the matter.

Some of the testimony we’ve heard from witnesses has been shocking. A witness representing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission talked about the state of former residential schools, and that they’re being lost due to neglect. He said residential schools must be marked and acknowledged. “It’s essential for us, as humanity, not only that we celebrate who we are when we’re at our best but also we never forget who we have been when we’ve been at our worst.”

He pointed out, too, that the federal government has money to tear down former residential schools, but not for preserving them. It’s this kind of policy issue that we address at committee.

Cranbrook, in my riding of Kootenay-Columbia, was home to the St. Eugene Mission residential school and the Ktunaxa First Nation has converted it to a destination hotel, casino, and golf course — a positive use for a place with a dark history, thanks to the vision of one of their elders.

I also participated with the Foreign Affairs Committee to talk about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Last January, I travelled to that region with the Committee at the request of Canada’s Global Affairs department. They arranged for parliamentarians to meet with officials and NGOs in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, and Latvia to reinforce our friendship, and because we have an interest and an obligation in helping maintain peace in the region.

The committee is now considering a draft report on that mission so that our findings can be published and tabled in the House of Commons. This is an important part of Canada’s international diplomacy, and I am proud to have had a role in it.

Finally, I attended a meeting of the Justice Committee last week, which deals with new criminal laws that are being considered, including the Liberals’ plans to legalize cannabis. At this meeting, we discussed Bill C-46 regarding impaired driving. The bill is part of the government’s package of legislation to legalize marijuana by July 2018, and is aimed at criminalizing drivers who are impaired from alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. It includes a new regime for testing for drug impairment.

While the NDP is supportive in general — who wants stoned drivers on the road? — we also have concerns about the process for recognizing and testing impairment. It depends heavily on the judgement of a law enforcement officer, and roadside testing is currently unreliable. That means that many accused will need to be taken to a police station or hospital for a blood test, which is invasive and requires specially trained staff. There are questions around the constitutionality of several aspects of Bill C-46.

Marijuana legalization has many aspects, and it’s important that the government gets it right.

I’ll continue to work on your behalf in committees and in the House of Commons. If you have a federal issue you’d like me to raise, please send me a message.

Wayne Stetski is the Member of Parliament for the Kootenay-Columbia riding.

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