Statement made on 12 March 2009 by Senator Joan Fraser
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Honourable senators, I agree with Senator Murray, but what we face here is an exercise in blackmail.
My problem has been that the victims are not we, in this chamber; the hostages in this exercise in blackmail are the most vulnerable of Canadians, who are now feeling and will increasingly feel as the months wear by, the bite of the worst economic straits we have faced in 70 years.
Even before Senator Mitchell extracted the information that has so shaken us all — and I do congratulate him for that — I lay awake more nights than I would like to think worrying about the price that would be paid no matter what we did in this chamber.
Now we have learned about these incredible — almost hidden — clauses on Employment Insurance. I do not believe that my friends on the other side of this aisle were any more aware of those provisions on Employment Insurance than we were. I am sure it came as much as a surprise to them as it did to us.
I would love to be able to support Senator Murray's motion, because what he is proposing is — in all terms except those I have just described — what we should be doing, but I try to gauge the consequences of it. At the very least, we would be delaying to unemployed Canadians — and denying to some of them — those extended Employment Insurance benefits that they so desperately need. What we will be giving them is not enough, but it is better than what they have now. That is at the very best.
Assuming that a miracle occurred and the government suddenly decided to accept the severed bill with a few days' delay, taking us past one more Sunday; but the government has said it would not accept a severed bill, even if all the opposition parties joined to pass it. In order to avoid accepting the severed bill, it would have to go to the people. That would mean a delay of months before any stimulus was available.
I do not know much about Stephen Harper. I am not privileged to be — I will use that word ironically — in his inner circle, but one thing I have observed so far about Mr. Harper is that when he says he will do something, no matter how ill advised that thing may be, he usually does it. He gives new meaning to the definition of stubbornness. I, for one, am not willing to play that game of chicken at the very likely price of help for those Canadians who need it most.
There are many things in this bill that we know are objectionable, and I suspect that in a truly non-partisan way, the committees that study the subject matter will find other things that need correction, because that is what committees do. In a 500-page bill, it is not possible that there should be no flaws at all. Some of the things can be corrected. Pay equity, for example, can be corrected in a new parliament by simply revoking this iniquitous — in my view — bill.
In the meantime, I have concluded that I owe my vote to the most vulnerable. I shall abstain on Senator Murray's motion and I shall — as Senator Mitchell put it — not vote for this budget, but vote to allow this budget to pass.