July 17, 2019

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Opinion

The curious case of MP Ouellette

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2016 (1125 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — For 48 minutes Thursday, Robert-Falcon Ouellette sat in a committee room on Parliament Hill and spoke passionately about the reasons a guaranteed minimum income would have a profound effect on people in his Winnipeg Centre riding.

For 48 minutes, he cited the history of the idea, referenced the Dauphin pilot project on mincome in the 1970s and talked about poverty in his riding, which is one of the poorest in the country. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr., praised the memory of Nelson Mandela and read passages from economist Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty, which was published in 1879.

Then, after listing all the reasons mincome could be a good thing for Canada and why it should be studied further, Ouellette finished his speech, sat in his chair and voted against the NDP motion that would have seen the standing committee on finance study the benefits and possible effects mincome could have in Canada today.

His vote meant the motion was defeated five to three. The two Conservatives present and NDP MP Guy Caron, who brought the motion forward, voted in favour. All five Liberals voted against it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2016 (1125 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — For 48 minutes Thursday, Robert-Falcon Ouellette sat in a committee room on Parliament Hill and spoke passionately about the reasons a guaranteed minimum income would have a profound effect on people in his Winnipeg Centre riding.

For 48 minutes, he cited the history of the idea, referenced the Dauphin pilot project on mincome in the 1970s and talked about poverty in his riding, which is one of the poorest in the country. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr., praised the memory of Nelson Mandela and read passages from economist Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty, which was published in 1879.

Then, after listing all the reasons mincome could be a good thing for Canada and why it should be studied further, Ouellette finished his speech, sat in his chair and voted against the NDP motion that would have seen the standing committee on finance study the benefits and possible effects mincome could have in Canada today.

His vote meant the motion was defeated five to three. The two Conservatives present and NDP MP Guy Caron, who brought the motion forward, voted in favour. All five Liberals voted against it.

Other Liberals on the committee said it’s not the place for a study on mincome and the committee was already overloaded with studies on the budget and the tax system.

"I was being a good team member," Ouellette told the Free Press after the meeting.

He didn’t want to vote against it, he said. It was "painful" to do so, but he met with his colleagues beforehand, and it was decided among them the motion would be defeated.

The entire thing is just curious.

Curious because even though Ouellette knew he was going to vote no, he wanted to make sure his constituents saw his speech. Before and during his speech, he kept asking for the meeting to be televised. The audio of the meeting is available, but the cameras were not operating Thursday, which disappointed him.

Curious because the Liberals clearly do not want to have a study on mincome. On Tuesday, when the study motion was first introduced, Liberal whip Andrew Leslie made a hurried appearance at the committee for some fast talking to Ouellette in the corner of the committee room. Ouellette then ended up talking out the clock to prevent a vote from taking place.

He told the Free Press Wednesday afternoon he was buying time, hoping to be able to convince his colleagues to vote for the motion. Instead, they convinced him to vote against it.

Curious because Ouellette could have voted yes and the motion still would have been defeated. His yes vote would have ended in a tie vote, leaving chairman Wayne Easter to break the tie, and certainly, given the Liberal push to vote this motion down, Easter would have sided with the party and not the motion.

It is also curious given the Liberal connection to this issue. It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau who authorized the federal role in the Dauphin mincome experiment. At each of the last two Liberal conventions, including less than a month ago in Winnipeg, the party voted in favour of resolutions calling for Ottawa to work with the provinces to implement some form of mincome.

Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister of families, children and social services, who is tasked with creating a national poverty-reduction strategy, studied the issue as an economist in Quebec before being elected, and said recently the new Canada child benefit being introduced in July, is a form of mincome for families.

Duclos’s director of communications said the minister wouldn’t be able to speak to the Free Press about it this week.

"He is following the debate, but he stated previously that it is mainly of provincial jurisdiction," said Mathieu Filion in an email. "He also said that if a province wants to create a pilot project, the federal government could help by sharing data that could help."

Why are the Liberals so intent on shutting down any study on mincome? Why did Ouellette, who has shown he has no problem being offside with his party on other issues, allow himself to be coerced to change his vote when it wouldn’t have affected the outcome of the decision, and when he is passionate about the subject?

Whatever the reason, Ouellette’s not talking. His constituents were already demanding an explanation Thursday, some taking to Twitter to ask him to explain.

All he is saying now is he hopes maybe his speech will spur "someone, sometime" to undertake a study of this issue.

It seems as long as the Liberals are in office, that’s not going to happen.

 

Mia Rabson is the Winnipeg Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mrabson

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