Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ominous Omnibus Bill Rant

I am seeing and hearing quite a bit about the Harper government’s Safe Streets and Communities legislation. My MP thinks that it so important that he sent me a massed produced mailer extolling this bit of a Bill. He always sides with Stephen. It’s his job.

I have problems with this Bill of theirs on a number of levels.

It’s an Ominous Omnibus Bill.

Omnibus Bills leave a bad taste in my mouth period. If these are valid laws to be considered, they should be considered on their own merits. It is not like this is a group of feel good things like Grandparents’ Day or Cat Appreciation Day that are little more than making tiny tweaks and pointless points, but these are laws that can affect people beyond their intended scope. And I don’t mean just the “criminals”.

As far as Omnibus Bills go, this one is rather small compared to others that Stephen and Co. has put forward. But when you group Bills together like this, things get missed, errors get through. I won’t pretend that I understand what this bill entails in its entirety, it’s too big and I’m not a lawyer. We have people paid to go through bills and debate their virtues, offer amendments, ensure that these are good laws. They are the members of the House of Commons, our MPs.

Now, before I go any farther, I want to point out that I detest the “Marionette Theatre” that the House of Commons has become. Members need to read and consider and debate laws that come before them and vote based on what a proposed law does for their communities and the country as a whole. What we have now is grade school. Remember voting for “Class President”? The popular kids were named and you voted the same way your friends did.

Between this Marionette Theatre and the Omnibus Bills we end up with “Easter Eggs”. Computer folk know what these are. Little surprises you can find if you look through a computer’s programs. One of these Easter Eggs is that the Minister of Finance no longer needs to explain to the House why the government needs to borrow money in our name. He can just do it. But that bill was years ago and Stephen isn’t going to fix it now. What is in this Omnibus Bill only time will truly tell.

Why the hurry Stephen?

Omnibus Bills are a way for governments to pass a clump of legislation through quickly. Add to this the limiting of debate and you really start to wonder why the haste?

If these laws are so wonderful and good that no one should have any issue with them, there would be no need for packaging and pushing to get them through. Honestly, there will still be “criminals” to prosecute next week, next month, next year. I promise.

Haste makes Waste is an old adage that still holds true. It doesn’t matter if you are baking a cake, running a country or just doing your normal jobs, when you rush, things go wrong. Remember Murphy?

These laws have been through committees and so forth but we still need to have the government show us, the electorate, why THESE particular laws. That is why we bother to have a House of Commons. Our representatives need to be able to read, digest, and offer opinions and if needed (usually needed) amendments to help ensure the laws are good. And then they vote.

Take your time. Let’s get it right.

How much is this going to cost?

The opposition parties keep asking this. The fiscal watchdogs keep asking this. The answers are nebulous and are given without any proof to back them up. The latest one, a real beaut, “the costs are sustainable”.

When I look at what this clump of legislation entails, I see dollar signs. And not in a good way.

Stephen says we need more prisons. Our current federal prison system is over crowded. So are our provincial prisons detention centres. Keeping people in prison longer is not going to help here, it will make it worse. The only solution will be to make more prisons to accommodate our guests.

Does this mean the new laws make more people criminals? Perhaps, I can’t say for sure. But what I do know that if someone is convicted now, and they are good they get out early. In a few weeks (months?), no.

People who, in the past earned an early release will no longer be able to do that. They’ll still be in prison when the next crew show up. People who were determined to not be a risk and are given “house arrest” will also be crowding the prison system. Not just the Federal Prisons, the Provincial ones too.

We are building a new prison near Toronto. It will replace the Don Jail’s 650 spots with room for over 1600. It is going to cost Ontario over $1Billion to build this place. We will need more after this Omnibus Bill passes. All provinces will need more.

Stephen is forcing the provinces to spend money they don’t have on prisons they didn’t need before this law. Money that could be used to keep Colleges and Universities up to date, cash that could be used to fix our roads, dollars that could be used to lower our provincial debts are being redirected by Harper and his Ottawa pals to house people that Stephen thinks should be in jail.

Stephen wants to build federal prisons as well.

I’d rather build hospitals, or Seniors' homes, but that’s just me.

We all know it cost money to keep prisoners. Having more prisoners means spending more money on prisons. And less money is available to try and fix the problems that create prisoners in the first place. Don’t believe me? Ask California.

Running a Government regardless of whether it’s a Country, Province, State or town is a lot like running a business. When you have problems in business, you look to other businesses to see what they do differently and how well they are doing. You do what the successful businesses do.

California’s prison department is not doing well, so they are looking around and Canada is what they are looking at. California thinks our existing system is worth using as a model to fashion their system around. They cannot figure out why we are in the process of creating a system that looks like theirs. Theirs doesn’t work. It is expensive, there are far too many repeat offenders, it is broken.

And we are copying a broken system, a very expensive broken system.

Putting bad people in jail is kindergarten thinking. Punishment does not fix things. People do not commit crimes thinking they will be caught. Longer jail terms only makes honest people a bit more honest. A spanking for cookie theft does not stop a cookie thief. It only makes them more careful.

What we do know is crime rates are dropping. I even saw a report that said unreported crime is dropping as well.

We have many people in prisons and jails that have mental health issues that should be elsewhere, but we have no where else for them.

We do have real criminals in our jails as well. The questions are how to prevent crimes from occurring and what to do with people who commit crimes.

Education is a tool for both cases. Employment is a tool as well. We need to help the “criminals” become citizens. Move them from being a burden on society to being contributors to society.

The prison farm that Stephen Harper closed taught these people how to work. It was a reward for being a good prisoner and helped these people to rejoin society. Many prisoners have never had a “real” job so they have never learned how to work.

We need an economy where people can live on what they earn. If you have a decent job and you might lose it by committing a crime, the crime becomes less of an option. You don’t take a cab home because you have been drinking, you just don’t want to lose your car.

We need to move people from the fringes back into society. Diversity can cause a strain on society, but after that passes we are stronger for it.

And yes there are criminals that no matter what will be criminals. They are broken. We can try to help them, but some cannot or will not be helped. We will still need places for them.

If the answers were easy like Stephen seems to think, then the problems wouldn’t exist.

If I had all the answers, I’d be King, or at least Prime Minister.

My job is to ask questions.

I did not intend for this to be so long, but I had a lot of ground to cover in this article. If I made some mistakes, I apologize; I wanted to do this quickly since there is not much time before this Bill is voted on. I thank you for spending your time to read this.

It’s kind of an omnibus rant.

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