Usually right about now, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney would be coming back home for a summer of visits and chats with constituents, however, she’s already here.
The end of June marked the end of a busy and very different session for national politics, with issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, the discovery of unmarked graves at multiple former residential school sites, the closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands and the heatwave that sat on the west coast over the last few weeks.
“I think the most unusual part was having parliament function virtually. It was very unique and different,” Blaney said. “In my role as the whip, I actually helped set that up. It was an intimidating time to make sure that everything that we did we did the best we could and as fairly as possible.”
Though members of parliament were unable to meet in person, which presented logistics challenges in a country as big as Canada, Blaney said it made it so more diverse members could participate in committees.
“We actually saw a lot of diversity in some of our committees just because people didn’t have to be asked to travel as much. They got to participate from their own home and community,” she said. “That was really exciting.”
In addition to party whip, Blaney’s is Deputy Critic for Indigenous Services and Crown – Indigenous Relations, working with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and the party’s spokesperson for Veterans Affairs. Though much of her work in the session was to ensure the rural and remote communities of the north island were included in COVID-19 recovery plans.
“We continued to work really hard on key issues, especially making sure that the resources were going out to communities as best we possibly could to support individuals, their families and businesses,” she said. “I’ve been working really hard tourism-based businesses in our riding that are particularly challenged during this time. We’re not of course able to access that international market that we usually do.”
Blaney’s highlights included passing Canada’s version of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which ensures the federal government must “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and must prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.”
“The first step is really building a framework,” she explained. “I’m hoping that… will really provide a lot more justice for Indigenous communities, but clarity for everybody about the processes we need to take to work with Indigenous communities. This has been a long-time push.”
Right at the end of the parliamentary session, another landmark bill was passed to ensure Canada takes real action on the climate crisis. The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act was passed on June 29, setting emission reduction milestones every five years until 2050.
“It was a hard bill to move through, there were a lot of challenges, and the federal government really made a bill that was not very strong in its accountability measures,” Blaney said.
NDP MPs Taylor Bachrach and Laurel Collins both worked to ensure that accountability measures were put back in, Blaney explained.
“It’s not a perfect bill, but I’m hoping that the measures that are in it that really talk about having more accountability to the public and having reports come back to parliament that really let us track this,” she said.
In Blaney’s opinion, it is Canada’s minority government that allows for compromise on bills.
“In a majority, they can just put forward legislation and have no meaningful conversation if they choose not to,” she said on the emissions bill. “I hope that seeing this heat crisis, where we’re seeing people dying in their homes… we need to have a plan and we need to get to work. Canada should be a leader on this.”