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Harper's crime bill poised to pass - and Canadians still don't know how much it costs

Police tape pictured in this Dec. 9, 2006 file photo.

Joe Bryksa/CP PHOTO/Winnipeg Free Press-Joe Bryksa

Stephen Harper's crime legislation that triggered last spring's election could pass through the Commons this week as it makes its way to becoming the law of the land - and Canadians still don't know how much it costs.

The irony is delicious. Opposition politicians voted to find Prime Minister Harper and his government in contempt of Parliament last March - this was a historic first - for not giving up the full costs of its so-called tough on crime legislation. Now, it is poised to pass the bill and Canadians are still no wiser.

"It is a travesty that the Conservatives have told neither the Canadian people nor the provinces what all this is going to cost - with the slowing economy and big financial pressures all 'round this is even more irresponsible," Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae told The Globe Monday morning. "Both the jets and the jails put the lie to the Conservative line about being the party of 'fiscal prudence.' Ridiculous."

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In fact, it was Mr. Rae's predecessor, Michael Ignatieff, who tabled the non-confidence motion in the government last March that ultimately led to its defeat. The opposition was also concerned about the costs of the stealth fighter jets.

"We are the people's representatives," then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told Parliament. "When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques."

Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberals campaigned on this issue. The Liberal leader even argued during the election campaign that Canadians could not endorse a man found in contempt.

Was he ever wrong. Canadians did, giving the Conservatives a majority government.

None of this has been lost on the Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler, who has been pushing hard to amend the bill that includes nine separate bills all rolled into one package.

He noted to the Globe, clearly frustrated, that this bill will be sailing through the Commons and Canadians are still in the dark about costs. Mr. Cotler noted, too, that he has spoken to the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page about this - and Mr. Page has been unable to put a price-tag on this omnibus bill as he has not received information from the government.

The omnibus bill went through committee without any amendments from the opposition being passed, although Mr. Cotler and the NDP MPs tried their best. There was a small victory in that they were able to compel the Tories to extend the hours of sitting so that more witnesses could be heard.

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The Tories had initially tried to really restrict the length of the hearings.

NDP justice critic Jack Harris says "it's pretty ironic that a government that claims to be concerned about fiscal management and responsibility'" has declared "open season" on prison costs not only for the federal government but also for the provinces

"It's irresponsible," says Mr. Harris.

With a majority government, however, the Tories are firmly in charge and it will pass through the Commons and into the Senate. Mr. Harper promised it would become law within 100 sitting days of this Parliament. That means it should receive royal assent by March 16.

On CTV's Question Period Sunday, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro was asked by co-host Craig Oliver about the costs of the omnibus bill.

"None of us can seem to find out what the bill is going to cost," Mr. Oliver asserted. "There are going to be more prisons, probably, more crowded prisons for sure. You've going to have to hire thousands more prison guards. How much is it going to cost? Can you tell us?

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Mr. Del Mastro said the cost will be $76-million. But this number has been disputed by the opposition. In addition, the government has said that some of the costs will be borne by the provinces, although some provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, are balking at this.

"We think the cost is negligible when you compare the cost of crime on our communities," said Mr. Del Mastro.

PM parties ...

Stephen Harper and Nickelback were together again over the weekend - this time, breaking bread at a post-Grey Cup party at one of Vancouver's hippest restaurants, Coast.

In April 2010, the Prime Minister jammed with Chad Kroeger and his band at 24 Sussex Dr., his official residence. Nickelback was in Ottawa for a concert at that time.

But Sunday it was on Nickelback's invitation that the Prime Minister, who was in Vancouver for the Grey Cup game, attended the private party.

The Alberta rock band, which has become chic to hate, had arranged the party. It was in Vancouver, too, as the half-time entertainment at the football classic that saw the B.C. Lions defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Mr. Harper and the rockers were joined by Heritage Minister James Moore, who represents a B.C. riding, and about 40 other guests in a private room where they dined on the restaurant's signature seafood tower dish that includes Alaskan King Crab legs, prawns, lobsters and oysters.

Late Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement from Mr. Harper congratulating the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg on game that he said included some "exciting moments in sports."

"The Grey Cup has been a proud Canadian tradition since 1909 and brings together the Canadian Football League's two best teams as they fight for the ultimate prize," he said in his statement.

And just to maintain the regional balance, he added: "I look forward next year to the 100th Grey Cup game in Toronto - where it was first played."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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