NDP fights for secularism

With the recent robocall scandal, upcoming budget, and NDP leadership race, it’s easy to forget some of the other controversies that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have thrown us over the past year.

Luckily, we have representatives like NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière, who continue to work to uncover answers. Specifically, she submitted an Order Paper question on the Office of Religious Freedoms that has been mired in mystery since Harper’s election promise and subsequent founding.

According to CBC correspondent Kady O’Malley (who you must follow on Twitter), these are designed to ask “all manner of questions on the administration of government – specifically, questions that, by their very nature, were simply too technical or otherwise unwieldy to be answered during [question period].” Basically, boring stuff that still merits some investigation. It’s less theatrical than question period but often equally important.

So here’s what Laverdière asked:

With regard to the Office of Religious Freedom:
(a) when did the government decide to establish an Office of Religious Freedom and at whose request;
(b) what is the mandate and the objectives of this office;
(c) what is the budget breakdown of the office for

(i) staff,
(ii) programs,
(iii) operations;

(d) what is the reporting structure of the office;
(e) what will the office produce;
(f) how many people will be employed in this office and what will be their level;
(g) what are the hiring criteria and salary levels for each person employed in this office;
(h) how will this office work differently from other sections of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) already working on human rights issues;
(i) who was consulted regarding the creation of the office,

(i) when did the consultations take place,
(ii) what are the names and affiliations of those who were consulted;

(j) what are the names, positions, and religious affiliations of the guests who attended consultations on a new Office of Religious Freedom in October 2011,

(i) how many people from religions including, but not limited to, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Buddhism were invited to the meeting,
(ii) how were the panellists and participants chosen for the meeting with Minister Baird,
(iii) who made the final decisions on panellists and participants chosen for the meeting,
(iv) what discussions were held at DFAIT about inviting Amnesty International and why was this organization not invited;

(k) who are the employees responsible for the development of the Office of Religious Freedom within

(i) the Prime Minister’s Office,
(ii) the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ Office,
(iii) other Ministers’ offices,
(iv) DFAIT,
(v) other government departments?

Pretty thorough, no? My only complaint would be to add under (j-i) something to the effect of “how many non-religious or secularists were invited to the meeting,” although I already likely know the answer.

Unfortunately, the Harper GovernmentTM responded with little more than the standard promotional speech about the Office, answering none of the specific questions asked. This follows the saying “they call it Question Period, not answer period.”*

So on the one hand, it’s good to see the NDP continue to pushback against the subversive religious agenda of the Harper Cons. However, it also exposes another way they seem to be able to skirt accountability and democracy. Hopefully the NDP will continue to pursue this cause in the House. Consider sending Laverdière an email of support at helene.laverdiere@parl.gc.ca


*I’ve heard this attributed to Jean Chretien, but can’t find the source. The best I found is this article quoting Stockwell Day as saying it to mock the Prime Minister.