By: Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Liberal MP Chandra Arya says he welcomes Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s suggestion to debate the Liberal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr.
Arya acknowledged that “it’s not just the Conservatives” who are against the reported $10.5 million payout to Khadr.
“Most Canadians … they’re uncomfortable, as the prime minister said.”
The Nepean MP was in the Centre Block Monday morning, delivering introductory remarks to summer school students who were touring Parliament. He spoke with iPolitics between tours.
“Most Canadians are a bit concerned,” he repeated, adding that sometimes the government has to make decisions that are unpopular.
Repeating what Justin Trudeau has said, it’s better than spending $30-$40 million down the road, Arya noted, admitting he too “is a bit concerned.”
He thinks it’s good that Scheer wants to bring forward the debate because the House of Commons is the right place for it and he’d rather debate the issue with his colleagues across the aisle than read their comments in a newspaper.
Arya’s passion for Parliament was evident in his brief talks to the tours.
“This is the most important institution in Canada. What happens here affects us all. This is what Canada is about,” he told the Nepean high school students.
“When I sit in the House of Commons and I look at all 338 members of Parliament I realize that I don’t have to go to every nook and corner of Canada because (the people) here, they represent Canada,” he said.
“I love (being an MP), I love every morning. Honestly I get up and feel I’m blessed.”
The former business executive, who moved to Ottawa from India about 14 years ago with his wife and son, said the highlight of his two-year political career has been seeing his private members bill C-305 pass unanimously in the Commons. Arya’s bill would expand the scope of hate-based mischief relating to places of worship to also include schools, universities, community centres, sports centres, senior residences, or any building or place used for educational, cultural, social or sporting events.
Currently, hate-based mischief against churches, mosques, synagogues and temples can result in a sentence of up to 10 years – whereas sentences for general mischief to other properties are up to two years.
Arya’s “quite happy” about the bill – which is currently stuck at third reading in the Senate – and expects it to pass and become law in the fall.
Given that only five per cent of private members bills become law, he picked this area to champion because he said it’s close to his heart.
“I’m from India, I’m a Hindu. We know the clashes between the religions and the discrimination that’s there … in other parts in the world, but this is Canada. Here we don’t tolerate that.”
After the Quebec mosque attack in February, Arya rose in the Commons and said the attack was a direct result of Conservative and PQ policies.
“The recent killings of Muslims praying in the mosque in Quebec City is not an accident,” he said. “This is the direct result of dog-whistle politics — the politics of fear and division.”
On Monday, Arya said Conservative MP Michael Chong has been more specific than he was on the issue and consequence of rhetoric.
“Words they are important and they can really hurt,” he said.
While all of the political leaders have “really good intentions,” what he was suggesting in February was that the rhetoric had to be toned down. Members of political parties may misconstrue rhetoric and some have extreme views, but he doesn’t think any current MPs have extreme views. Not even Kellie Leitch.
“She wants much more scrutiny of the Canadians coming in, but I don’t think she’s a racist.”
Arya used to publish a newspaper called The Ottawa Star before running for office. Initially it was weekly and then bi-weekly, but he started the paper for new Canadians because he found that the mainstream media was not covering new Canadians’ events well.
When he became the candidate for Nepean, he shut it down because as he put it, “You know, I was funding it from my pocket.”
Now, in the dog days of summer, the Nepean MP spends most of his time in his constituency office or at events.
He said he’s fortunate to represent the riding because the income is above average, unemployment is quite low and there are not many major issues, apart from public service employees who have had issues with the Phoenix payroll system.
“Ottawa-wide issues also affect us of course.”
When asked if he considers the summer a break at all, he laughed.
“No. No way. Last week there were four days I left at 8:15 a.m and was back home at 9:30 p.m.”
That said, for him it’s not a job where he puts on a suit and stares at the clock.
“This is life and I love it.”
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.