Everyone is agog over the supposedly big dust up in the House of Commons yesterday. In reality it wasn’t very much, just another new low registered for decorum in the House.
When you compare Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan’s march across the Commons floor to wave his finger and get into a heated verbal match (with NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair) to some of the legislative fisticuffs you can find on Youtube it really wasn’t much.
While the aisle of the House of Commons divides the government side and the opposition by some two sword lengths, common sense should have kept Van Loan on his side of the House. There was no need to cross over to the NDP side as nothing would be accomplished by doing so. As it is it made an already tense day worse.
The Official Opposition thought they had caught the government on a technicality and they wanted to force another vote which would have further delayed passage of Bill C-45, a bill with which they strongly disagree. What is so exciting about that? Why was it necessary for the Conservative House Leader to cross the floor? It is perfectly legitimate for any opposition party to use the full arsenal of tactics available to them to delay or defeat government legislation.
Perhaps the Conservative side has forgotten the tactics they used when one of their predecessor parties (the Reform Party) used every tactic available to them to stall and try to prevent the Nis’ga Treaty from being passed by the Chretien government.
In 1999, the Reform Party forced 471 votes on amendments to the Nis’ga Land Claims Treaty. According to the CBC, it took 42 hours and 25 minutes to force recall votes on all the motions, including some as minor as the placement of a comma. Delaying or stalling the passage of a bill is a legitimate tactic in a democracy. While the Conservatives may not like anyone standing up to them or delaying their agenda in the House, the last I heard Canada was still a democracy and opposition parties are not required to do the government’s bidding.
In opposition the Conservatives and Stephen Harper opposed omnibus bills. Today they ram them down the throats of the opposition parties with little regard for the niceties of real debate over items that both the opposition and public might feel need further discussion. Their heavy handed use of time allocation is guaranteed to leave opposition parties in no mood to cooperate with a government agenda or timetable. If someone had the time, it would be interesting to see how often other Commonwealth democracies limit debate in their legislatures and compare it to the present government’s use.
Even if every one of the acts and regulations that are crammed into C-45 need to be updated and or amended, the government side controls the parliamentary agenda. They decide when items are introduced and they decide what is to be discussed in the House. Could they not have carved that omnibus bill into smaller pieces of legislation for proper debate? The government side can’t argue that everything needed to be lumped into one bill to meet a deadline because the answer to that is they set their priorities, they decide which bills get discussed and in what order. It is not the opposition’s fault if the government can’t get itself organized to get bills passed on time after suitable debate.
The Christmas break can’t come soon enough for our MPs, they really do need to get away from the bubble they live in here in Ottawa. It’s time for them to get back home where their constituents can tell them a thing or two about how they view their shenanigans in the House of Commons. I would wager all the parties will get the same tongue lashing they deserve for the way the conduct the serious business of governing the nation.