My First Blog Post
May 21st, 2016 - 6:52pm
In order to keep you more informed of my work in Parliament, I have decided to start writing a weekly blog post while the House of Commons is in session. In these blog posts I intend to review the week that was and provide some insight into what my expectations are for the week ahead.
At the time of this writing (my flight from Ottawa to Vancouver), we have just passed what is arguably one of the most tumultuous weeks I have ever witnessed in Parliament, even during all of my years working as Jean Crowder’s constituency assistant. The events of the week came to a head on the evening of Wednesday May 18th, when the incident between the prime minister and a group of Opposition MPs occurred. Although I was at my seat waiting for the vote to start, I had a good view of the entire episode and want to share my perspective.
On Monday the week started with the Opposition forcing a surprise vote on the government’s Bill C-10, the controversial legislation that would amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act to give Air Canada the freedom to downsize aircraft maintenance jobs in Canada. The NDP has vigorously opposed this bill, and we saw an opportunity to force a snap vote on the bill on what would have otherwise been a sleepy Monday morning in the House of Commons. We did this by removing our Report Stage amendments at the last moment, which forced the Speaker to call the question on the bill, giving only 30 minutes notice for the vote. The Liberal government was caught by surprise and barely managed to produce enough MPs for a 139-139 tie that had to be broken by the Speaker, a rare event that has only occurred 10 times since Confederation. This was a major embarrassment for a government that has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons.
The government responded to this procedural move with a complete change-up in the planned schedule of debate over the next couple of days, moving forward with other government bills and wasting valuable time that could have been devoted to the debate of C-14, the medical assistance in dying bill. This followed with an announcement on Wednesday when both the NDP and Conservatives learned that the government was going to proceed with time allocation on C-14 (shutting down debate before the vast majority of MPs had had the chance to speak to the bill on behalf of their constituents, the sixth time the Liberals have employed this tactic) and that it was introducing a motion to rewrite the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to effectively neutralize all of the procedural tools the Opposition uses to hold the government to account. The motion amounted to the government giving itself dictatorial power over the House of Commons and reducing the Opposition to mere spectators, an action that flew in the face of the Liberals’ pledge for more respect for Parliament.
This then, was the context that surrounded what happened on Wednesday evening. The procedural tactics of both sides had eroded completely any trust and goodwill that may have once existed, and tempers were barely in check. In the face of the government’s heavy-handed tactics, the Opposition decided to try and delay the vote on the time allocation of C-14 by a few minutes as a way of signalling its displeasure, a move that the Conservative Whip was fully aware of and playing along with. It was in this moment that the prime minister unwisely rose from his seat, marched over, and grabbed the Whip while accidently elbowing my colleague in the chest. Everyone is well aware of the fallout that resulted from this action, and I will not spend time delving into it. However, I think it is wise to remember that none of this would have ever transpired if our prime minister had kept his temper in check and allowed the person responsible for order in the House, the Speaker, to do his job. Grabbing someone else forcefully is not acceptable in any workplace, least of all our national Parliament.
I will end with this: Bill C-14 is, in my opinion, the most important piece of legislation to come before Parliament in more than a decade. This bill is rewriting the Criminal Code of Canada to comply with a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision to allow for medical assistance in dying for those who suffer from a grievous and irremediable condition. Unfortunately, the present government bill has ignored most of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, and I do not think it will stand up to a court challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While I respect the Supreme Court’s deadline of June 6th, I do not think the sky will fall if Parliament does not meet this date, which is looking increasingly likely given how much time the government wasted this previous week. What is more important is that we respect the institution of Parliament and give all MPs the chance to deliberate on this bill on behalf of their constituents. The onus is on Parliament to produce a final bill that respects the Supreme Court’s decision.
With this in mind, the government’s move to shut down debate on C-14 flies in the face of any form of decent respect for Opposition MPs. The government would do well to remember that 60% of Canadians did not vote Liberal in the last election, and their voices deserve to be heard on this profoundly moral issue. It is my hope that all MPs learn a lesson from this past week and that we use our time in our constituencies to better reflect on how we can bring respect back to both the institution that so very much deserves it and to our fellow colleagues.
The sad irony of Wednesday’s incident is that in trying to hurry up a vote that was being delayed by at most a few minutes, the prime minister lost control of the House and delayed the legislative agenda for more than a week.