Politically Correct – Let the games begin

Jun 30 2011 in Opinion by Sam Nabi, Politically Correct

As the Great Filibuster Finale of the 41st Parliament played out in Ottawa at the end of last week, there were repeated calls for the NDP to stop their games, suck it up, and let the government pass its back-to-work legislation. And of course, at the end of the day, no amount of soliloquizing by the opposition was able to force the Conservatives to change their stance. Sooner or later, Bill C-6 was passed and postal workers were forced to resume their duties.

But does the inevitability of defeat mean that the NDP should have thrown in the towel and just gone on summer vacation like everyone else wanted them to? I don’t think so.

Now that the NDP — a party with significant ideological differences from the Conservatives — is the official opposition, we can expect more standoffs like this in the years to come. When it comes to defending ideology, the question should not be “Can it be done?” but “Is it worth doing?”

The Conservative government wanted to shoehorn this legislation into the last sitting week of Parliament, in an attempt to strong-arm an end to the Canada Post labour disruption. Considering that a bill normally takes weeks of debate to become law, this meant a radically shortened process that was to last a single sitting day — the last day before Parliament’s summer break. The only problem is that the NDP didn’t like that idea one bit, and used every tool at its disposal to drag out the process as long as possible.

Stifling debate in Parliament is a dangerous thing. Without debate, the institution itself is meaningless. The Conservatives might enjoy a majority of seats, but that certainly does not give them licence to evade the due process of Parliament. The calls for the NDP to drop their stalling tactics came from a sense of entitlement in the Conservative caucus that oversteps its actual mandate.

The argument “we’re going to pass legislation anyway, so just roll over,” is a weak one at best. Sixty per cent of voters are represented by the opposition parties, and their voices deserve to be heard. Stephen Harper may have wanted to get the ordeal over with quickly, but fortunately he doesn’t have the ability to completely bypass the Parliamentary process.

Of course, “debate” is a term I use loosely in this situation. If you caught a even a glimpse of the three-day marathon filibuster, it’s obvious that it was an exercise in quantity over quality.

The primary goal of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was to delay the bill as long as possible to spite the Conservatives. But it had the additional effect of keeping the window open for CUPW and Canada Post to reach an agreement on their own.

I congratulate all the MPs, pages, translators, support staff, and journalists that made it through the gruelling days and nights — Conservatives included.

It’s certainly a hellish way to pass legislation, but this is what happens when you try to compress a weeks-long procedure into a single day — especially when your colleagues have no desire to play along.

I’m glad that the NDP stood up and used the full extent of its power to delay this bill. This isn’t the first time that the government has exploited procedural loopholes to avoid due diligence. The 2010 budget bill comes to mind, which had many non-budget-related items stuffed in, so as to bypass full debate on those items (such as the removal of environmental assessment requirements for energy projects).

There was also Bill C-311, the climate change bill that passed through the House of Commons, only to be shut down in the Senate when a few Liberals didn’t show up for work.

More recently, millions of dollars of infrastructure spending in Muskoka-Parry Sound were disguised as “border security improvements” so as to pass through Parliament unnoticed.

This government has a propensity to bend the rules when they don’t suit its ideology. Well, two can play at that game. It’s about time the Conservatives had a taste of their own medicine.