The Big Issue
The bill which received the most public attention - due to the Cons' decision to ram it through Parliament - was the government's new seat allocation legislation. And it was on November 2 that the Cons served notice of their intention to shut down debate - even as they complained about the unfairness of locking new MPs into the deliberations of a previous Parliament when that served as an excuse to scrap potentially-critical committee reports.
But perhaps more interesting was the debate on Mathieu Ravignat's anti-floor-crossing legislation. After all, I'm not sure anybody can remember the last time a Harper Con dared to speak out publicly against his or her leader's actual efforts to suppress any independent thought by individual MPs. And yet, here's what Michelle Rempel had to say as to the dangers of a bill preventing floor-crossing:
This bill would seriously undermine the independence of members of this House and I do not think that is something we should encourage or support.And Scott Reid was similarly concerned with some theoretical MP independence which was wrung out of his own party long ago - without suggesting for a second that he or his party's majority caucus might have any interest in reversing the trend toward total top-down control.
This bill would have some practical negative consequences. The bill would impose restrictions upon members who wish to express a different position than the one endorsed by a majority of their caucus. This bill would also impede members of Parliament in representing the interests of their constituents, which is one of the fundamental duties under our Constitution.
(T)he roles, rights and obligations of individual members of Parliament are well established in Canada's legislation whereby members of Parliament are central actors in our Westminster system of government. Practically, the caucus system in our Parliament is joined with, but distinct from, the registered party system.
Bill C-306 would go against existing rules and traditions by allowing the party machinery to take precedence over individual rights and responsibilities of each member of Parliament and their caucus choices. This does not correspond to our system of government. As I stated earlier, I believe Bill C-306 would have negative and undesirable consequences on the roles of members of Parliament.
Meanwhile, Ravignat discussed the need to build trust in elected officials. Peter Stoffer pointed out that the Cons had a rather different take on the legitimacy of floor-crossing when it was Belinda Stronach exercising what she saw as her individual prerogative to jump between parties. Kevin Lamoureux rightly noted that Manitoba's NDP government passed a bill based on the same principle. And David Christopherson cited the example of David Emerson as an affront to the ability of voters to make informed and meaningful choices:
If we accept that (party identification) is a legitimate, rationale, understandable and important reason for people to think about voting for a candidate, the platform or the party, if one then bails out, as did Mr. Emerson, which is the richest example, and I do not like to personalize, it takes one's breath away.Withholding Consent
I do not think the writs were even returned. The ink was hardly dry on the ballots, and this man was already trotting across the floor to join another party. He believed that was the right thing to do, for him, but what about all those constituents who had a reason to believe that once elected, the member would actually go about enacting the platform and policies of the party that member belonged to?
By crossing the floor, in many cases a member is throwing away what he or she believed in to join a party that is 180 degrees in the other direction. How do we think constituents feel? They would sit there wondering what happened. Constituents went out and voted in good faith, as did all their friends, and they expected that the money they donated to that campaign and the sign that they posted were all to help get enough seats on a particular platform so that the way the constituent would have liked to have seen Canada shaped on a particular issue would have actually happened. Now that would be gone, because the member could just cross the floor in order to remain a cabinet minister. It really is problematic.
It was well reported that MPs from the Bloc Quebecois and Greens were denied unanimous consent to make a statement in honour of Canadian veterans. But somewhat less attention was paid to a bevy of motions on other topics which were also denied, including:
- Alexandre Boulerice's motion to introduce the materials he had referred to in noting concerns about money handed to the Perimeter Institute without proper allocation;
- Tom Lukiwski's motion to allow an NDP member to speak first to a government bill;
- Frank Valeriote's motion for committee study into the Canadian Wheat Board; and
- Sean Casey's motion on travel by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
And while it's not clear which of those MPs (if any) had reason to think other parties would agree to their requests, it's not hard to see how the Cons' tough line on statements by the Bloc and Greens may have set an unfortunate precedent.
Tyrone Benskin both celebrated the 75th birthday of the CBC, and worried about the Cons' witch-hunt against it. Andrew Cash demanded answers as to the lack of accountability for police abuses at the G20 in Toronto. Jean Crowder pointed out the absurdity of saying "get a job!" as an answer to poverty when a significant number of food bank users are children, while Linda Duncan highlighted the problem of poverty for First Nations in particular. Nycole Turmel raised the concerns of Quebec, Ontario and B.C. alike at being stuck with the bill for the Cons' dumb-on-crime policies. Mylene Freeman questioned the Cons about Canada's poor performance in pay equity, only to be told by Tony Clement he's proud that women receive 73 cents on the dollar. Scott Simms introduced a private member's bill to remove the GST and HST from funeral expenses. James Moore's answer to a question seeking information about cuts to Canadian Heritage "broken down by employee status, by title, and by program activity" helpfully identified cuts of 578 jobs with no further information about what had actually been slashed. Yvon Godin pointed out that the Cons' job posting for the Auditor General position actually failed to include any aptitude in French as even a preference (let alone a requirement). And Brian Masse questioned the Cons' cuts to border communications at the same time they were funnelling what was supposed to be border funding into Tony Clement's pork-barrel projects.