Dan Gardiner, in the Ottawa Citizen, asks the most important question Canadians are facing: "Why have a Parliament at all?" The question has become front and center because, as Gardiner points out, Stephen Harper has been imposing unprecedented time limits on debate:
Harper has imposed time limits at a much higher rate than Chrétien did, even at his most imperious, and he is on track to set an all-time record. But let's not get distracted by trivia, as the PMO flack would say.)
Of course, Harper's strategy is contemptuous of parliament. That's what the last election was supposed to be about -- but somehow it got lost in the scuffle. And, therefore, Parliament these days is not about debate. Gardiner writes:
One may note that almost one-third of MPs have never debated these issues in the House of Commons and, if Parliament is to be something more than a fig leaf covering the prime minister's naughty bits, parliamentarians must have the right to stand up and debate as long as they damned well want.
Parliamentary debate ensures good legislation. Tony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, recently pointed out in committee that the government's omnibus crime bill was flawed:
The government has often said the bill will create a mandatory minimum of six months in jail for anyone who grows at least six marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking. It's supposedly a measure targeting gangsters, but that, frankly, is nonsense. The legal definition of "trafficking" includes selling, giving, or offering any quantity, so we can be quite sure that most people who fall within the ambit of the law are not Hells Angels and wouldn't know one if they tripped over their big leather boots
But read the legislation. There is a second mandatory minimum of nine months in jail that applies under certain circumstances. One is when the marijuana plants are grown "on real property that belongs to a third party." So if you grow pot in a condo, it doesn't apply. But grow it in a rented apartment and it does. And there's no cut-off. Even a single plant would trigger the mandatory minimum.
The Conservatives blamed that oversight on the NDP. The government, however, is supposed be be responsible for its own legislation. Had there not been a forum to discuss it -- as limited as that forum was -- an already bad bill would be even worse.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives plan to continue limiting debate. They really despise the place we have set aside to talk about the issues.The problem with that policy is that it assumes infallibility. The last time I checked, we elected a Prime Minister, not a Pope.