Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Place To Talk

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.


kirbycairo said...

I actually believe that one can make a good argument that we should not, in fact, have a parliament at all. After the election the leader of the largest party should rule as a dictator because that is de facto what happens anyway and all the machinations that take place in the House just serve to legitimize what they tell us is a democratic process. Maybe if we did not bother to convene the House people would wake up to the necessity of reform. And if the opposition parties had any real guts they would simply refuse to sit in order to demonstrate that the results of sitting or not sitting would be exactly the same.

Anonymous said...

They're. Blaming. The. NDP. For their own legislation.

Do they have even the slightest clue about what they're doing?!

I mean, all you'd have to do is sneak some language into the CPC bill-creating process. Then bribe the last few real political journalists in the country to not investigate the bill. The power of "Conservative Majority", lacking third parties to inform them about what the hell they're doing, could pass almost anything into law!

These people aren't doing their jobs. Not only do they not bother costing their own 'work', not only do they not bother listening to and analyzing the input from the opposition, but they don't even read their OWN stuff that they supposedly wrote and support. It's just incredible.

Hopefully someday this comes back to bite them. Maybe some overly-flowerly language in a finance-sector bill that just happens to hit the CPC's bank account.

Owen Gray said...

The problem, of course, is that a lot of parliamentary procedure is traditional. And these folks, despite their name, have no respect for tradition.

However, the genius of a federal system is that when the opposition parties get steamrolled in Ottawa, the action shifts to the provinces.

The first shot was fired across the Conservatives' bow this morning, when Ontario and Quebec made it clear that they were not going to pay for the omnibus crime bill.

If the Harperites need money, they're going to have to raise it themselves.

Owen Gray said...

Incompetence is usually its own curse, Anon. It has taken a year for Rob Ford to prove that he is out of his depth.

I suspect that, eventually, Stephen Harper will meet a similar fate.

The question is: How much damage will he do before voters conclude that they've elected an Emperor who has no clothes?