Monday, March 3, 2014

Opposition parties need only look in the mirror for why closure and time allocation are used

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald and the Huffington Post

Opposition parties need only look in the mirror if they’re seriously wondering why “closure” and “time allocation” have increasingly been used in parliamentary affairs.

Of course, both are valid procedures that have existed for decades.  Closure requires that a question or debate “not be further adjourned” (that the item be closed) while time allocationallows for specific lengths of time to be set aside for the consideration of one or more stages of a public bill.”

In their most recent complaints, we’ve seen the NDP and Liberals claim they weren’t given enough time to debate the Fair Elections Act, the Act that will refocus Elections Canada’s mandate, provide better customer service, crack down on voter fraud, and impose tough new penalties on individuals found impersonating elections officials.

It’s obvious the bill needs to be passed relatively quickly if it is to be in effect for the October 2015 election.  But that doesn’t matter to the Opposition parties – all they complain about is wanting more time to study the bill and hear from experts, more time to make comments, and more time to debate.  It wouldn’t matter if they were given 10 days or 10 months – they’d want more.  They succeed by wanting more.

Their demands and the inevitable filibuster are thus reduced to a way of circumventing democracy.  The federal Conservatives were given a majority mandate by the Canadian people in the 2011 federal election.  That majority gives the government the right to implement its agenda.  The Opposition plays a role in asking questions and holding the government to account, but it has no right to delay or deny the will of the Canadian people.

Who eventually wins is not surprising.  Majority governments have the numbers and legitimacy to implement their policies. Save for a few exceptional cases, the government will eventually prevail.

Filibusters only delay this inconvenient truth.  The government, therefore, responds by limiting the opportunity for filibusters.

One of the first NDP filibusters as Official Opposition was the NDP filibuster of Bill C-6 – the bill that would restore Canada Post services.  The NDP filibustered for 58 hours straight before – surprise surprise – Canada Post went back to work.

Then there was the 2012-2013 budget.  The NDP filibustered by proposing so many amendments that voting took over 24 hours non-stop.  And this was compounded as NDP members were ordered to stand up as slow as possible to have their vote counted, sometimes finishing a conversation with a neighbour or checking their phone one more time before standing up.

Then there were two – two – NDP filibusters in June 2012 on committee hearings regarding F35 costs.

Then there was the filibuster of the second half of the 2012-2013 budget.  But the NDP took it easy this time – only proposing a mere 1600 amendments.  Voting took about eight hours and, shockingly, the budget passed.

One of the most recent cases was the NDP filibustering of Bill C-377 – the bill on union transparency.  That bill, too, eventually passed the House of Commons, and is now at first reading in the Senate.

Which brings us to the latest example of the NDP’s affinity for filibustering and delaying: led by deputy leader David Christopherson, they’re filibustering The Fair Elections Act.

For an hour at a committee meeting Christopherson filibustered. (You can see the text of his rambling here.)  On the surface, Christopherson was upset his committee wasn’t going on a cross-Canada tour to hear what every single Canadian thought of the Fair Elections Act.  But that’s only the surface issue.  The committee waited for Christopherson to finish, and the majority disagreed.

Of course, with technology today there’s no reason experts could not appear via videoconference or why Canadians could not write their MPs with their support or concerns.  In fact, you could write your thoughts to every member of the committee right now, by mail, for free.

There’s also that small inconvenient truth that many of the organizations Christopherson wants to hear from – like Elections Canada and Democracy Watch – are headquartered here in Ottawa.

The Opposition succeeds by stalling, delaying, and circumventing the government’s agenda.  If they can delay a bill from being passed until at least May 2014 (as Christopherson proposed) or require that the government spends money by sending a committee across Canada, they’ve succeeded.  But it won’t work.

Christopherson filibustered for another two hours at the following committee meeting, but the House of Commons affirmed the committee’s decision to not tour across Canada. And once again the NDP have responded with their stand-up-as-slow-as-possible tactic.  NDP MP Craig Scott even told CBC interviewer Evan Solomon to “wait until Tuesday” to see the next trick up Christopherson’s sleeve.


At some point, the NDP has to learn that their filibustering tactics only result in further efforts to limit debate through closure and time allocation measures.  The NDP aren’t defending democracy by filibustering - they’re filibustering democracy.