By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
Here is Elizabeth May’s news conference on her bill to amend the Elections Act. Near the end, she claims that another MP might come forward to propose a similar bill.
Colin Horgan noted four weeks ago that the Reform party’s policy book in 1989 contained a similar sentiment.
“We believe in accountability of elected representatives to the people who elect them, and that the duty of elected members to their constituents should supersede their obligations to their political parties,” the 1989 Reform Party manifesto stated.
It also contained a proposal: “The Canada Elections Act must be amended to eliminate clauses which place Members of Parliament in a position beholden to their national Party Executive or Leader rather than their constituents (such as the provisions for the signing of nomination papers). This is essential.”
There is some reason to fret about what such a change might bring about.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 4:16 PM - 0 Comments
Elizabeth May has just now tabled a bill that would remove the Elections Act’s requirement of a party leader’s endorsement for an individual to run in an election under a party banner, at least in ridings where a riding association exists to endorse the candidate.
Here is the full text of the bill. Bruce Hyer is apparently seconding it.
I wrote about Michael Chong’s suggestion of doing so two years ago. It would be, potentially, a very real and very significant change to the system.
Ms. May has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow morning to discuss her bill.
Update 6:30pm. One caveat: As has been noted, this is not the only bill Ms. May has on offer. She tells me she’s not sure yet if the above bill will be the one she brings forward when her turn arrives.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
It’s very true that oil companies are not charitable organizations–which is why it’s not a good idea to make policy based on the assumption that they will passively absorb the costs of new regulations. It’s not at all obvious why firms would pass along the costs of a carbon price but not the (larger) costs of regulation.
Meanwhile, Ryan Leef is being criticized for the information he has distributed on the polar bear population. And Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver received a rebuke from the scientist—now a Green candidate in British Columbia—he had previously cited. (Andrew Weaver is also a fan of taxing carbon.)
In other news, the NDP motion that initiated last Thursday’s debate was defeated last night and various New Democrats took to Twitter to criticize Elizabeth May for voting against. Ms. May responded with a lengthy explanation of her problems with the motion.
I would have loved to have seen a unified group of MPs from all the Opposition Parties rise on principle and (hoping against hope) some of the Conservatives who understand the need for climate action might have voted with us to give the Parliamentary call for reductions in GHG a chance of passing. But since tonight’s motion forgot to call for climate action, maybe we could take a run at a properly worded motion another day.
There does exist, it should be noted, a multi-partisan climate change caucus. And Mr. Leef is one Conservative who attended its most recent meeting.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
At 2pm, the Speaker’s parade—a ceremonial photo op, a silly show of hallowed tradition—proceeded down the West corridor of Centre Block toward the House of Commons. Preceded by one marching guard and flanked by three more—To protect the Speaker from what? A sneak attack by the Queen?—strode the sergeant-at-arms, carrying the large golden mace that must be in place for the House to conduct its business, and the Speaker and his clerks in their three-cornered hat and robes. Once the official party was safely inside, the large wooden doors were shut and the official business of the nation began for another day.
Something like a dozen reporters had gathered at the gallery door, anxiously waiting for the House to be called to order. This was something like four times the usual attendance—the larger crowd here in anticipation that one of the duly elected adults sent here to represent the people of this country might stand up in his or her place without having first obtained the permission of the party leader he or she is supposed to support. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 12:13 PM - 0 Comments
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. It is an honour to come before you regarding the right of a member of Parliament to introduce an S. O. 31. Looking at our policy manual, O’Brien and Bosc, at page 60, it says that the classic definition of “parliamentary privilege” is the sum of the particular rights enjoyed by each House collectively and each member of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions.
What are those functions? What are those responsibilities? They are found on page 212 of O’Brien and Bosc, where it states: Members sit in the House of Commons to serve as representatives of the people who have elected them to…office. And: The member of parliament represents his constituency through service in the House of Commons.
That is the ultimate responsibility of us, as members of Parliament, each having the great honour to represent their communities. I am honoured to represent the community of Langley. It goes on, at page 61 of O’Brien and Bosc, to say: For example, the privilege of freedom of speech is secured to Members not for their personal benefit, but to enable them to discharge their functions of representing their constituents…
And there it says it, again, the importance of having that privilege, freedom of speech, to represent constituencies. On page 62 of O’Brien and Bosc, it says: Privilege essentially belongs to the House– To yourself, Mr. Speaker: –as a whole; individual Members can only claim privilege insofar as any denial of their rights, or threat made to them, would impede the [functions] of the House.
So, it clearly says that we each have responsibilities and we have privileges and rights to ensure that we fulfill the responsibility of representing our constituencies. It also goes on, at page 82 of O’Brien and Bosc, where it states: Any disregard…or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege”…
Last Thursday, it was my turn to present an S. O. 31. I was ready and prepared to introduce the S. O. 31. Now, some would ask, what is an S. O. 31? S. O., Standing Orders, clause 31 states: A Member may be recognized, under the provisions of Standing Order 30(5), to make a statement for not more than one minute. The Speaker–Yourself, Mr. Speaker: –may order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order.
It refers to Standing Order 30(5). That Standing Order states the days and the times that S. O. 31s can be made. However, back to S. O. 31, it is clear, Mr. Speaker, that each member in this House of Commons has the right, the privilege, of presenting an S. O. 31, on a rotational basis, that gives each member in this House equal opportunity to represent their constituents.
That has been managed by yourself, Mr. Speaker, for those who are independent members of this Parliament. Those who are members of an official party, myself being a member of the Conservative Party, we, in an organized way, and the Liberal Party and the NDP, provide you with a list of those who will be making S. O. 31s in coordinated way. However, what has to be guaranteed is that each member of this House has the equal opportunity to make an S. O. 31.
If at any time that right and privilege to make an S. O. 31 on an equal basis in this House is removed, I believe I have lost my privilege of equal right that I have in this House. I was scheduled on March 20 from 2:00 to 2:15 to make an S. O. 31. Fifteen minutes prior to that time, I was notified that my turn to present the S. O. 31 had been removed. The reason I was given was that the topic was not approved of. However, there is no reason why an S. O. 31 should be removed.
The only person who can remove that is you, Mr. Speaker, according to S. O. 31. The authority to remove an S. O. 31 from any member of this House is solely in your hands, and the guiding is under S. O. 31. Again, it states: A Member may be recognized, under the provisions of Standing Order 30(5), to make a statement for not more than one minute. So we cannot go over one minute. It could be less. Then it states: The Speaker may order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order.
So that is only in your authority, Mr. Speaker, to ask a member to return to his seat if you feel that the S. O. 31 that is being made is not in order. I believe that my privilege as a member to present an S. O. 31 was infringed upon by the actions that happened on March 20. This is my earliest opportunity to present my question of privilege, today. I believe it is not an issue specifically for me. I have experienced the removal of my right and my privilege, but it is a question as to how this House operates. The question for you, Mr. Speaker, is should every member have that equal right? Yes, it is clear that every member does. How is it being managed? Is it being managed in a way that members could have that right removed? Yes, I have experienced that and others have too.
Mr. Speaker, I am asking you to rule the matter prima facie, a question of privilege. I also reserve the right to speak again to respond to comments that may be coming from others. The Canadian Parliament is based on rules, responsibilities and privileges. Each of us has that responsibility to represent our communities, the people who elected us. We need to have those rights to be ensured that we have the opportunity to properly represent our communities.
I look forward to your comments, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate the opportunity to bring this to the attention of the House.
Essentially, Mr. Warawa is challenging his party’s ability to control which Conservative MPs are allowed to stand and speak in those 15 minutes before Question Period.
Government Whip Gordon O’Connor followed Mr. Warawa, arguing that the Speaker was in no position to tell a party how to conduct its own affairs. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 1:16 PM - 0 Comments
Elizabeth May announces that the Greens will not field a candidate in the Labrador by-election.
Elizabeth May announced today that the Green Party of Canada has decided not to field a candidate in the upcoming Labrador by-election and challenged the NDP to do the same…
The Federal Council of the Green Party of Canada has made the decision to step out ahead of nominating meetings of other parties to call for cooperation in Labrador. Peyton Barrett, Campaign Manager for George Barrett, the Green Candidate in the 2011 election, concurred, “At the grassroots level, we agree that cooperation can work in exceptional circumstances and when it is in the best interest of voters.”
This is what Ms. May suggested the Greens would do if a by-election had been called in Etobicoke Centre as a result of the dispute between Ted Opitz and Borys Wrzesnewskyj. As I noted at the time, there’s not really any precedent for such a move.
Via Twitter, Ms. May says the Labrador Greens wanted to do this and, as in Etobicoke Centre, points to questions about the integrity of the election as a reason for doing so. She also says she offered “cooperation” in the Calgary and Victoria by-elections.
The Greens took 1.3% of the vote in Labrador in 2011 (although, if those votes had gone to Liberal Todd Russell, he’d still be the MP right now).
Update 1:54pm. In a release from her Liberal leadership campaign, Joyce Murray says she approached Ms. May and proposed the idea.
“When news broke that a by-election was imminent following the resignation of Peter Penashue, the Harper Conservative MP forced to resign last week due to an election financing scandal, and in light of the 2011 results in Labrador and Stephen Harper’s attempt to stack the deck in Penashue’s favour, I called Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and asked her to consider having the Green Party EDA not run a candidate when the by-election is called. She immediately agreed to discuss the unique circumstances of this riding with the Green Party’s Executive Council and today we see the result: the Green Party has announced that it will not run a candidate in the Labrador by-election,” said MP Murray. “I am solidly on the record supporting local level electoral cooperation to elect progressives and defeat the Harper Conservatives. In this instance it is abundantly clear that the progressive candidate with the greatest ability to do that would be the Liberal candidate and not the Green Party candidate.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
Steve Chase notes the hikes in tariffs.
The federal government is hiking tariffs on 72 countries in order to help retire the deficit faster – a measure that will cost Canadian consumers $330-million more per year in higher prices.
The measure, contained in the 2013 budget, will mean higher prices for a variety of goods. It will take effect in 2015.
Paul McLeod notes how little has been explained about cuts to Defence, Fisheries and the Canada Revenue Agency. Scott Gilmore considers the merging of CIDA with Foreign Affairs. Stephen Gordon questions the Canada Job Grant. Colin Horgan looks at funding for aerospace. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries consider Jim Flaherty’s chances of balancing the budget by 2015.
Ultimately, much depends on what comes next.
Flaherty’s office won’t say yet whether the budget proposals will be stuffed into another omnibus bill, an unpopular tactic with opposition parties and Canadians who want MPs to spend more time reviewing key measures separately. Highly controversial changes to how bodies of water are regulated, for example, did not come to light until the actual budget bill was tabled last year.
“I’m getting used to the modus operandi of Stephen Harper and it makes me feel that nothing can be said about this budget until we see this implementing legislation,” said Green party Leader Elizabeth May. ”Until we see if we’re facing another omnibus bill, one that we fear will take an axe to the Species at Risk Act, we have to wait and see.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 4:58 PM - 0 Comments
Yesterday, Judy Sgro became the 19th Liberal MP to endorse Justin Trudeau. This afternoon, Joyce Murray has announced the endorsement of David Suzuki.
Mr. Suzuki’s endorsement seems mostly to do with Ms. Murray’s positions on sustainability and the environment, but he also mentions her plan for electoral co-operation.
It’s possibly important to note that Ms. Murray’s plan for electoral cooperation and democratic reform is a bit different than Elizabeth May’s plan for electoral cooperation and democratic reform. Ms. Murray would have the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens cooperate to defeat the Conservatives and, as Liberal leader, she would explore changes to our current electoral system. Ms. May would have the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens cooperate for the expressed purpose of changing the electoral system: a Liberal-NDP-Green government would exist specifically and only to change the system and then, once that was accomplished, a new election would be called.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
The Green MP had the the final question this afternoon and rose with the following.
Elizabeth May. Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a genuine concern and I hope the Prime Minister can allay my fears. I have heard, from credible sources within the government, that there is a proposal to eliminate Environment Canada by merging it with Natural Resources Canada. If it had not been from credible sources, I would not be putting this question to him. I would like assurances that no such plan is under consideration.
Stephen Harper. Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to meet any of these credible sources and correct any misinformation they may be giving the hon. member.
This wasn’t quite a denial, so I followed up with the Prime Minister’s Office: Does the government have any plans to merge Environment Canada with the Department of Natural Resources? The answer, I’m told, is “no.”
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Andrew Coyne has another go at making the case for a one-time electoral cooperation pact among the opposition parties to achieve electoral reform, as Elizabeth May has also recently proposed. I still think this is a crazy idea.
Andrew notes that the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens are variously interested in replacing our first-past-the-post system for electing MPs. He then builds his case thusly.
It will be objected that much of this is merely an expression of the parties’ self interest, or more charitably that their principles show a remarkable tendency to align with their self-interest: under proportional representation the Greens would win many more seats than the one they have now, as until recently would the NDP, while the alternative vote tends to favour middle of the road parties like the Liberals. Fair enough. I happen to think these are also useful reforms in the public interest. But it is to those parties’ supporters I address myself here: to their self-interest as much as their ideals.
Because none of this is going to happen as things stand: neither the Conservatives’ defeat nor the democratic reforms each proposes would follow. It is not going to happen so long as the Conservatives maintain their apparently unshakeable hold on 35% to 40% of the voters that have stuck with them for much of the past decade. And it is not going to happen so long as the rest is divided up more or less evenly amongst two or three opposition parties…
So the long-term answer to the opposition’s dilemma is electoral reform, based on some form of proportonal representation. But that isn’t going to happen until they can figure out how to beat the Conservatives in the short term. The obvious answer is for the three parties to cooperate in some way at the ballot box: to combine, rather than split their votes.
The premise here seems to be that it is unlikely the Conservatives will win anything less than another majority mandate in 2015. If you were taking wagers right now, approximately two years away from the next vote, the odds would obviously have to favour the Conservatives. But another Conservative majority is not nearly a sure thing. The Conservatives polled at 33% in December. And the two years between now and the next election leave plenty of time for unforeseen developments. Incumbents at the federal level have a tendency to hold power for awhile, but they also have a tendency to eventually lose.
Could the New Democrats or Liberals win a majority government in 2015? It looks unlikely now, but the NDP was ahead of the Conservatives and in the mid-30s a year ago and the Liberals were ahead of the Conservatives and in the mid-30s in 2009. If the threshold for a majority government is around 39%, the possibility of an NDP or Liberal majority can’t be entirely dismissed.
Eight and a half years ago, the Liberals won a minority government with 36.7% of the popular vote. The Conservatives took 29.6%, the NDP 15.7% and the Bloc Quebecois 12.4%. How possible is it that the New Democrats or Liberals could win 36% of the popular vote in 2015? Could we see something like a 35-30-25 split with the Liberals or New Democrats in first and the Conservatives in second? Maybe you wouldn’t wager your life savings on it happening, but you’d be unwise to wager your life savings on it not happening.
But then, the opposition parties don’t even need to “win” the next election, do they? If the Conservatives are reduced to a minority and the House of Commons math works for the other parties, some combination of the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens could form a coalition government. How possible is a coalition government taking power in 2015? (We nearly had one in 2008. And with that experience, the parties might now be better prepared to pull it off.) Once again, you might not want to bet on it, but you can’t discount the possibility entirely either.
So an NDP or Liberal minority or a NDP-Liberal-Green coalition are within the realm of possibility (and not merely as far-fetched scenarios). And either scenario, I would posit, could result in a government interested in electoral reform. Andrew might be right that the long-term situation seems, right now, to favour the Conservatives. But I don’t think that means the next election result is assured. And therein lies a real opportunity for change.
Andrew proceeds to consider the options. He rules out a merger as unrealistic (I agree). He writes that a “formal coalition” also wouldn’t work (I disagree). He then arrives at his preferred option.
As it happens, however, an alternative has emerged that has found significant supporters in all three parties. It is to forge a purely temporary alliance, a one-time electoral pact. Party riding associations would agree to run a single candidate against the Conservatives, on a platform with essentially one plank: electoral reform. Were it to win it would govern just long enough to reform the electoral system, then dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.
There are a lot of questions to ask about this proposal. Andrew acknowledges as much.
A favourite counterargument is to rattle off a number of obvious practical questions in quick succession — How would these common candidates be selected? Would this apply in all ridings, or just some? Could voters be persuaded to turn the election into a referendum on electoral reform? — in a tone that implies they could not be answered. Which is certainly true, as long as no one bothers to try.
Let’s allow that some of the finer details could be worked out. I think there are valid questions to be asked about how the parties would sort this out amongst themselves, but let’s imagine that those questions could be answered and those problems solved. Let’s just deal with that third question: could an election be turned into a referendum on electoral reform?
Are enough voters so interested in electoral reform that they would support turning the next election into a referendum on that subject? Could enough voters be convinced to momentarily suspend their concerns about other issues? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the other policy differences between the NDP, Liberals and Greens? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the possible ramifications of all other policy debates between the parties to vote with the hope that a real election would then be run in short order?
I’ll try to answer those questions: No. Granted, I can’t predict the future with certainty (and have just finished arguing against making such predictions). Perhaps the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens could persuade voters to make this a singular focus. But this strikes me as implausible. I don’t think voters, in general, are so interested in electoral reform that they’d go along with this. At the very least, it seems like a remarkable gamble for the three parties to make. (And, keep in mind, the Conservatives would be keen to explain, loudly and repeatedly and prominently, why this was such a terrible idea.)
But only here now do we reach what is, for me, the deal breaker. Let’s say another Conservative majority was, under the status quo, overwhelmingly likely. Let’s say voters (or enough voters) were keen (or could be convinced to be keen) to turn the next election into a referendum on electoral reform. Let’s even say that an NDP-Liberal-Green pact would win that referendum.
Fundamentally overhauling the electoral system would probably take more than a couple days. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the House. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the Senate (how would a Conservative majority in the Senate handle such legislation?).
Even if you imagine this proceeding as expeditiously as possible, this would take some period of time (A month? A few months? More?). Someone would have to be Prime Minister while this was happening. Someone would have to be governing. How would that work? Conceivably they would have no mandate beyond changing the electoral system. Would they promise to not touch anything else for as long as they were in government? Would they promise to just carry on with Conservative policy until another election could be held? (Would anyone believe them if they promised as much?) What if something bad happened? What if something came up that required government action?
This is not a rhetorical device. I’m not trying to bury the idea in questions. I honestly want to know how this would work because I honestly don’t understand how this is supposed to work. What kind of government would we have for however long it took to change the federal electoral system and what would be the ramifications of having such a government?
I basically agree that the way in which we elect MPs could be improved (I recently came down with a crush on the ranked ballot). But I don’t like complicated solutions. Complicated solutions are usually the least achievable. Which is not to say they shouldn’t ever be pursued. But, in this case, I think there are less complicated options that might be entertained first.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 18, 2013 at 11:01 AM - 0 Comments
In December, Elizabeth May apparently wrote a letter to New Democrats, Liberals and independent MP Bruce Hyer to discuss ways that opposition MPs might cooperate for the purposes of electoral reform. Ms. May won’t release the letter—she says it was not intended to be released publicly—but she seems to have described the gist to the Hill Times.
“What’s clearly public is that the Green Party is the only party that is fully committed to finding ways to cooperate before the next election with any party that’s prepared to work with us to get past the first-past-the post [election system],” Ms. May said … “That’s really the goal and my public and private views are that if we could find a way, and there’s a big if, in the next election to cooperate with the goal, and we would only cooperate this one time, in order to get rid of first-past-the-post so that in the next election campaign nobody would be worried about, which I think are fairly bogus concerns, about vote splitting,” Ms. May said.
Andrew Coyne floated a similar idea last month and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of a one-time electoral pact.
Thomas Mulcair responded to Ms. May on behalf of the NDP on December 19. Here is the text of his response.
Dear Ms May,
Thank you for your December 10th letter regarding democratic and parliamentary reform. I agree with you that the main challenge for parliamentarians and political parties is to encourage the forty percent of eligible citizens who do not vote to do so, and especially to push young Canadians to become engaged in political affairs across the country.
We must also provide to Canadians opportunities to get directly involved in the debate on overdue reforms to our voting system. As you know, the NDP was the first party to make proportional representation a priority in the 1970s. And that is why, the NDP, with Democratic and Parliamentary Reform Critic Craig Scott leading the way, is pursuing consultations with both voters and experts across the country on reforms needed to achieve more adequate representation of the Canadian population.
In September, we were able to meet and discuss topics of importance to all Canadians, and I look forward to continuing these discussions in the near future.
In closing, in the name of the New Democratic Party of Canada and all its members, I would like to wish you a happy holiday season and all the best in 2013.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 4:53 PM - 0 Comments
Green MP Elizabeth May participated in a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill in 2001. We chatted this afternoon about that experience and Theresa Spence’s current situation.
You went on a hunger strike about the Sydney Tar Ponds. Why did you decide a hunger strike was the right response?
Well, we tried just about everything. I was actually at a union hall in Sydney, meeting with community members, and there was one guy, quite young, under 40, a father with about four kids. I’d been working with the community a lot about the toxic waste, the contamination and he’d had to quit working in the steel mill because he got liver cancer. And we were waiting for another set of health reports to come out. I was at the Sierra Club at the time and I did a lot of grassroots organizing across the country and I’d written a book on the Sydney Tar Ponds and done a film documentary … I won’t list everything we’d done, but we’d done an awful lot to try to get attention on the health effects in the community and for the families. And this guy looked at me and said, ‘Elizabeth, nobody’s going to care what we do here.’ Because we were thinking, should we do a march, should we do a demonstration, what should we do? And he said, ‘Nobody’s going to care what we do here because nobody cares about us here.’ And I was sort of devastated by that and realized that, I go back and forth to Ottawa and I work in Ottawa and I know most of the MPs and most of the cabinet and it just hit me, if I went on a hunger strike and sat in front of Parliament Hill till they did something, they’d pay attention. It was very personal.
So I went on a leave of absence from Sierra Club, because I obviously wasn’t working properly when I was on a hunger strike. And I sat in front of Parliament, right next to that low wall immediately opposite the members’ door. My daughter was in grade five and I talked to her about it before I started and she said, ‘Well, the one thing is, mommy, I don’t want you sleeping out there. It’d be nice if you were home at night.’ So I’d make the trek every morning and I was kind of putting in an 8:30 in the morning till 5:30 at night shift in front of Parliament. And then there came a day when I wasn’t feeling up to making her school lunch and one of the young women who was living with us at the time took over school lunch duties, and then took over laundry for me, and then took over grocery shopping, because you do get weaker and weaker and weaker.
But the reason why I did it was, and I think this is why anyone does a hunger strike, is a feeling of desperation. It’s not the first thing you choose to do to get attention to an issue. And Mahatma Gandhi had a bunch of really good, clear pieces of advice about when a hunger strike works strategically. And one of the key pieces of Mahatma Gandhi’s advice was, you can’t hunger strike effectively if the person or the institution whose opinion you’re trying to change doesn’t have a moral compass, doesn’t have a foundation of conscience in which it’s possible to prick the conscience. So a hunger strike to get Hitler’s attention was never going to work, right? But a hunger strike in a Canadian context, and they’re not done very commonly, is, I think, a legitimate part of one’s response. In my case, I even got a permit. So I was actually doing a legally permitted activity, hunger striking in front of Parliament Hill.* Continue…
By Paul Wells - Monday, December 31, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
I’m with Nascar blogger MadCowRacing: the middle of a long race is underrated. “It seems like today a lot of people don’t know how to enjoy the middle part of the races, the part where the drivers settle in for a while,” MadCowRacing writes in his blog post about 500-mile track races, which I adopt as a text for Canadian federal politics in 2013. ”A lot of people think these guys are ‘riding around,’ but that is never really the case except for the drivers who like to sit in the back until the end of a restrictor plate race.”
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 9:29 AM - 0 Comments
The aftereffects in Alberta of the Nov. 26 Calgary-Centre federal byelection, carried off by Conservative Joan Crockatt with just 37 per cent of the vote, have officially become super hilarious. The reader will recall that the two main challengers for a Conservative seat in a relatively liberal-friendly part of Calgary were the capital-L Liberal Harvey Locke, who has spent decades as a top wilderness preservation advocate and all-around Nature Boy, and the Green Party’s Chris Turner, an urbanist author and magazine writer who uses the word “sustainable” with a frequency best characterized as “intolerable”. In short, the two parties both nominated professional environmentalists, neither of whom have done a whole lot else with their lives. We could all probably have anticipated a problem here.
How does a Green candidate run against a Harvey Locke? Turner was shrewd and cynical enough to find an answer: berate the older guy as an out-of-touch Seventies green who, as Locke had admitted in an interview, didn’t even move to Calgary from Banff until it looked like there might be a Commons seat available amid Cowtown’s dark Sanatic mills. (Asked by your correspondent if she approved of this campaigning style, Elizabeth May observed that the GPC is not one of those old-fashioned “top-down parties” in which the leader orders candidates about.) Locke, for his part, spluttered that his young rival was a “twerp”. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:44 AM - 0 Comments
Shortly after 10am this morning, the House had a little talk about yesterday’s unpleasantness.
Bob Rae: Mr. Speaker, I do not quite know when the appropriate moment would be to say something on this subject, but it is a little hard for us to carry on the normal business of the House without referring to the somewhat unusual transaction that took place on the floor of the House yesterday. I wonder if those who were involved in it would care to perhaps indicate their regret at what took place and the fact that we need to continue for the next several days in the House with a greater degree of civility and willingness to engage in public discourse without insulting each other.
Peter Van Loan: Mr. Speaker, I am happy to address that point. Yesterday I went to speak to the opposition House leader with the intention of discussing my concerns with the point of order that had been raised related to a mistake that had been made by the Deputy Speaker during Tuesday night’s vote. I know that mistakes happen. The Deputy Speaker is new and I am sure he is going to do a very good job, but I thought it was inappropriate for the New Democrats to raise a point of order relying on that mistake and somehow suggest it was the responsibility of the government. To do that was inappropriate. It put me in a very difficult position. I did not wish, in defending the government, to be critical of the Deputy Speaker and I tried very delicately to dance around the point. Mr. Speaker, you ruled appropriately in the circumstances. I acknowledge that I used an inappropriate word when I was discussing this matter with the opposition House leader. I should not have done that and I apologize for that. I would expect the opposition House leader to do the same and I hope that at this point we can move forward and get on with the important business that Canadians want us to do.
Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Toronto Centre for his intervention and some of the words from the government House leader with respect to his apology. You and I will be having a conversation quite shortly, so any other more official statement coming from the official opposition is a bit premature, until you and I have spoken in private. Then we will get back to the House forthwith.
Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I trespass on this very tentatively, but recall that the history of the length between these benches was to be two sword lengths. We would like the notion to be figurative. We do not like the notion that someone from one side of the House would march across to the other side. I can only conclude the hon. government House leader is a sore winner. I hope we will never see this sort of thing again.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:03 AM - 0 Comments
So Peter van Loan asked Speaker of the House Scheer to allow a test vote wherein the Conservatives vote down all of May’s amendments in one go. Think about this for a second. van Loan’s logic implies,
1) The government is blindly, dogmatically opposed to any change being proposed by an independent MP.
2) A government shouldn’t have to actually demonstrate this knee-jerk opposition through voting down everything May proposes. Instead they should just have to do it once.
3) The substance of the amendments is of zero importance. Even if all 80 amendments span totally different subjects and sections of legislation, they should all be grouped together as one *because of who proposed them.*
If Mr. Van Loan’s proposal were ever implemented, it would be a profound loss for parliamentary democracy in this country. It would cross a line that, however much it has been trampled, is still faintly there: we would be done even with the principle that the legislature and its individual members mattered as something other than pawns of the party leaders. You could argue that a single MP should not be able to prevent the House from passing legislation (consider the use of the filibuster in the United States), but that’s not the situation here. At most, Elizabeth May will have tied up the House for a day or so. I defer here to none other than Joe Oliver, who, during the vote marathon on C-38, acknowledged that the opposition had a right to force those votes and that the country was not imperilled as a result (scroll down to the 7:25pm entry).
Meanwhile, former Liberal house leader Don Boudria says the rules should be changed to limit the amendments that can be proposed at report stage. Of all the ways the House of Commons might be reformed, I’m not sure limiting the ability of the opposition to delay the passage of legislation should be anyone’s priority. The Conservatives apparently aren’t interested. Nor, really, should they be. One day, presumably, they will be in opposition. And someday, one imagines, they will want to delay a piece of legislation. Those members of the government side who were Reform MPs in 1999 will understand this very well.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 30, 2012 at 11:27 AM - 0 Comments
Elizabeth May’s speech yesterday on C-45, the second budget implementation bill.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 12:11 PM - 0 Comments
As per the Speaker’s ruling this morning, there will be a maximum of 47 votes on C-45 at report stage. For the sake of comparison, there were 157 votes required to get through C-38 in the spring.
The independent member’s motions are an interesting question. They require some attention, because the independent member does not sit on committee. However, they should not be dealt with in such a manner that they represent, effectively, a harassment of the balance of the House. Compared to the several hundred amendments proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in June, on Bill C-38, her proposals as of today’s date are slightly less unreasonable. However, the fact remains that the rights of individual members of Parliament must be balanced with the ability of the majority of the House to dispatch its business with some reasonable, practical speed. Allowing a single member of Parliament to hold the House hostage in a voting marathon is simply not reasonable.
I propose the following arrangement, which could, in future, extend to other government bills. Report stage motions submitted by a member of Parliament who is not part of a recognized party shall be selected in the manner provided for by our rules. The selected motions may be grouped for debate in the usual fashion. Subject to the next point, the voting patterns for the motions would be set in the usual manner, as required by the ordinary practices of considering legislative amendments. However, one amendment per independent member of Parliament would be chosen to be a test vote. The voting pattern for the rest of that independent member’s motions would only be implemented if the test motion were adopted. A rejection of the test motion would be inferred as a rejection of all that member’s proposals. Therefore, the balance of the independent member’s motions would not be put to the House.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
Some of the Green party leader’s comments to reporters after QP yesterday.
Remember, this was a byelection. So there was no—I think people get panicked about vote splitting. Whether it is another Conservative, whether all the three ridings had gone Conservative, it wouldn’t have changed the dynamic in the House of Commons one bit. So in a general election, you have a different set of concerns and I think the Liberals, the NDP, need to start talking to each other. I’ve said that for some time. The Green Party at our convention actually had the members pass a resolution calling for me and our federal council to seek cooperation with the other parties so that in the 2015 election, we—I don’t know what form or shape that would take, but at least have discussions with a goal of after the 2015 election, getting rid of first past the post. The only reason we have all these panics about vote splitting and strategic [voting] is because we have one of the most bizarre voting systems that remains in any modern industrialized democracy. We’ve got a situation where the minority of voters can elect the majority of seats and where people worry needlessly. In the case of Victoria, we would have won in my view if the NDP hadn’t launched a last-minute fear campaign to tell supporters that if they voted green the Conservative would come up in the middle. Well the Conservative was stuck at 12% and wasn’t going to budge and it was very clear.
So that vote spitting argument works on all sides. It can motivate people to vote, not for what they want, but against what they’re afraid of and in a set of byelections, we went into them thinking that this was an opportunity certainly to make sure that people could see the Green Party was viable in different kinds of ridings across the country and certainly you know, the fact … that parties that are larger than us, that were in what were presumed to be safe seats, when they won by over 50% just 18 months ago and I refer to both the Calgary Conservatives and the Victoria New Democratics, they eked out victories by very narrow margins and I think that’s a sign that really the politics of Canada is different. The Green Party is a force electorally across the country…
Again, I can’t stress it enough. Byelections do not put in place a government in power. So there’s much less to fear and the fact that people play on this, you know, you’ve got to vote for one party over the other because you’ve got to be afraid of a Conservative additional seat: that’s not going to change the dynamic in the House of Commons. In byelections, I felt much less pressure, but as I said, our party has a policy. Our membership has passed a resolution calling on us to seek cooperation. I did attempt to see, cooperation with one of the major parties before these byelections. I’m not going to go into details, but they weren’t interested.
So you know, we’re just in a position when in byelections, you want to do the best you can to ensure that a different voice is heard on the federal landscape and I think we did remarkably well and I’m very pleased that—you know, people wrote off Victoria as a place where, because Denise Savoie had last been elected there with over 50% of the vote, there was the assumption that it was such a safe NDP seat, that at least nationally, nobody really bothered to cover the fact that our momentum was huge. If the election campaign had been one week longer, we would have taken Victoria. In the meantime, Calgary Centre, I think that … who would have imagined before these byelections that you would even be asking me about a strong showing by the Green Party in Calgary Centre.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 4:17 PM - 0 Comments
Despite the many hours I’ve spent in the House pondering life’s mysteries, I had no idea what the explanation for this was. So I asked the proper authorities and the official explanation is apparently this: the intent has been to maximize the number of seats in the House and 309 seats is the maximum number of workspaces that can be accommodated in the current setup.
There are, essentially, two extra spots at present, since the Speaker obviously has his own chair.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
On Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Question Period, Elizabeth May and I sat down for a quick chat about the House of Commons, the state of Parliament and what might be done to make things somehow better.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 7:40 PM - 0 Comments
One morning this session, at the start of parliamentary business, Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Frank Valeriote ran into each other in the House of Commons. They had both been there late the night before for a debate. Valeriote apparently assumed that May had had the misfortune to be assigned a morning shift in the House. “He looked at me and he was so tired he forgot that I didn’t have somebody ordering me around,” May recalls. “He said, ‘Oh jeez, did you get House duty again?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, my leader’s such a bitch.’ ”
The joke, of course, is that Elizabeth May is her own leader. And the truth is that Elizabeth May doesn’t have House duty. Because, rather than putting in periodic shifts in the House of Commons, May is rarely anywhere else. The House of Commons is her office. “By the time you look at all the things that it’s possible to do as a right as an individual MP, I think the question isn’t why do I spend so much time in the House,” she says, “it’s why don’t other MPs spend time in the House?” Continue…