By Frank Moher
Yeah, that was a dirty check Trudeau threw at Ruth Ellen Brosseau. It doesn’t look inadvertent to me. Trudeau wades into the gaggle of NDPers blocking Tory whip Gord Brown as he tries to get back to his seat. He reaches for Brown, has a few words with Mulcair, one of the linebackers, then appears to bodily force Brosseau backwards in order to clear a path for the hapless target of his “help.” It seems extremely unlikely that Trudeau didn’t know Brosseau was there.
Nasty. But here’s what you should really be exercised about today. The reason Trudeau wanted the Conservative whip back in his seat was so that the Liberals could pass a motion to limit debate on the assisted-suicide bill, C-14. (That he also had a photo-op with BC Premier Christy Clark scheduled, to mark his apology earlier in the day for the Komagata Maru incident, may also have had something to do with it.) The NDP were doing what they could to delay the vote, and protest the Liberals’ high-handedness. What’s more, earlier in the day the Libs had introduced a motion, buried deep in the parliamentary orders of the day, intended to give the Liberals unprecedented control over debate in the House generally. So this is about more than the PM’s impetuousness, or — as many on social media this morning had it — NDP childishness.
Government Business No. 6 would have given Liberal ministers and parliamentary secretaries extraordinary powers over how the nation’s business is discussed. I say “would have” because, as I write this, the Liberals have withdrawn the motion, as a sop to the opposition, who are making the most of their aggrieved status today. But as Kady O’Malley noted in the Ottawa Citizen, the idea was, in part, to “impose stringent limits on opposition-initiated motions, which would effectively close off most of the procedural loopholes traditionally invoked by opposition parties to indicate their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in a majority-held House.”
That’s really what yesterday’s chaos on the floor was about.
This is all perilously close to the way the Conservatives ran their majority government. The Libs may not yet have resorted to massive, catch-all omnibus bills in order to restrict debate and push through their agenda, but they’re en route. Just as the Liberals and NDP were right to do what they could to impede those bills back in 2012, introducing amendments by the fistful and then slow-voting them, the NDP are right to do whatever they can now — short of elbowing fellow House members — to protest a government apparently headed down the same path.
The PM has apologized, thrice. And there’s an important piece of legislation to get back to. And yes, the Liberals performed well in issuing the formal apology for the Komagatu Maru incident, a step forward that has been unfortunately obscured by L’Affaire Elbow. So maybe we should all get back to discussing that.
But watch out for this government. We’ve seen now that their instincts are much like those of the previous one. They are the instincts of all majority governments, to a greater or lesser degree. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what’s necessary to keep them in check, including, in the case of the NDP, dilatory loitering on the floor of the House.