I don’t think I have ever had two Island Tides articles back to back that covered an evolving story. Parliament does not usually have the characteristics of a soap opera. A narrative arc does not connect my weeks. But in re-reading my last column, it reinforced how remarkably the tide has turned. Yes, dear readers, I left you with the Liberals withdrawing the draconian Motion 6 — the attempt to control all things on the Parliamentary calendar — and my conclusion that more would be needed to restore a collaborative atmosphere in the House.
On June 2, Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, did a remarkable thing. She accepted Nathan Cullen’s proposal for the composition of the electoral reform committee, thus giving the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party equal status as individual MPs (which I expected) and relinquishing the Liberal Party majority on the committee (which I did not!) The Liberals’ initial motion on May 11th was for a twelve person committee, with only 10 as full members. The Liberals controlled the outcome with 6 Liberals, 3 Conservatives and one NDP MP with two non-voting members (Green and Bloc). Thanks to a compromise achieved between the Maryam Monsef and Nathan Cullen, I now join the committee as a full member. No one party can control the outcome with 5 Liberals, 3 Conservatives, 2 NDP, one Bloc and one Green. Someone will have to be chair (a non-voting position). Assuming that person is a Liberal, the eleven voting members will be 4 Liberals, 3 Conservatives, 2 NDP and the one Bloc vote and me.
How did harmony reign? What changed between the spiralling nastiness of the week of May 16th and the week of May 30? I think the spiralling nastiness was the shock to the system that unleashed a desire for better.
Ironically, I believe that things had to get really bad before they could get better. If we had not had the nonsense of jostling and blocking and collisions of May 18th (which I refuse to call “gate” anything), Nathan Cullen’s motion for electoral reform would have been the next days’ scheduled House business. And (I bet) it would have gone down to crashing defeat. Instead, we wasted House time the whole next day of May 19th on Conservative Peter Van Loan’s motion to haul the Prime Minister up on charges of “molestation of a member.” And the next week was a parliamentary break.
After a week back working in our ridings, the mood shifted. The MP who was involved in the collision with the PM’s elbow, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, sent a message to the committee investigating the alleged molestation and suggested the matter be dropped.
Meanwhile, the public response to the composition of the electoral reform committee had been extremely negative. Media coverage had been unfavourable. After more than six months awaiting the launch of a process to replace First Past the Post, the Liberal dominated committee did not convey the promise of legitimacy. A committee focused on the need to eliminate FPTP was being proposed with the proportion of membership based on FPTP. It was hard to defend.
After slipping from sunny ways into Harper ways with Motion 6, the Liberals struggled to regain the high road. And the electoral reform committee was a logical place to begin rebuilding a collaborative approach.
The motion to build a 12 person committee with the unprecedented move of having the majority government party in a minority position has now carried. It was supported by the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens, with the Conservatives angry. Conservatives have claimed there was a backroom deal between liberals and NDP. I am just happy to see people work together – nothing “backroom” about it.
Conservatives are beating a drum for a referendum. Strangely those calling for a referendum have ignored two rather serious issues. The first is that our current federal referendum law is not available for any questions other than constitutional ones. So there is no way under our current laws to hold a referendum on electoral reform.
More important is that, as a matter of principle, equal and fair voting rights are not something on which we should hold a referendum. Issues of rights – women’s rights to vote, First Nations rights to vote, equal marriage, etc – have never been subject to a referendum – nor should they. The Conservative rallying cry to a democratic approach to hanging on to the non-democratic system that has so long favoured the larger parties has the whiff of desperation about it.
Meanwhile, we have until June 29th in the House. Can we build a collaborative approach? Indicators since my last column have shifted to the positive.