Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Far off target

Mia Rabson points out an utterly bizarre request from a group which is normally at least somewhat consistent in its public demands:
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is pressuring the Liberals and NDP to ensure anti-gun registry MPs get appointed to the committee that will consider a bill to kill the registry when Parliament resumes in March. CTF federal director Kevin Gaudet says if they don't, the bill will likely fail. He argues that as the House already voted in favour of the bill once, it would be anti-democratic of the Liberals and NDP not to give the bill its due.

"I think there is going to be a lot of pressure on both leaders," Gaudet said.
So what's wrong with the request? We can start with the fact that there's no particular reason for the CTF to be taking a particularly strong position on the gun registry in the first place. But let's leave that aside for now and look at the more fundamental problems with the statement.

Even assuming there was some reason for the CTF to take a position as to whether or not a gun registry bill should pass, it would seem to be a rather large leap from agreeing with an idea in principle, to effectively insisting that MPs not work on improving it. Which would be exactly the end result if the CTF's demands were applied generally: the fact that bills had passed second reading would be seen as reason to avoid doing anything to amend them in committee even if a majority of MPs in the committee and the House of Commons alike agree that amendments would result in an improvement.

In effect, in the interest of playing to the base on a single issue, a group which is supposed to be concerned with getting value for public money is asking that Parliament cease to do anything but conduct a single yea-or-nay vote on legislation as presented. Which would presumably result in far more waste than the CTF can possibly allege from the gun registry itself - and more importantly would facilitate the passage of bad legislation as the checks and balances in a multiple-reading system are negated in favour of a declaration that the second-reading vote is the only "democratic" one.

But it gets better yet. Gaudet doesn't just want to tear down Canada's Parliamentary system for the sake of pandering on a single issue, he's also obviously wrong in his assessment of what happens if the bill doesn't get approved by the committee:
Parliamentary rules prevent a committee from killing a bill entirely, but they can report back to Parliament that a bill should not be passed.
So it's nothing short of an outright falsehood to claim that a split committee would actually end the bill's progress: one way or another, it would find its way back to the House of Commons where all MPs would have their say on it. (That is, assuming the Cons don't engineer an election first so they can blame the opposition parties for their choice not to get the bill passed.)

In sum, then, Gaudet seems to have crossed the line from earnest advocacy to blatant misinformation for the sake of pushing an issue which isn't even one of his group's central concerns. And CTF supporters should have reason to question whether they want to encourage that kind of action.

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