Sunday, February 12, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 6, 2011

Tuesday, December 6 saw a day devoted primarily to debating the Cons' seat redistribution bill. And the result was some interesting interplay between the three official parties in the House of Commons - if no lack of contradictions as well.

The Big Issue

In effect, the debate on C-20 saw three different positions clashing strongly throughout the day - with the lone agreement among parties being a concurrence of opinion between the NDP and the Bloc on the NDP's alternative proposal.

The NDP's take - presented first by David Christopherson - was that seat allocation should be treated as one of the most important real applications of the House of Commons' unanimous recognition of a Quebecois nation. Guy Caron criticized the Cons' total lack of consultation before imposing their preferred seat distribution on the provinces, while Pat Martin discussed his own participation in consultations on the constitution. In response to the cost argument raised repeatedly by the Libs, NDP MPs pointed out repeatedly that the cost of an unelected, unrepresentative Senate is far greater than the price of enough seats in the House of Commons to combine that principle with additional seats for growing provinces. And Bruce Hyer, Libby Davies and Jinny Sims noted that seat allocations should themselves be seen as a far less important issue than proportional representation and the ability of elected MPs to do their jobs without being stifled by a government which tolerates no dissent.

Meanwhile, the Cons and Libs limited their argument to the exact number of seats which should be divided up with substantially equal percentage allocations. Tim Uppal argued that any reductions in seats for a province would reflect "picking winners and losers" and needlessly inflaming tensions - making for a standard well worth applying to the Cons' own decisions on funding for programs and transfer payments. The Libs pointed to a quote from Stephen Harper suggesting that Canadians already have too many elected representatives, and also argued that it was percentages rather than raw numbers that really defined the relative weight of provinces. (Of course, they utterly abandoned that position in their attacks on the NDP for defining its policy in terms of proportions rather than specified seat numbers - and both Matthew Kellway and Alexandrine Latendresse rightly highlighted the contradiction.)

Finally, in what may have been the most stark difference of the day, Jamie Nicholls pointed to George Brown's one-time theory that representation by population would serve to entirely extinguish French Canadianism - only to be followed in short order by Michael Chong's proud invocation of Brown as the historical model for the Cons' bill.

Needless to say, the Cons couldn't allow that type of substantive debate among elected representatives to go on for long. And so in the name of democracy, Peter Van Loan again gave notice of his intention to shut down debate.

Do Unto Others

Pierre Poilievre lashed out at the opposition parties for denying a request for unanimous consent to split his time. Yes, that would be the same Pierre Poilievre who's served as parliamentary secretary to a Prime Minister who has publicly ordered his party never to consent to anything the opposition requests.

In Brief

Joy Smith presented a petition calling for use of the Nordic model on prostitution (which would criminalize purchasing rather than selling). Justin Trudeau had an intervention shut down due to his failure to wear a tie in the House. Nycole Turmel, Alexandre Boulerice and Nicholls all raised questions about political influence exerted by Con insiders Dmitri Soudas and Lou Housakas in the Montreal port authority. Charlie Angus, Linda Duncan and Jonathan Genest-Jourdain pointed out a complete lack of investment in tolerable living conditions in Attawapiskat and other First Nations across Canada. On the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, Francoise Boivin questioned why the Cons were removing controls on exactly the type of weapon used in the shootings. Megan Leslie pointed out that after deferring any action on climate change by saying they'd get around to it just as soon as China, India, Brazil and South Africa went first, the Cons were still standing in the way of agreement even after all the major developing countries were on board. Jean Crowder highlighted that the Cons were keeping EI cheques out of the hands of workers who needed them by refusing to properly staff Service Canada. Francois Lapointe again noted that Quebec's asbestos mines were shut down, and wondered when the government would bother planning an economic transition for the affected region rather than clinging to a dying industry. Alex Atamanenko pointed out a gruesome and unsanitary horse slaughter video as an example of the type of issue the CFIA should be equipped to address. Mylene Freeman noted that the Cons are doing effectively nothing to help 1.6 million women living in poverty. And Raymond Cote spoke to a private member's motion on the importance of the port of Quebec.

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