The threat of a formal request

Nathan Cullen started off this week’s Monday Morning Sanctimony with a quote from Young Stephen Harper about the very undemocratic nature of omnibus bills, and how they prevent MPs from voting on individual issues. You know, just to establish who has the monopoly on virtue. Behind him were Guy Caron and Peggy Nash, and together, they outlined the NDP strategy for tackling the undemocratic monster that is the omnibus budget implementation bill.

They’re going to make a formal request to split it up into at least five separate bills.

A formal request you say? I think Stephen Harper just broke out in a sweat. He probably can’t believe they’ve escalated things to…making a formal request.

From there, Cullen and company got very tight-lipped. How many bills did they want it split out into, and into what areas? Well, at least five, but they won’t specify which because it’ll be “up for negotiation.” But what if they say no? Well, we’re reaching out with an olive branch so that they can work with us. No, seriously – what if they say no? Well, we have options that we’ll discuss at another time. They’ve offered to do separate studies of some sections in sub-committees, isn’t that enough? We want separate bills because otherwise they’re trying to evade scrutiny. (After the presser, the comms staffer seemed to have difficulty with explaining how committees operate, and was trying to pass on wrong information).

The thing with diplomacy is that one has to be able to back up their threats. You can’t just sit down and say “let’s all just get along,” because power relations don’t work like that – sorry if I shattered a few of your illusions. So while it’s all well and good for Cullen and company to make the appeal to the Conservatives’ better natures as their opening gambit, but there needs to be an underlying threat behind it if they want something to change. For them to simply play coy while talking olive branches seems self-defeating. Not to mention, the constant appeals to the high road and better natures hasn’t exactly worked so far, so why today would be any different I’m not exactly sure.

It has been pointed out that today’s move was for the public’s benefit more than the government’s, and sure, I get that to a degree. They want to look like the reasonable ones. Sure. But you know, two can play that game, and oh, wait, the government is. Their “reasonable” card is that the opposition is delaying job-creating measures on ideological grounds. So really, each team is playing to their supporters.

One should also remember that this isn’t this government’s first omnibus bill, that they’ve stuffed budget implementation with all kinds of goodies before (albeit under a minority, when they could use the threat of an election to bully the measures through), and no appeals to their anti-democratic nature worked in the past. But rather than get really exercised about it and not taking it any more, the NDP are once again employing the unctuous sanctimony/holier-than-thou playbook, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s playing to the public very well either because it’s not exactly making a forceful point. You’re angry that Stephen Harper is subverting democracy in the Chamber, so you’re going to fight it by making a formal request? Is the next step a strongly worded open letter on the op-ed pages?

Perhaps I’m being too cynical about this, or perhaps I’m being too rooted in my belief that an opposition party is supposed to be about showing why the government is going about doing things the wrong way than about constantly extending olive branches and trying to work together. Either way, I’m quite certain that this will all end up to a declaration of profound sadness on the part of Thomas Mulcair, but little else while the bill wends its way through the process.