The actual cynical political games

All day, the Conservatives were sniping at other parties over “cynical partisan games” on two different bills. They not only accused Liberal senators of delaying the CP Rail back-to-work legislation (which they weren’t), and the NDP of deliberately delaying a private member’s bill on eliminating inter-provincial trade barriers on wine. The problem is, there were no actual games being played.

While Lisa Raitt railed against those awful Liberal senators, it turned out that it was the rules of the Senate, which mandates that 48 hours notice must be given before the Senate hears a bill. The bill passed the House at 1:30 in the morning, and the Senate sat at 13:30 in the afternoon. The leadership in the Senate met, and actually moved up the timetable to hear the bill on Thursday – a full twelve hours before they were obligated to. And they’ll be hearing from witnesses at Committee of the Whole, which is more than what happened in the Commons. But apparently that’s “obstruction.”

By the same token, Bill C-311 was being discussed in the Commons last night, but because of the time allocation for the back-to-work legislation, the debate wasn’t able to collapse and go to a vote before they had to move on. Procedurally, that means that it would drop to the bottom of the order of precedence, and come back up for a vote in about six weeks, like any other private members’ bill. But lo, certain Conservatives – led principally by James Moore – decided to that this was all “cynical games” by the NDP who he claimed wanted to block it from being voted on before summer – never mind that the NDP MPs who spoke to the bill in debate were in support. In fact, they were so much in support that the National Post’s John Ivison wrote a somewhat bizarre column that accused them needing to “shut their cake holes.” And by the time it hit the wires, it was outdated as the NDP offered up a spot to make sure the vote happened sooner, and in the end the Conservative MP behind the bill took up Scott Brison’s offer for his earlier spot.

Of course, as with this bill as well, passing it before summer would be of little use because there’s almost no chance that it’ll pass the Senate before the summer recess. Assuming it did pass last night, it would have headed to the Senate, but assuming that the MP behind the bill has already found a sponsor for the bill in the Senate, it would eventually be sent to the Banking, Trade and Commerce committee. You know, the committee that is rather preoccupied by the omnibus budget bill, and likely will be until it’s time for the Senate to rise for the summer. Not to mention the fact that the senators on that committee are going to want to actually do some study and hear from witnesses, and there is industry opposition to the bill that they are going to want to hear from and weigh. All of the angst over its speedy passage before the summer are a bit rich, and ignore the fact that the Senate exists and has a role to play.

The common thread to both of these incidents is that the accusations of “partisan games” are in fact a partisan game in and of itself. But what’s more disturbing is the underlying message is the fact that Parliament should be able to run roughshod over the rules so long as they can get some kind of advantage of it. This should raise red flags. Democracy is process. Parliament has sets of rules for a reason. It’s supposed to be difficult to skirt those rules in order to keep parties in power from abusing the system – which the Conservatives are now apparently trying to do, while whipping up outrage over the supposed “games” that nobody is actually playing.

But if people don’t know how the system works, it makes it easy for them to fall into the trap of believing that games are being played, and for Ivison-esque outrage to result. What we should be outraged about is this attempted abuse of process – even though that would mean we’d have to learn how the system actually works first.