Roundup: The use and abuse of Private Members’ Bills

Yesterday was an interesting day, in that three Private Members’ Bills dominated the political discourse. This, unfortunately, is becoming a more common occurrence, despite the fact that PMBs are intended to be small measures designed to correct oversights in existing legislation – part of the role of holding government to account. They are not supposed to cost money (lest they require a Royal Recommendation), and we should bear in mind that the role of backbenchers and opposition are to hold the government to account. It is further to be reminded that it’s the opposition’s job to oppose, and not to govern. Hence, it is the government’s job to govern, and in an adversarial system like ours, the opposition holds them to account. And with these facts in mind, let’s look at what happened.

The day began with the hour devoted to Private Members’ business, as it does every Monday, and the first piece on the Order Paper was the Bloc Québécois bill to repeal the Clarity Act. While Thomas Mulcair himself got up to speak to the bill, he indicated that the NDP wouldn’t support it, but that they would have their own bill, and a few hours later, they tabled it under Craig Scott’s slot. That slot, incidentally, is 240 on the Order of Precedence – the very end (or, at least it will be until Erin O’Toole, Joan Crockatt and Murray Rankin are added – this is what happens when one is by-elected into the House. You can’t be in the random lottery, so you get added to the bottom of the list). Scott’s bill would replace the Clarity Act in favour of the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration, which says that 50 percent plus one is enough to trigger separation, and in essence, make things easier. There are a number of other problems with the bill, such as giving the Quebec appeal court the final say on the wording of a separation bill, which is precisely what the Supreme Court avoided with the succession reference. Not that it much matters, considering that the bill will never see the light of day, and this is a marker for what a future NDP government would do.

The third bill was Romeo Saganash’s bill on Implementing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Like Scott’s bill, it too is unlikely to see the light of day, as Saganash is 167 on the Order of Precedence, and because the obligations therein are problematic to the existing legal and constitutional framework in this country, and would likely cost a great deal of money to fully implement, it’s unlikely to pass the test of being voteable without a Royal Recommendation – not to mention it’s a major piece of policy that far exceeds the mandate of a PMB. But again, it’s a kind of policy marker that the NDP have been abusing PMBs as, and as John Ivison says, it shows the strains of the party trying to appear credible. (Terry Glavin also parses just what “consent” means in law as well as the Declaration, which is also worthwhile reading). It’s also telling that during QP, Saganash declared that they didn’t need the government because of his bill – telling that they don’t understand the process of governing, how the Westminster system operates, and what the role of opposition actually is.

This all having been said, I have to now wonder at my colleagues in the media, who are giving far too much attention to bills that will never see the light of day. They should be called out for the stunts that they are, and left at that.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Canadian Special Forces are on the ground in Mali – but to protect our embassy and assets there, not to fight any wars or train troops, just in case you were getting excited.

One of our top female soldiers, who led troops in Afghanistan, met with US generals prior to their lifting the ban on women serving in combat roles.

Here is a comprehensive look at the constitutional issues that Canada is likely to face when it comes to modernising its monarchy’s succession laws.

Here are the three things you need to know from last night’s political shows – including Mulcair’s curious economic logic behind the Moody’s downgrading of Canadian banks.

And Stephen Harper made a PR exercise of tweeting photos and video clips of his workday yesterday, which one the one hand serves to humanise him to the general public, but as Susan Delacourt noted, it does reinforce the notion that he is the lonely man at the top. The National Post’s Steve Murray finished the day off with the final “unpublished” photo. Brillz, as the kids say.