Stifling debate in Ottawa

Posted on July 7, 2009 in Inclusion Debates – Opinion/Editorial – Stifling debate in Ottawa
July 07, 2009

In opposition, the federal Conservatives used to fret about the “democratic deficit” in Ottawa. “A new Conservative government will be committed to significant democratic reform of our parliamentary and electoral institutions,” vowed their 2006 election platform.

Little did we know that by “reform” the Conservatives meant stifling any debate on initiatives that run counter to their views or interests.

Thus, we have witnessed a series of anti-democratic manoeuvres by the Conservatives, such as: an effort to steer all committee investigations into the ditch (lest they embarrass the government); a declaration that all votes on government bills would be considered confidence votes (the direct opposite of what they said they would do); and an attempt to cancel public financing of political parties (which would have hurt the opposition much more than themselves).

Now, thanks to The Canadian Press, we learn that the Conservatives are attempting to silence debate on private members’ bills emanating from the Senate by bending the parliamentary rules. Here’s how:

A private member’s bill from the Senate must have an MP as a sponsor in order to be considered in the House of Commons. But there is no requirement that the senator has to approve of the sponsor. Taking advantage of this loophole, Conservative MPs are stepping forward to sponsor Senate bills even when they don’t agree with them. Then the Conservative sponsors see to it that these bills never come forward for debate in the Commons.

Some 28 private members’ bills from the Senate have been targeted in this way. They include bills to impose spending limits on pre-election advertising by the parties, require the government to promote and protect aboriginal languages, and loosen up restrictions on the delivery of generic drugs to Africa to fight AIDS.

With their oh-so-clever tactics, the Conservatives have now ensured these bills will not even be debated, let alone approved.

That the Conservatives feel they must stoop to such tactics says much about their bunker mentality in Ottawa today.


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