Listen Up! Time to bring back ‘sunny ways’: Opinion

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Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Time to Bring Back ‘Sunny Ways’

This past week was a tough one for the Trudeau Government but it may have been a good one for Canadians. While the seat-clearing fiasco in the House of Commons is a serious matter, far more serious are the issues that brought it about.

The catalyst for what happened in Parliament last week was simply frustration: frustration from the Prime Minister for not being able push his legislation on assisted suicide through the House and frustration from the Opposition Parties who believed they were being blocked from doing their job.

Much of the reason for this frustration lies at the feet of the Trudeau Government who have misinterpreted the honeymoon they have received from Canadians as a mandate to shove their agenda down the throat of Parliament with little debate and almost no consultation. As Tim Harper, a Toronto Star columnist wrote, “The Justin Trudeau Liberals have been treating the Commons as an annoyance, an inconvenient necessity that merely gets in the way of the Liberal show and its ever burgeoning approval rating.”  This is the same Liberal Leader, by the way, who, during the federal election campaign, promised a more civil and nonpartisan format for the conduct of business in Parliament.

That civility was hardly on display when the Prime Minister strode across the aisle of the House, told certain members to get the fuddleduddle out of the way, propelled the Tory Whip to his seat and in the process managed to accidently elbow another Member of Parliament. It seemed like very much of an understatement therefore, when the Speaker of the House admonished the Prime Minister, “It is not appropriate to manhandle other members of the House.”

To be sure, the Opposition played this unfortunate incident out to its fullest, first with NDP members trying to block the Conservative Whip from getting to his seat so that voting could begin and then a huge overreaction to what actually happened. The spectacle of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wagging his finger and shouting at the Prime Minister would make one think that his entire caucus had been wiped out by Justin Trudeau.  And the allegation that elbowing M.P. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was gender abuse is pure nonsense. While perhaps he should have looked, he didn’t know she was there.

The truth is, however, that the Prime Minister should never have left his seat, but the fact that he did and the resulting free-for-all has highlighted the seriousness of a government attempting to thwart the parliamentary process, most especially when it promised to do just the opposite.

As a surprisingly frank editorial in the Toronto Star stated, “After all, the tone of parliamentary discourse has been deteriorating for weeks. This is largely the result of the government’s partisan stacking of its electoral reform committee and its much maligned motion to speed the passage of priority bills – an effort to control debate on the Liberal’s controversial assisted dying legislation, among other issues.” The proposed motion to limit debate was a very serious miscalculation of the role of Parliament in a democratic system.  It would give Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Assistants full control over the timing and length of debates and would  effectively shut down the Opposition in Parliament.

The good news in all of this is that the Trudeau Government appears to have recognized the error of its ways and taken steps to reverse some of the gag-related items they were pushing through Parliament.  There will be some die-hard Liberals who will have a ‘good for him’ attitude toward the Prime Minister’s recent antics. But many others will recognize that mistakes have been made and an opportunity has presented itself to correct them before it is too late.

Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized…several times. He appears to have meant it and time will tell if he can control himself in the future. Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose suggested that his apology would be much more genuine if he withdrew the time restrictions on the Right to Die Legislation, to allow full discussion in Parliament. He did that and hopefully this means that Conservatives have accepted his apology and will move on. More importantly, the Trudeau Government has backed off its proposal to mute debate in the House of Commons. Under the circumstances, it will be difficult for the Liberals to return to an attempt of unfettered control of the Parliamentary agenda. There will be too many people watching.

The Trudeau Government will be with us for at least another three-and-a-half years. Perhaps the antics of the past week were fortuitous in shedding light on their contempt of Parliament before it became inexorably ingrained. That would shed some ‘sunny ways’ on all Canadians.

Hugh Mackenzie

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12 Comments

  1. Ian McTavish on

    Thanks for a balanced perspective on this issue. What disturbed me the most about elbow gate are the vile comments I have seen on social media. Some damming the Liberals, some the NDP and some the Conservatives. Just because our government behaved badly does not mean we should. Here’s hoping the parliamentary process can be respected by our government and all members of Parliament earn the respect of the people.

  2. I think you’re diminishing the Prime Minister’s behaviour in this piece, Hugh, by saying it was “simply frustration” and assuring us that he apologized for what you call his “antics”. While the opposition parties certainly overplayed the incident, I believe you are underplaying it.
    On Wednesday evening, in a display of temper, Mr. Trudeau strode across the floor of the House, swearing at those who were in his path, deliberately took the arm of a fellow MP and dragged him forward. No matter how frustrated he may have been, there’s simply no excuse for disregarding Parliamentary procedures, swearing in the chamber and deliberately manhandling Mr. Brown.
    It’s a little unsettling to know that the person who is leading our country, who is representing us in international affairs, has so little control over his emotions and can act so rashly as a result.

  3. After this week’s going on in Parliament is it any wonder that the electorate has lost faith in our Parliamentarians? This isn’t just a Federal issue, the Liberals in Ontario are also ruling without consulting the public, imposing expensive new policies on the tax payers from mandatory energy audits to restricting any choice you should have to heat your home. Things have to change. I hope it is sooner rather than later.

  4. Dale Peacock on

    But really….sometimes a parent (the Prime Minister) gets exasperated and escorts an unruly child (the Whip) to his seat if he and his playmates (MPs) are behaving badly and not listening to the parent (House Speaker). And yes, he did look a bit like his father on that one.

    Mr. Trudeau should not have crossed the floor like that. The MPs should not have blocked the Conservative MP Whip. Mr. Trudeau should not have taken Brown’s arm. (The elbow incident was an accident pure and simple and should never have become the focus of this debacle.) When I think of it, it might not have been a debacle without the over-hyped elbow.

    The only one in the House who behaved impeccably that day was Elizabeth May. She called it as she saw it without trying to gain political points out of it and as a result was the only one behaving truly like a mature adult.

    Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she witnessed “mischief” on the floor leading up to the incident, and added she saw the prime minister approach Brosseau to offer an apology shortly after the altercation.

    “It was most unwise of the prime minister to attempt to move along the vote by moving along [Brown]. That movement was clearly a contact that was unwanted. But the second contact, which was certainly the one that was the most emotional for the member involved, was clearly from my perspective I confirm … unintentional,” she said of the prime minister’s encounter with Brosseau.

    “And I have to say, I saw the prime minister approaching and following the honourable member, trying to reach her and saying how very sorry he was, he had not seen her behind him,” May said.

    Case closed. Or it should be.

  5. Good comments Hugh. The PM was wrong in his initial actions, and what started as a sound apology was weakened by his attempts to explain the reasons for his actions. The over-reaction by some opposition members in an attempt to score political points further deteriorated the situation. Regretfully, the time of both government and opposition members would have been better spent on serious debate related to the important issue of assisted dying.
    Hopefully members in both sides of the House will return after a week’s break and some serious reflection on the unfortunate incident and get down to what voters elected them to do.

    • Tony Clement MP on

      Do you realize, Ken, that the very vote the PM was trying to manhandle/expedite was one called by the Liberals to shut down debate of physician assisted dying? You say we should debate the serious issues but the Liberals treat the House like an echo chamber.

      • dave kealey on

        Really Tony?! This is the same bill that the Supreme Court has given the government until June 6 to enact. The same bill that the court told your party, when it was in government, to do something about! Curtailing discussion on a bill that has had the proverbial wind talked out of it is just what needs to be done. The bill needs to be passed so that terminal patients can die with dignity not hooked to a machine, drooling and costing an already overtaxed healthcare system thousands of dollars it does not have.

  6. This entire issue and the fact that everyone involved has blown the whole thing out of proportion, is absolutely ridiculous. I truly hope that all parties see the error in their ways and deal with the real issues facing out country. What a giant waste of time and energy!

  7. Thank you, Hugh for your opinions. I always enjoy them, even those with which I don’t fully agree. The events that took place were just sad. The overall cause behind these events – as you so clearly state are at issue. Yes, it bothers me, when our parliamentarians act like children on the playground causing “mischief”; but more importantly is the attempt to limit debate on vital issues. Part of the problem stems from the sense of “deadline” facing Parliament – not just the government in charge. Regardless of the deadline set out by the House group, the Senate has to deal with the issue as well and they (both Liberal and Conservative) have agreed that there some real problems with the current legislation on assisted death (I use ‘death’ as opposed to the word ‘suicide’).
    Unless our governments are willing to deal with the real issue of death and palliative care, only bad laws will be the outcome and individuals and their doctors will continue to deal with these issues in their own ways.

  8. Interesting to note the comment above from Tony Clement who without doubt has much more experience and expertise on the use of time allocation or closure than I do. As reported by Aaron Wherry in the June 24, 2014 edition of Maclean’s magazine, “Before the House adjourned for the summer, the Conservatives managed to pass their 75th motion of time allocation in the current Parliament. As noted previously, that far surpasses any previously known record of the measure being invoked to impose a limit on debate in the House of Commons.”
    And now that you’ve opened the door Tony, perhaps you could enlighten readers of The Doppler as to the reason for the failure of the government of which you were a key member to respond to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada related to physician assisted dying for six months before calling an election. Just asking.

    • dave kealey on

      Bravo for that Ken Black! More need to ask the obvious question and not get caught up in the silliness of “Elbowgate”

  9. Rob Millman on

    Well done, Mr. Black. If the Tories had not vacillated with respect to any meaningful discussion of “Carter vs. Canada”, the four-month extension to June 6 would not have been required. There is no way for Bill C-14 on physician-assisted dying to proceed through the House and the Senate by that date; so the original ruling of the High Court will become law. As flawed as it is, we should consider ourselves fortunate that it is certainly preferable to C-14; as the latter would require individuals to suffer excruciating and irremediable pain, if their chronic disability or illness is not terminal.

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