OP/ED: MP decries erosion of democracy in Parliament
As most of us are aware, Parliament was prorogued this fall. This means that, instead of beginning its work on Sept.16, there was a delay until Oct.16. The delay, or prorogation, was requested by the Prime Minister and approved by the Governor General.
The immediate effect was that all government bills and committee work were wiped out. In other words, 14 pieces of legislation at various stages ceased to exist.
A new Throne Speech was read on Oct.16 which laid out the government’s agenda for the fall and winter session. What I found interesting throughout this process was that during the following week, the government introduced a Motion in the House of Commons requesting that all legislation be re-introduced at the same stage it was at prior to prorogation. I found this to be somewhat bizarre.
The Prime Minister shuts down Parliament knowing full well that all government legislation dies and then asks the House to approve their Conservative motion re-instating their bills. What I find strange is that the Conservatives then accused us of not wanting to cooperate because we did not support their Motion. This raises the obvious question: why shut down Parliament in the first place?
This is but one example of what I perceive to be the erosion of the democratic process in our Parliament. As my colleague, Pat Martin from Winnipeg said so eloquently during the debate on this motion: “…This whole notion of omnibus bills is, by its very nature, undemocratic and has to be challenged. We have 60 or 70 pieces of legislation rolled into one with a few hours of debate and a few hours of committee hearings. Some of the things that happened within those omnibus bills are wide, sweeping and deserve a great deal of national attention and scrutiny. How much time did we really spend in the House of Commons on the issue of changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67? …”
“…It was by accident that we stumbled across one bill that was repealed and was called the construction fair wage and hours of work act. It set minimum wages in the construction industry. Then the same omnibus bill has changes to temporary foreign workers legislation where people can get a temporary foreign worker in 10 days. In one step, they would eliminate the minimum wage laws for construction workers to where people can pay them the provincial minimum wage, and in the second step they invite contractors to bring in temporary foreign workers within 10 days…”
Pat goes on to compare Committee work under previous majority governments and the current Conservative majority, “…Committees used to be the last bastion of some non-partisan co-operation, where we would leave our political baggage at the door and do what is right for the country. I have been a Member of Parliament for a while here. I was here when the Liberals had a majority government and I was the only NDP member on that committee. I used to move amendments to pieces of legislation and have them succeed. That sounds like pie in the sky today, it sounds like a fantasy…”
He also mentions that not a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the current Parliament has ever been allowed. I personally experienced this in Agriculture Committee when the NDP and Liberals proposed a number of substantial amendments to the Food Safety Act. Even though the Opposition parties supported the bill, all of our suggestions were rejected.
I believe that Canadians have every right to be concerned about the state of the democratic process in Parliament.