This past week was a very raucous one on Parliament Hill with much of the discussion centered around the subject of debate, or as could be more accurately summarized, debate about debate. At times over the past few weeks I would submit that there has been more debate about the process of debating then there has been legitimate debate and discussion over proposed Bills and related legislation. I will provide some examples of this recent practice.
During the initial debate on the budget, an individual NDP MP consumed three entire days of the debate time. In doing so literally dozens of other MP’s from all across Canada were denied the opportunity to speak either for or against various aspects of the Budget. What was more alarming is that in order to continue to take up debate time the NDP MP in question began to read anonymous twitter feed into the record. While it may be an allowable political tactic to monopolize debate time in doing so MP’s from other parts of the country and different political affiliations are being denied an opportunity to also speak out on the budget. It is difficult to understand how this political tactic enhances or encourages a healthy debate.
Moving on to the actual debate on the Budget Implementation Act, the Opposition Liberal party instead of engaging in debate initially suggested that there were potentially two different versions of the same bill and used this self created confusion as grounds to further delay the debate. Ultimately the Clerk’s office confirmed there was only one copy of the Bill and the Speaker ruled that debate must continue. Unfortunately debate that is delayed in this case means that debate that could have occurred did not. More recently members of the NDP Opposition party have committed to otherwise delay or disrupt debate solely because the Government would not agree as to how the Budget Implementation Bill could best be debated. In others words there is a suggestion that if we cannot agree on how we should debate we should then interrupt the debate that does occur.
In another example members of the opposition have also accused our Government of denying debate at committee meetings by using the practice of going in camera. The Canadian Press using information provided by the non partisan Library of Parliament actually revealed that the Government to most often use this tactic was in fact the Liberals under Paul Martin with runner up honours going to the Liberal Government under Jean Chrétien. As you may have also heard recently the actual debate time at second reading allocated to the Budget Implementation Act is the longest in the past twenty years. That being said, from more recent experience the fact that time is being provided to actually debate does not necessarily mean that the debate time is being used for the purposes intended. More commonly debate time seems consumed about the debating process and how some members of the opposition would potentially prefer a different format.
If I come across as sounding frustrated with these current tactics it is fair to say that I am mindful that some of our most recent debates are not serving the interest of Canadians as well as they could be. If the Opposition believes that our Economic Action Plan is not the right direction for the Country, then let them propose rather than simply oppose. Democracy thrives not only when the people have a voice but when clear ideas can be debated. Ultimately the ongoing delay and disruption tactics should not be used instead of bringing ideas and being prepared to defend them: Canadians deserve nothing less.
This is obviously a somewhat partisan point of view admittedly from an MP who is still very new to Parliament Hill. I certainly welcome your views on this or any other subject.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.