Opposition Members of Parliament have some tools at their disposal to help drive the agenda or raise issues they feel are important. Granted that over the past few decades, that tool box has been reduced significantly by both Liberal and Conservative governments who have tried to limit the ability of Opposition parties to stifle or slow down their agenda.
But one big tool still remains, and that is the Opposition Day. Over the year the Opposition parties get to bring motions on Opposition Days to discuss whatever they like. For that day, they control the agenda of the House and at the end there is a vote on the motion. Although the government chooses when those days come, they must eventually come.
We saw one on Tuesday, when the NDP brought forward a motion that called on the Prime Minister to waive solicitor/client privilege to all Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak, and to call for a pubic inquiry into the whole PMO/SNC scandal. When it came to a vote, the Liberals voted it down with two of their MPs siding with the Opposition. That well-written motion helped to move the debate around this issue along and bring more pressure on the government, to the point where two MPs sided with them.
A well used and well-written Opposition Day motion can have a big effect, the best example in this Parliament being an NDP motion that helped to craft and shape the Special House Committee on Electoral Reform. In that case, the motion was well done, well timed and was impossible for the government to refuse. If the NDP had overreached on that motion and put something in it that was so rhetorically over the top, it would have given the government an out.
Well we now know that another Opposition Day motion is coming to the House on Monday, this time from the Conservatives. And while you could argue that it’s topic is timely, the motion itself may not have been the best. It says:
That, given the Prime Minister’s comments of Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the appropriate place for Canadians to get answers on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and given his alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin’s criminal prosecution, the House order the Prime Minister to appear, testify and answer questions at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, under oath, for a televised two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019.https://apps.ourcommons.ca/ParlDataWidgets/en/motion/10333790
So Monday we’ll be debating if the PM should be forced to testify before the House of Commons Justice committee and while the motion is timely given everything that’s gone on, it’s one that is written more for political flourish than practical effect. Yes, the flourish and rhetoric here is strong and hard to face but the Conservatives added language here that gives the Liberals an out. In the motion they added “give his alleged direct involvement”, which is just not the case. Nowhere in the reporting has anyone alleged that the Prime Minister directly did anything and in fact Bob Fife of the Globe and Mail, who broke all the reporting on this, just said that very thing on CTV’s Question Period this morning:
To me this is a crucial mistake made by the Conservatives, one that the NDP avoided with their motion, and puts Team Scheer in the position have overplayed their hand. There is a real, valid reason to get the PM before this committee, absolutely. Given the changing statements he’s given all over the place, it is more than reasonable to have him give his side of the story. But by torqueing this motion as they have, it makes the Conservatives look more like they are interested in the politics of this than actually getting the truth. It makes them look like they are on a partisan hunting expedition when this case is far from that. There is real fire here, not just rhetorical smoke, and instead of working with that which the Liberals have given all on their own, this motion seems like an over-reach. It feels like they are over-playing the situation and given the government more wiggle room. In short, they’re giving the Liberals a way to say no in a plausible way.
And to me, that’s a crying shame. There is an old saying in politics that “When you opponent is busy hurting themselves, stay out of their way”. The Conservatives are ignoring that here and with an overheated Oppo Day motion, they are getting right in the Liberals way as they continue to inflict pain on themselves through leaks and such coming out. So tomorrow we’ll see a debate, and when the motion comes to a vote, it will go down to defeat. The Conservatives will scream “cover-up” while the Liberals scream something back to defend their vote. And in the process, we will get no closer to an actual answer to what happened here.
This over-reach by the Scheer Conservatives will mark a missed opportunity, one that could have really put the PM on the hot seat and gotten some real answers. A well-written motion, one that stuck to the facts and was stripped of the partisan fervour, would have really put the government in a pickle. It might have even gotten the PM before the Justice Committee, and if that happened, that would have offered the Opposition a much better chance at finding the truth and ultimately a much better political outcome. They would have looked like responsible politicians looking out for the best interests of Canadians. Instead, we’ll see a rhetorical exercise play out on Monday that will make Team Scheer look quite different, making the government look better. They will “own themselves” in their attempt to “own the libs”. And that will be their own doing.