In normal times, this would be the period of time when we’d be reaching the end of the current minority Parliament in Ottawa. All the signs of an impending federal election are there in growing abundance; tempers are flaring, parties are obstructing and making wild accusations about one another, there are increasing games of Parliamentary chicken being played. It’s all taking place in Ottawa right now, and it really speaks for itself. Just look at this exchange in Question Period on Monday to see for yourself:
Folks, there are so many things about that exchange that speaks to the tensions in the House. However you might feel about what was said by either side in that bit of video, it’s surely not the sign of a well-functioning Parliament. Heck, when even the Speaker is muted to try to get control on the room, that’s crazy. And yes, if these were normal times, that would be a sure sign that this Parliament was coming to an end and an election some be coming soon.
But as we know all too well, these aren’t normal times. COVID has turned our world on its head and some of the usual rules of political gravity aren’t applying like they normally would. Despite all of that tension and rancor that we’re seeing in the House, things are still getting done. Bills are being passed, debates are happening and even though we’re seeing brinksmanship from both the governing Liberals and opposition Conservatives in equal measure, the place is still somehow functioning. For the most part, when push has come to shove on important bills, the parties have gotten things done. But today a good example of the maddening cycle of work in Parliament is in the news, in an area where you’d hope the games and crap would be absent. Yet even here, we see it playing out in an irresponsible way:
I don’t know about all of you, but lately I’ve kept having a theme running through my mind that seems to apply to so much going on around us; two things can be right at the same time. This story is a prime example of that. Back in December the government tabled Bill C-19, a bill which would make important temporary changes to the Elections Act to all Elections Canada to take the proper measures needed to run a safe COVID election. The fact is that some of the measures that Elections Canada needs to take to make that safe election happen can’t be done under the current law, so they needed to change the law temporarily. Among some of the things that this bill would do to allow for a safe election would include a three-day voting period (rather than the usual one day), make it easier for voters to obtain and cast mail-in ballots and would allow Elections Canada more flexibility to conduct mobile polls in long-term care facilities, among other measures.
The point being, it would allow our democracy to function during this global pandemic, and not force people to choose between exercising their democratic rights and their health. You’d think that kind of measure would rise about the usual petty political crap, yet it seems that even this can’t. The Liberals are blaming the Conservatives for holding up the bill, using procedural tactics to stop the bill in past months. The Conservatives are blaming the Liberals for delaying to bring the bill forward (given that the government controls the timing of government business in the House), for only allowing three hours of debate so far and for their continued 40-hour filibustering of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, the committee that would study the bill when it passes the House. The Liberals accuse the Conservatives of wanting to stop people from voting while the Conservatives say the Liberals have no one but themselves to blame for the time its taken to get this bill done. And on and on and on.
This is clearly a case of that running theme that I mentioned before. Yes, the Liberals should have brought this bill forward sooner and put it on the agenda more often. They have the votes from the NDP and Bloc to get it passed, so if they put it on the agenda, it could be moved. Over these months, they chose not to put it on and instead focused on other things. That was their choice. But at the same time, yes, the Conservatives have been playing silly buggers with the procedural games trying to delay things. They have not been constructive in any of this and are more than happy to try to gum up on the works on the government all over the place whenever they can. That was their choice.
The fact is that both of these things can be true and, in this case, are true. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been pissing around with this for going on six months, all while under the full knowledge that this legislation needed to be passed to ensure that whenever the next election happens, that it is safe. We can clearly see that whenever that next election comes, COVID is still most likely going to be a huge factor in our lives. Elections Canada will need to take new steps and measures to run that campaign properly and safely, not just for voters but for the staff who run our elections. This is serious stuff and should be something that rises above petty political crap.
Yet here we are, with stories coming out with the red team pointing accusatory fingers at the blue team and visa versa. The consequences of this bill not passing are very serious and come back to the very health of our democracy. The running of the next election cannot ever be allowed to be subject to the kinds of misinformation and crap that we saw happen in the United States just last year. If this bill doesn’t get passed, whoever is responsible for that failure will own having opened the door to some nefarious actors trying to use this towards those means. This bill needs to get passed and passed properly, to give Canadians the confidence that things are going to be run right. This is bigger than any one party or their partisan aims. This is about the strength of our democracy, period, end of story.
So both the Liberals and the Conservatives need to grow up, cut the crap and start treating this bill with that urgency in mind. They need to shut off their “political gain” thinking and turn on their “responsibility to democracy” mind. We’ve put up with a lot of crap in the past year and I know that things are getting stressful in the House, but now is the time these parties need to rise above that for the betterment of us all. That’s the job they signed up for when they ran and if they can’t find the fortitude within themselves to do that hard job now, they should walk away and leave it to others to do. Because this isn’t a game, this isn’t about polling and this isn’t about trying to score the cheapest of political points against your opponent. This is about the health of our democracy, and if you’re not working to be part of the solution here, your part of the problem.