It’s a truism of Canadian politics that majority governments abuse their numerical superiority to ride roughshod over the smaller parties. Governments in Canada are little more than elected dictatorships with a mandate of four years, and the opposition – and even government backbenches – are just there for the ride.
When parties are defeated and replaced by new ones, the new government regularly justifies its majoritarian abuses by – rightfully – claiming that the defeated party did just the same when they were in power. It’s the circle of life in politics.
And this is exactly what is happening right now.
The NDP are upset that the Tories are acting undemocratically for invoking closure (cutting off debate) on Bills 2 and 9. And they are right. But also, grossly hypocritical.
The NDP have decided that Bills 2 and 9 – which would lower the minimum wage for teenagers by $2/hour, and delay renegotiation of several government union contracts until the fall, are worth going to the ramparts over. As such, they are exercising their right as opposition MLAs to filibuster with all-night debates to slow the bills down. When you’re facing a majority government, there are only so many tools in the opposition tool-kit, and making the government sing for its supper is one of them.
After several all-night sessions, the Tories brought down the hammer, cutting off debate. No need for further democratic blathering on said bills. When a government introduces a bill, debating and amending it are mere formalities, so why allow the naysayers to hold things up?
But it’s the duty of every opposition party to oppose the government where they disagree, and use whatever tools they have available to them. When the opposition fails to do its job (and oppose), the government will almost always go too far.
This happened in the last legislature, when the NDP introduced Bill 9 to ban pro-life demonstrations. Not wanting to get mired in controversy, the Tories decided that they would not oppose the bill, but also would not even debate or vote on it. Consequently, the NDP amended their own bill to “strengthen” its attacks on free speech and assembly.
By contrast, when the NDP introduced its now infamous Bill 6 attack on farms in 2015, the Wildrose went to the wall. In fighting the bill, the Wildrose did exactly what the NDP is doing right now: filibuster. All-night debates and a gumming up of the legislative process brought needed public attention to the bill, and ultimately resulted in the legislation being much less extreme than originally intended by the NDP. However little power the opposition has, this is how it can still prove its value.
And what did the NDP do to the Wildrose filibuster? Exactly what the Tories are doing to theirs today.
The NDP have proudly taken to Twitter claiming that after dozens of hours of debate, that the Tories have shut it down, and that this is bad.
But just a few months ago, the NDP and Tories colluded to allow no debate whatsoever of a legislative motion that would further diminish any input from the Alberta Party, Freedom Conservative Party, Liberals and independents.
Never before in the history of Alberta had a debate been forcefully outlawed altogether, and the NDP worked with the Tories to do it.
The Tories today can claim that they are just doing what the NDP did.
But the NDP had a historic chance to break the cycle of just doing what the last guys did when they came to power in 2015. The PCs were reduced to a distant third place. In the official opposition was the Wildrose; all of the MLAs had never served in government, and 19 of 22 of were brand new.
Instead of opening a new chapter, the NDP just used their majority however they liked, even though not a single member of the Wildrose Official Opposition had ever done likewise to them.
With the Tories now in power, the circle continues. Closure of debate, pre-scripted puffball questions from government backbenchers, non-answers to questions in question period, and strict party discipline on all sides.
It’s a sad specter to watch, but in our two-party state, little else can be expected.
Photo Credit: CBC News
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