NDP MP Matthew Green has put out a call to voters to join him in supporting a “Nakba Bill,” which he says will recommit Canada toward a “principled position on peace, justice, transparency, and reconciliation in the Middle East.” If this were a petition in support of a Private Member’s Bill, that would be one thing, but this seems to be more than that, instead promising engagement with those who sign up in the shaping of this legislation, which is novel, but ultimately problematic. The whole exercise is dubious, because it is absolutely exceeding the bounds of private members’ business, and indeed the legislative authority of the House of Commons, but Green apparently doesn’t seem to either know or care.
The text of the page reads:
Embark on a journey with NDP MP Matthew Green to draft a Private Members [sic] Bill to put forward a historic Bill into the House of Commons that goes beyond symbolism and is focused on real policy change. Your voice is crucial.
By adding your name, you become part of a community dedicated to unveiling truths and fostering a deeper understanding of Palestinian history. You’ll receive exclusive updates, insights, and invitations to community consultations, where your opinions and perspectives will shape the narrative and influence policy-making.
This is more than a sign-up; it’s a commitment to empathy, education, and engagement. Be a part of this historic moment – your support can change the narrative and pave the way for a more inclusive future.
“It’s like the political equivalent of a Kickstarter,” someone remarked to me about this initiative, and there are certainly similarities, minus requiring a dollar amount to be raised for the project to be viable. It’s certainly a data-mining exercise that the party hopes to use around the current tensions in this country around the conflict in Gaza, and while the page itself doesn’t have a donation button, you know that it comes with the engagement once they have your email address, because that’s the core of how political fundraising operates these days.
This unseemly exercise aside, it’s making some hefty promises that it can’t possibly fulfil, and while Green insists that this goes “beyond symbolism,” that is really all that it can be at best. Why? Because foreign affairs are a Crown prerogative, and is not determined by legislation. That’s one of the reasons why foreign policy is frequently a confidence matter—it is nearly as intrinsic to a government’s policies as their fiscal policies, which makes the notion of determining foreign policy based on private members’ bills as laughable, with more than a tinge of cynicism that Green should know this, but is promising is followers something that he can’t deliver on, but he’ll still get to capitalize on the data that he’s harvested from them, and any donations he fundraises as part of this.
The notion of canvassing ideas to shape the policy direction of the bill is not new or novel, but it does certainly can create confusion, or problems in the legislation itself as the people developing these ideas don’t necessarily understand the limitations of private members’ business (though Green also seems to have trouble grasping that concept). In my time on Parliament Hill, I have seen some MPs run annual contests among schools in their ridings, and the winner would have their bill drafted and introduced. Said bill would never see the light of day, because backbench and opposition MPs get one slot for private members’ business, and their spot is determined by lottery, and most won’t have their bills or motions debated, not that it stops them from introducing a plethora of bills or motions for the sake of their dying on the Order Paper. Green is 154th on the Order of Precedence for private members’ business, and it’s currently at 75. It’s extremely unlikely that any bill this process develops, no matter how inappropriate, will even see debate—not to mention he has another bill already on the Order Paper for that single slot.
There is a very real problem with how Private Members’ Business is being conducted in our Parliament, in part stemming from the very real civic illiteracy that plagues the very MPs who make up our House of Commons, as they don’t even really know their own job descriptions, the most important being that they are not there to govern, but to hold to account those who do. Green’s bill is not about accountability, but an attempt to govern from the opposition benches, which is not how the system works, even in a period under a supply-and-confidence agreement like we’re in right now. We’ve also allowed abuses to creep in, such as the ability to use these kinds of bills for tax expenditures, like the myriad of boutique tax credits that are littering our Tax Code (which don’t properly get tracked by the Department of Finance), or which are being weaponized to undermine key government policies, like Bill C-234, which seeks to create yet more carve-outs for the federal carbon price.
The Bloc have an even more egregious bill that has already passed the House of Commons that seeks to legislate that the government can make no further concessions to the Supply Management system in future trade deals, which impacts on the Crown’s treaty-making powers, and yet the Liberals voted in favour of it (likely because of the symbolism of being seen to support Supply Management in spite of this being a very bad bill). When governments start using legislation to limit Crown powers, bad things happen, as we saw in the UK when the now-repealed Fixed-Term Parliaments Act ensured the nonsensical problem of governments not falling when they lost key confidence votes on foreign policy issues including the shape of Brexit, and shuffling along in a zombie-like state until they could finally pull the plug.
While it’s great that Green is looking for new ways to engage citizens on a public policy issue he cares about, regardless of its merits, promising them a bill that they can claim ownership of is crossing a line, and he should know better. All this does is sow future cynicism in politics, and feed civic illiteracy, which helps absolutely nobody but the bad actors.