A few weeks ago, Tom Mulcair appeared on the big stage at the PROC committee to declare his innocence. What were the charges? Many Canadians, this author included, could barely understand—but that doesn’t mean we weren’t interested. Unfortunately, despite numerous similarities between the two, Canadian politics is not reality TV. We can’t just tune in to the CBC on any given Wednesday at 6:30 pm and see our favourite drama kings and queens duke it out along a coherent storyline. No—for that kind of predictability we’d have to tune in to CPAC at 2 pm Eastern from Monday to Thursday and watch Question Period, though anyone who has watched a nanosecond of Question Period knows that it’s way too scripted to grab and hold our attention. We want real yelling and lies. We want raw emotion. We want what we got if we tuned in to the CBC this Wednesday at 6:30 pm.
The Board of Internal Economy (in layman terms: The Secretive Board of Internal Economy) laid down the law! In a groundbreaking ruling, it requested that NDP MPs pay back $1.17 million for ineligible mass mailouts. This was the decisive blow the Conservatives had sought since the NDP rose to official opposition status in 2011. It was more than just a figurative nail in the coffin. Accordingly, knowing it could never pay back the money and stand up to public outrage resulting from the ineligible mail, the NDP folded and disappeared from the Canadian political scene, never to be heard from again.
There’s a good reason why that didn’t happen. It so happens the Board of Internal Economy, whether Secretive or not, doesn’t have much legal authority. It can only request repayment. Of course, no stranger to a good story, the NDP still treated this like a legal matter. Referring to the Board, NDP MP Peter Julian said, “We will have to…fight this process by a partisan, secretive body that is dominated by Conservatives.” He added, “None of this will hold up in a court of law.” Well duh.
The reader may remember an interesting case from several years ago: one involving the ruling Conservatives. In 2011, after refusing to disclose what should have been public information in House, the Conservative minority government was found to be in contempt of Parliament. This was the first and remains the only time in Canadian history that such a charge has passed muster. It could (and probably should) have ushered in the government’s downfall…but it was not a legal charge of contempt. There was no prison sentence, no fine, nor any community service. Instead, there was an election campaign, after which the Conservatives claimed their current majority. While the charges were no doubt very serious, they were only as real as the public made them.
Now, as in 2011, this NDP-government dispute is not really meant for a court of law. It is little more than a sideshow. Conservatives dominate the Board of Internal Economy, like they do all Committees, because they hold a majority share of the seats in the House of Commons. This is one of the perks of strong, stable, majority government. It gives them the right to recommend punishing whomever for whatever. Whether the NDP actually did something wrong here (and they might have!) need not be relevant. Needless to say, the Conservatives will trump up this recommendation as if it is a binding result of due process, while the NDP will resist it as though it is a punishment handed down by a summary military tribunal. This is all part of the game. In TV terms, it’s why more people watch The Bachelor than Question Period. With an election on the horizon and Justin Trudeau the clear favourite to win Canada’s heart based on nothing more than raw sex appeal, the NDP and Conservatives are playing hot potato with the people’s rose.