We’ve had Conservatives compared to Lannisters; Liberals and NDPers compared to Big Brother and the Nazis (weirdly enough Conservative’s love accusing people of being Nazis…But I digress), with name calling and invoking of famous references a long standing practice of democracy no matter how bad the reference is. Recently a government minister has done it again, this time in an attempt to portray his government in a positive light. Yet given the circumstances I wonder if Rob Nicholson properly thought out his reference to the Magna Carta; and by way of that King John, for although the document is a noble one in context it might not actually be a feather in their cap.
King John, or John Lackland, was the infamous King of England of Robin Hood fame. The youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquataine he was never expected to inherit much, however the deaths of his older brothers led him to rise to be King eventually. His reign is not remembered well, he appears in popular culture as a terrible King alternating between sadistic, effeminate , ignorant or all three. Toward the end of his reign he faced a baronial revolt where the Barons forced John to sign and seal a document called the Magna Carta, formerly the de facto Constitution of the United Kingdom. Although most of the clauses are either irrelevant or have been removed from practice, the Magna Carta essentially forced the monarchy to acknowledge that no man was above the law; including Kings. It also formed the first “Parliament”, at the time a council of 25 barons, but it evolved gradually to the House of Lords and House of Commons of the UK which we ourselves emulated.
Nearly 1000 years later the Magna Carta can still be invoked as the cornerstone of constitutional government and debates along with the rule of law. On Tuesday in the Canadian House of Commons as the Hon. Rob Nicholson rose in the house to defend Bill C-2 which is to limit the save injection sites in the country, he again invoked the Magna Carta stating that this famous document hadn’t had as much debate or as many people involved for. Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East argued that the Bill had not been properly debated, and her claims that the Conservatives limited debate on this Bill is accurate; as seen by the Speaker ruling only 1/2 an hour for debate on the bill that day.
The Hon. Mr. Nicholson asserted that “97” MP’s had stood in the House on this debate for a total of nearly 18 hours of debate in total. That is impressive. It means 1/3 of the house was allowed input on the debate and each of those Members stood for a grand total of about 11 minutes on average. Clearly there was enough debate on this. Ms. Davies demanded that the Bill, rather than being fast tracked through the House, be forwarded to the committee of health. Surprisingly Mr. Nicholson agreed with her, but failed to answer her question as to why the Bill hadn’t been brought to committee already and was being forced through.
Perhaps he was too busy trying to properly remember his history? He was right in that not as many signatories and witnesses were involved in the signing of the Magna Carta, which only had about 60 involved. However if you count the soldiers that the barons had fighting for them in the rebellion they raised against King John before and after the Magna Carta was signed then certainly more were involved. Further the rebellions and uprising did not occur in a paltry 18 hours. Battles a thousand years ago, much like wars, couldn’t be over in just a few hours they lasted for days, weeks, and months.
Limiting debate, dictatorial rule, sidestepping questions…before any party invokes a historical reference they should take a closer look at that reference. For it could bode ill for them.