Last week was an interesting one in the House of Commons (well, not really). For one thing, Elizabeth May was the only leader in regular attendance for one—nothing different there. The Prime Minister, Mr. Mulcair, and Mr. Trudeau were out of the House, prepping Canadians to play Scratch and Lose (also known as Canadian Federal Election: 2015 edition). The NDP members whined and wailed that the Liberals and the Conservatives were stealing all of their policies and being mean to them, while the broken Bloc complained that the Federal Government was mistreating Quebec. What a shocker. Nothing special happened—except for the NDP pushing a discussion of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, which made national headlines.
The NDP caucus was pretty proud about it, saying the Conservatives were left “asleep at the switch”. Why, NDP House Leader Peter Julian practically purred with glee when believed his party had swooped in and done something magnificent. They had done something. After all, only twenty odd Dippers were absent from the sitting, including their leader Tom Mulcair. What Julian interpreted as the government being asleep at the switch, 175 MPs interpreted as merely an uneventful Friday afternoon they could have spent outside of the House.
I guess this shows that Liberals aren’t the only ones who don’t always turn up for work. Mr. Mulcair should remember what his predecessor, Jack Layton, said about the last leader of the Official Opposition: “If you don’t show up for work you don’t get a promotion!” Those other twenty odd NDP MPs who missed their party’s triumph last Friday ought to remember it too. All MPs should; they’re paid for a reason.
As noble and important as having a debate and inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is, the tactic the NDP used isn’t exactly original. Alison and Loat in Tragedy in the Commons, make note of it being used by former MPs trying to sneak legislation or motions under the radar (I need to start taking royalties since I push that book so much). And, if anyone saw Amazing Grace (a film abolishing the slave trade in the UK), well, that’s how the abolitionists managed to get the ball rolling. It’s been used so much in our own parliament that it even appeared as a feature in the Terry Fallis novel The Best Laid Plans. Heck, for parliament to function, we only need twenty MPs and the Speaker with their butts in seats! In the US, Germany, Hong Kong and the three Canadian Territories, quorum in the legislature is half of the total number of members. In Australia, Austria, and PEI, it’s roughly 1/3.
Let the NDP be proud of what they accomplished. Even though 175 people were missing from the House and 54 of 56 MPs from the other parties voted WITH the Opposition on bringing this up for debate, they still accomplished an amazing feat! They got Conservatives to engage in debate for once! Now that is impressive.
Surprisingly, while the media noted that Conservatives participated in the debate, they didn’t focus on what the government MPs said. Considering the responses that the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and MP for Nunavut, I was somewhat shocked that the media didn’t turn to them. Although Romeo Saganish, who led the NDP’s charge in the debate, provided a deeply moving personal story, the Hon. Member for Nunavut, being Inuit herself, also had some personal comments to make. Her response was the perfect example of the defining community, and of who can adequately speak for whom. Can an aboriginal man speak for aboriginal women? Here is part of what she said:
“I am an Aboriginal woman. I stand in this House and listen, day in and day out, to the debates and comments of the NDP and Liberals about Aboriginal women’s issues. However when it comes to taking real action I see the opposite happen, day in and day out.”
True, her responses that day seemed to be typically Tory—tout how great your own party is (supposedly) doing in governing the country, and condemn the others. Despite the Conservative’s pending investment in Aboriginal issues, which isn’t nearly enough, what was actually accomplished by this debate? The same old criticisms and insults were hurled across the floor, the same touting of how good your party is doing or how much better it would do…Ms. Aglukkaq, whether you agree with her party or not, is an Aboriginal woman and can speak for that community just as well (if not better) than the NDP’s Mr. Saganish. Whatever our party, we have to respect that. Is it right to turn an issue like this into a spectacle and throw this serious discussion into the circus that is the House of Commons?
Liberal Adam Vaughan, just finishing up his first week in the House of Commons, was a voice of reason as barbs were being flung across the aisle at the other end. He said, “if there is ever an issue that should not be partisan and should not divide members of the House, this is perhaps one of those issues.” He routinely queries both the Official Opposition and the Government on why we continue to follow the same heavily trodden path in circles with initiatives, statements, and added bureaucracy, which have brought us nowhere.
Last week truly was an uninteresting week in the House of Commons. Our MPs behaved like children, and bullied each other on such sensitive issues. They even went so far as to say that a member of the community they were debating wasn’t doing her part to help her people. Have we really sunk this low? Do we need an inquiry? We certainly do, but we also need something more substantial than that. Much more substantial.