Wednesday, February 16, 2005


It's time to get away from this amusing but ultimately inconsequential 'defending the faith of same-sex' debate (see comments to the two posts below) to focus on... Parliamentary process and intrigue.

Yesterday Paul Martin's government lost its first vote in the House of Commons. Bill's C-31 and C-32 were designed to separate the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The CP story, slightly modified, is available from the CBC and Toronto Star.

The story begins by asserting:

The vote demonstrates the fragility of the Liberals' hold on power.
Hardly. The vote demonstrates that this government is in fact a minority one. If the media ever gets over the novelty of this I'll be shocked. The fragility of the government will be demonstrated if there is serious doubt about the passage of a confidence motion or money bill. Right now there is no such concern. None of the national parites want an election so the "Liberal's hold on power" is in fact not "fragile" to any sesnsible observer.

However, it would be more accurate to say that this vote demonstrates the utter disaray of the government. The opposition parties used this opportunity to send a message to the government about its current foreign policy: namely that no such policy of any kind exists. At all. Anywere.

The foreign policy reveiw that was supposed to be completed sometime before Canada fell behind Luxembourg in international influence has yet to appear. Not to mention that separating Foreign Affairs from International Trade was a stupid idea to begin with. It is stupid because, first, issues of trade are central to conducting foreign affairs and, second, because this kind of beuracratic tinkering rarely, if ever, accomplishes substantive change.

So where are we? The government is unable to pass a procedural bill, relating to a policy that doesn't exist, that was a bad idea to begin with. That pretty much sums up disaray.

But now for the necessary recriminations and accusations:

The Liberals claim that the Conservatives promised to support the bill on second reading, but that the official opposition unexpectedly reneged.
The Conservatives' change of heart on the issue will make it difficult to reach future agreements on how to run the minority government, said a spokeswoman for International Trade Minister Jim Peterson.

"Minority government is about trust and confidence," said Jacquie LaRocque."All this raises serious questions about how much Canadians can take them for their word in this minority government."

It is hard to tell from these stories alone what actually happened. Its difficult to take the Liberal indigantion seriously; alot of it sounds simply like posturing. However, if the government reasonably thought it had the Conservatives support for this vote and the Conservatives changed their minds unexpectedly and without letting the Liberals know, I think the government's anger is somewhat justified. If the Conservatives simply took the first opportunity to safely spite the Liberals that is not encouraging. Canadians want a Parliament that is going to govern. Certainly in a minority situation the government has to work with the opposition but equally the opposition has to remember they are not the government.

I would like to have more details on what was being said between the government and the opposition regarding this bill leading up to the vote. Anyone in the press gallery looking into this?

Posted by Matthew @ 2:26 a.m.