Why bother with a House of Commons?

Aaron Wherry on parliamentary democracy and Peter van Loan’s proposal

Paul McLeod is astonished by Peter Van Loan’s proposal to limit the number of votes an independent MP can compel on a piece of legislation.

So Peter van Loan asked Speaker of the House Scheer to allow a test vote wherein the Conservatives vote down all of May’s amendments in one go. Think about this for a second. van Loan’s logic implies,

1) The government is blindly, dogmatically opposed to any change being proposed by an independent MP.

2) A government shouldn’t have to actually demonstrate this knee-jerk opposition through voting down everything May proposes. Instead they should just have to do it once.

3) The substance of the amendments is of zero importance. Even if all 80 amendments span totally different subjects and sections of legislation, they should all be grouped together as one *because of who proposed them.*

If Mr. Van Loan’s proposal were ever implemented, it would be a profound loss for parliamentary democracy in this country. It would cross a line that, however much it has been trampled, is still faintly there: we would be done even with the principle that the legislature and its individual members mattered as something other than pawns of the party leaders. You could argue that a single MP should not be able to prevent the House from passing legislation (consider the use of the filibuster in the United States), but that’s not the situation here. At most, Elizabeth May will have tied up the House for a day or so. I defer here to none other than Joe Oliver, who, during the vote marathon on C-38, acknowledged that the opposition had a right to force those votes and that the country was not imperilled as a result (scroll down to the 7:25pm entry).

Meanwhile, former Liberal house leader Don Boudria says the rules should be changed to limit the amendments that can be proposed at report stage. Of all the ways the House of Commons might be reformed, I’m not sure limiting the ability of the opposition to delay the passage of legislation should be anyone’s priority. The Conservatives apparently aren’t interested. Nor, really, should they be. One day, presumably, they will be in opposition. And someday, one imagines, they will want to delay a piece of legislation. Those members of the government side who were Reform MPs in 1999 will understand this very well.

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