This is an excerpt from the Christmas letter from Green Party leader Elizabeth May to her supporters: What I see daily as an MP is routine contempt for all our Parliamentary institutions. Bills are forced through with time allocations, breaking all historical records for shutting down debate. In the 40 year period from 1917-1957, I found seven examples of time allocation. In the last two years, it has happened 50 times.
The abuse of process in massive omnibus bills, also forced through with limited debate, without a single amendment being allowed, is also contempt of the legislative process itself.
When I had worked in the Office of the Minister of Environment in the 1980s, all the bills that went through the House were amended. Some of the government bills, such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act were substantially changed through helpful amendments proposed by opposition MPs.
No longer. Somehow Stephen Harper seems to think that even the slightest amendment to a government bill is a political defeat which he will not tolerate. What used to be largely non-partisan exercises – the review of bills, listening to expert witnesses and citizen groups, to consider improvements – has degenerated into a scripted exercise, an extension of the non-stop partisan warfare. It is offensive to every principle of democratic governance that the spring 2012 omnibus budget bill, C-38 – a monstrous assault on decades of environmental law – all 440 pages, attacking, gutting and repealing 70 other pieces of legislation was passed without a single change between First Reading and Royal Assent. Even drafting errors that were spotted were left intact – and had to be corrected by later government legislation.
Another feature of the current administration is Mr. Harper’s systematic assault on evidence based decision making. The suppression of evidence, the lack of proper background even for the fiscal information in support of budget decisions, is a contempt of Parliament. Our system rests on fundamental principles: government is only legitimate by consent of the governed. Parliament is supreme. And Parliament must control the public purse.
The system has been turned on its head. The Prime Minister, and his political staff, assembled in a fortress called the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), make all the decisions. It dictates to Conservative MPs what they say and how they vote. As was noted recently in an article by former Senator Lowell Murray (Sept 11, 2013, Globe and Mail), “Parliament is not even in the picture.” All decisions are made in the Prime Minister’s office where a completely non-transparent $10 million/year operation exists to enhance the power-base for the Conservatives.
Elizabeth May; MP, Saanich–Gulf Islands; Leader of the Green Party of Canada