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What You Didn't Know About M-103

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This piece originally appeared in the Toronto Sun.

I often hear from people across the country is that they long for a balanced and reasonable approach to government. I don't profess to have all the answers, but I learned in the military that part of being a leader is leveraging your experience, while also listening and learning from others when planning a way forward.

Is it possible, however, to be "balanced and reasonable" in an age of Twitter fights, grand-standing and photo-ops?

This question came to mind in recent weeks on the issue of Motion 103. How did a non-binding motion that some claim is simply about discrimination become so politicized?

Motion 103 did not come from a genuine desire to have a serious debate on discrimination in the House of Commons. The origin of Motion 103 is found in the e-Petition on which it is based. This seems to have been missed by many observers who think this motion was brought after the terrible attack on the mosque in Quebec.

E-Petition 411 on the Islamic faith, its separation from radical Islam and the condemnation of all forms of Islamophobia came to the attention of Members of Parliament in October 2016 when the leader of the NDP surprised the House and tried to seek unanimous consent to table this petition.

Unanimous consent is almost never given in the House on any issue let alone an e-petition that most of the MPs had never read. When denied, the NDP Leader stormed out of the Commons into the waiting TV cameras and decried the denial of unanimous consent as racism. This was a political stunt of the highest order.

The Prime Minister's Office witnessed the Mulcair stunt and the accusations he leveled at the Conservatives as a result. In the weeks that followed, the parties negotiated the acceptance of the e-petition in a more regular way and tried to take the political posturing out of a discussion of discrimination.

But by the time the rancour over the e-petition had passed, Trudeau's office already had a plan in action.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that M-103 was not the direct extension of these shameful political games. Motion 103 was tabled by MP Iqra Khalid on the same day in December that the e-petition was finally tabled in the House of Commons and she incorporated the e-petition directly into the motion.

As the only Conservative Leadership candidate to have spoken in the House of Commons in the last year on the importance of safeguarding free speech alongside the defence of religious freedom, I personally called MP Khalid to try and de-politicize this debate.

I told her I thought the games played by the NDP and Liberals detracted from a serious discussion on an issue that I know she cares about. Unfortunately, despite a good discussion between two parliamentarians of different stripes, my hopes for a compromise or amendment were dashed when she told me she would have to discuss my proposals with the PMO. To me, that said it all.

When I stood to vote against M-103, I did so disappointed that a Prime Minister's Office that markets itself on "sunny ways" appears to revel in dividing Canadians.

Erin Michael O'Toole is the MP for Durham and served as Minister of Veterans Affairs. He is a retired Royal Canadian Air Force officer, lawyer and candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

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