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Parliament Is (Still) Broken

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The incidents that took place last week in Parliament were deeply troubling. However, the actions of the prime minister and the repercussions on NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who is receiving a torrent of online abuse, have overshadowed the deep problems surrounding the functioning of our democracy.

In our parliamentary system, a majority government has enormous powers. Few realize that the position of prime minister in Canada has more power than the President in the United States or, for that matter, any government leader in the G7.

The current government already has the majority of seats and therefore control of the legislative agenda. It can use its majority to limit debate on any given bill and it also has control over the committees studying these bills.

Procedure is the set of weapons being used and time is the currency fought over.

The only powers of the Opposition parties against a majority government are procedural in nature, such as point of orders or points of privilege. Non-government MPs can only bring non-binding motions, with the exception of Private Member's Bills, which seldom ever receive government support.

Over 60 per cent of Canadians did not vote for the current Liberal government, just as over 60 per cent did not vote for Stephen Harper's Conservative government. This reality of our current voting system should require any majority government to genuinely try to get support from the other parties for legislation. It is not always possible, but it should be tried in a genuine, honest way.

This is especially true of sensitive legislation, such as the medical assistance in dying, or any changes in our voting system, which, by their nature, should have multi-party support.

However, if such respect for the role of the Opposition is absent, the House of Commons becomes a battleground, in which the government has an overwhelming advantage. Procedure is the set of weapons being used and time is the currency fought over.

Opposition MPs cannot and will not lay down arms and allow the government do as its wishes.

Many, from across the political spectrum, have said the controversial Liberal Motion No. 6, would be tantamount to a forced unilateral disarmament, which would put all non-Liberal MPs in a procedural straitjacket, preventing them from doing anything except speak when the government permits them to do so.

The threat of this nuclear option, compounded by all the times the government has limited debate in the House created a poisonous atmosphere in the House of Commons.

Blame can certainly be assigned everywhere. But blame games have seldom, if ever, solved anything.

The Opposition, if marginalized by government, will use all the tools at its disposal, to impede the government. It should be so, as a democracy with a subservient opposition is a weakened democracy. Opposition MPs cannot and will not lay down arms and allow the government do as its wishes.

So the ball is in the government's court. After a change in those running government, Parliament is still broken. The government has the power and responsibility to fix it.

The only question is: does it have the will to do so?

Guy Caron, Member of Parliament (NDP) Rimouski-Neigette--Témiscouata--Les Basques

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