OTTAWA - Procedural tactics by the NDP in the House of Commons managed to postpone a final vote on the Conservative government's sweeping crime bill late Wednesday.
The stalling tactics mean Bill C-10 likely won't come to a final vote until early next week — a perhaps fitting end-game for a bill that has attracted no end of partisan acrimony in parliament.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson accused New Democrats of being more interested in procedural games than what he called doing the right thing for Canadians.
"All you hear from them: 'we don't like the procedure, we had an amendment here that we wanted.' I say, c'mon, let's get on with it, let's do the right thing for the people of this country," Nicholson shouted in the Commons during a heated exchange Wednesday evening.
The omnibus legislation, which includes nine, separate crime-related bills on a wide range of issues, was a key plank in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's re-election campaign last spring.
The Conservatives promised to pass the bill within 100 sitting days of the new parliament, and should still easily meet that target despite the momentary delay.
The NDP gamesmanship, however, spoiled the government's carefully orchestrated communications plan, which included flying Nicholson, a Conservative senator and junior cabinet minister Julian Fantino to Woodbridge, Ont., earlier Wednesday for a news conference with high-profile victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy.
"Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to crack down on child predators and violent drug traffickers," Nicholson said in Woodbridge.
Conservatives, victims rights advocates, some police organizations and some addictions organizations maintain the measures will lead to safer communities and fewer victims of crime.
But the government itself has never set a measurable target for assessing crime reduction during a period when Canadian crime rates have generally fallen to their lowest level since the early 1970s.
"We believe that eventually the crime rate will continue to proceed in the right direction," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said last September.
The bill's many critics — including former tough-on-crime crusaders in the United States — say bitter experience shows that the move to mandatory minimum sentences, longer jail terms, less judicial discretion and harsher treatment of minors won't increase public safety but will prove costly.
Questions over the cost of crime measures — and the government's unwillingness or inability to provide a detailed budget — helped spark the contempt-of-parliament charges that led to last spring's election, which the Conservatives turned into a majority mandate.
It is difficult to overstate how politicized criminal justice policy has become in Ottawa over the last eight years.
Jack Harris, the NDP justice critic, noted Wednesday that his party fully supports new laws that deal with a range of sexual offences against minors — and that those measures could have been passed months ago had they not been lumped in with contentious reforms to drug laws and the handling of young offenders.
Most seriously, Harris said testimony from a range of experts suggests many of the measures in the omnibus crime bill will actually make society less safe.
The Conservatives simply ignore the experience of other jurisdictions, especially American states, he said, where tough-on-crime policies have been tried and failed and are now being repealed.
"They don't do benchmarks. They don't do evidence. They don't even listen to Statistics Canada," said Harris.
"They don't even know what this is going to cost and they certainly don't know the consequences because they didn't listen to the experts at all."
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