It was a pretty good week in the House Commons. To start with, most members of Parliament stuck around in spite of the hybrid attendance legislation that was pushed through early in the week.
The cynic in me can’t help thinking that many, but not all, of these members concluded they were in Ottawa anyway for the opening of Parliament so they might as well hang in for the abundance of holiday parties, well known in Ottawa circles, before going home. Hopefully I am wrong, but my gut tells me virtual attendance, especially by Government and NDP members, will be much higher in the New Year. It’s simply more convenient and much easier to avoid accountability.
Nevertheless, attendance in Parliament this week when Bill C-4 was introduced was almost at capacity and that is significant.
Bill C-4 is legislation to ban all aspects of conversion therapy, a repugnant practice, in my view, intended to try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s hard to believe that there are those that think that is either possible or appropriate, but some do, especially on the far right. To the best of my knowledge (and I have looked into this carefully), the vast majority of individuals come wired the way they are. They do not choose their sexuality.
If you doubt me on this, ask yourself how you would feel if confronted with a requirement to change your own sexuality. To me it would be nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment. Conversion therapy should have been banned decades ago, as soon as it raised its ugly head.
And so, it was a momentous moment in Parliament this past week when every member of all political stripes voted to proceed to pass Bill C-4 without amendments and without debate. It required unanimous consent. A single member of Parliament could have shot it down. This could not have occurred even a year ago, and in fact did not as a weaker version of conversion therapy legislation brought forward by the Liberals died on the table.
What is also interesting about the unanimous consent to proceed with Bill C-4 is the strategy that was developed to allow it to happen. It was a Conservative strategy and although significantly downplayed by much of the mainstream media, an important indicator that Erin O’Toole has taken control of his caucus and denied the Liberals and NDP the opportunity to use the conversion therapy legislation as a wedge issue against the Conservatives.
This would not have been an easy task for the Tory leader. The reality is that he has a handful of far-right members in his caucus who hold strong views on social issues and are not shy about expressing them. They are not the mainstream of his caucus, but O’Toole could not get unanimous consent without their cooperation. However, he managed to accomplish that.
Erin O’Toole also announced that his caucus would be allowed an open vote, rather than a whipped vote on Bill C-4. He was criticized for this, but it not only was a false flag to the government but it prevented any member of his caucus from saying they were forced to agree to unanimous consent.
Now the Conservatives were able to turn the table on the Liberals. To their complete surprise, and to that of the NDP, it was a Conservative, Shadow Minister of Justice Rob Moore, and not the actual Liberal Justice Minister, that stood in the House and moved unanimous consent to proceed with approving Government Bill C-4 without debate or amendment.
It was a unique moment in the House of Commons. When the motion passed unanimously, the place erupted. First, there was long and sustained applause by all parties, noticeably avoided by a few far-right Conservatives like Leslyn Lewis who sat on their hands, but they did not buck their leader and deny unanimous consent.
Then it was fun to watch members cross the floor, congratulate each other, shake hands and even hug their opposite numbers. With the exception of masks, there were no COVID protocols observed. Just joy in being able to accomplish something important together. It was an example of the kind of community that get things done, much better in my view than a virtual Parliament.
It is important to note that none of this would have happened without strong leadership from Erin O’Toole. There will be those who disagree with that, but without that leadership the C-4 legislation would have had to make its way through committee and the House with endless acrimony, divisiveness, and debate.
Erin O’Toole still has much to do to solidify his position as leader of the Conservative Party and provide a reasonable alternative to the Trudeau Government, but in relation to Bill C-4 he has made a good start.
I do wonder why much of the media is so much more focused on attacking Erin O’Toole as Opposition leader than they are in holding the Trudeau Government accountable. They appear to revel in challenges O’Toole faces. Former CTV journalist Alan Fryer, perhaps with tongue in cheek, put it this way:
“In these perilous and troubled times, let’s take a moment to give thanks for a government-subsidized press more determined than ever to hold the Opposition to account.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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