Robyn Benson, PSAC

Late again

clock back.jpg

“Public service unions bring labour appeal to Parliament—but miss the deadline,” screams the headline in the Ottawa Citizen, as though we’d all slept in. That was for the parliamentary committee hearing on omnibus anti-union Bill C-4, which guts federal public service union rights, and will force over a million workers to perform unsafe work.

You need to read the story itself to learn that we were all quite prepared, and on time, too, thank you, there to speak against the Harper government’s plans to roll back fifty years or so of labour legislation. Problem was, they slotted us in to speak to the committee when the actual deadline for amendments to the Bill has passed—a bit like being called to testify at a trial after the jury has already started deliberating. They gave us all a listen, but that’s not the point: witnesses are normally called before a parliamentary committee examining draft legislation, to garner information and new ideas. Doing so is meant to make a positive contribution to the clause-by-clause discussions at committee. But that is part of a fast-disappearing cooperative process when parliamentary committees were more than a government rubber stamp.

In the past, when the Harper government was a minority one, Conservative MPs were issued a guidebook on how to disrupt committee proceedings. They followed instructions to the letter. When the Conservatives finally achieved majority government in 2011, they ensured that more committee meetings would be held in cameraaway from the public’s prying eyes. Why? Otherwise there’d be too much debate, according to government House Leader Peter Van Loan. Can’t have that.

The Conservatives no longer have to disrupt committees. Now they’re in the majority, they’ve proceeded to make most of them just as irrelevant as Parliament itself has become. The Opposition can complain about it, but it has no power to make the government listen, much less change its mind on anything. It’s been reduced to not much more than an unwilling audience. Gigantic, flawed omnibus bills are jammed through the House of Commons without a word being changed. When Parliament gets in the way, MPs are sent home. So abuse of power in the committees, then, is just par for the course.

We said our piece, as it was our duty to do—before we left the room to go get some real work done. And yes, we were late, even though we all showed up on time. It’s easy to be late when the folks in charge keep turning back the clocks.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on December 4, 2013 8:00 AM.

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