The Commons: In a state of “suspended animation”

The ongoing saga of a round-the-clock filibuster

Shortly after the clock passed midnight, a dozen Conservatives sang happy birthday to their colleague, David Sweet. His birthday had actually just passed—he was born on June 24, 1957—so the gesture was a bit belated. But perhaps owing to the pizza party the Prime Minister had apparently been hosting, the government side seemed a jovial bunch, eager to find fun wherever it could be found.

As luck would have it, they had all been summoned to the House of Commons at this late hour for a vote—specifically on an NDP-authored motion to delay moving forward with Bill C-6 for another six months. The official filibustering of this particular piece of particularly contentious legislation had commenced some 27 hours earlier. What began on Thursday was now moving into Saturday. Except that, so far as the reality within these four walls is measured, with the House having not yet adjourned for the day, this was still Thursday. Indeed, there in the middle of the room sat the four-sided calendar, reminding all who could see it that here they remained trapped in June 23.

With the Conservatives turned out almost entirely and with the half dozen Liberals who’d shown up going with the government, the motion was soundly defeated by a count of 160 to 74. The Conservatives duly mocked the New Democrats for not filling all their assigned seats. In fairness to the official opposition, in light of their demonstrations and protestations these last few days, laziness is not something of which they can easily be accused.

The government side’s Tom Lukiwski stood then to beg the New Democrats to consider now relenting. He accused the New Democrats of attempting to “obfuscate and delay,” a complaint that was met with a round of happy desk-thumping from the opposition. The country could not, he declared, afford any further delay. Alas, the NDP’s Chris Charlton seemed not the least bit persuaded as she proceeded to review why her side felt it necessary to keep everyone here. This was about the right to organize and free collective bargaining and the right to strike, she said. Not to mention, wages, working conditions and pensions.

After some heckling and laughing, the Conservatives mostly lost interest, talking amongst themselves in small groups as Ms. Charlton went on. When the din became too loud, the Speaker called for order. As Ms. Charlton finished up, a half dozen Conservatives crowded around Ben Lobb’s laptop to watch something that was apparently quite amusing.

When it came round to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux’s turn, he wondered, as Liberals had done repeatedly over the previous 27 hours, if the NDP might be ready to bring forward the amendments it wishes to make to the legislation in question. The Liberals are making a great show of trying to be the adults in the room, mostly without discernible result. And here, again, the New Democrats demurred.

At approximately 12:43am, the Prime Minister rose from his seat, bowed towards the Speaker’s chair and crossed the aisle to sit beside Jack Layton. They proceeded to talk and gesture and smile and laugh. At one point, Mr. Layton reached over and touched Mr. Harper’s arm. They seemed in friendly discussion about something or other (a deal perhaps?).

At approximately 12:48am, the Prime Minister reached over and touched Mr. Layton’s arm, then rose, bowed towards the Speaker’s chair and crossed back over to the government side. He and Mr. Layton then respectively exited the chamber.

Sometime around one o’clock, the Speaker called on Eve Peclet, the 23-year-old former community activist and reality show contestant with a law degree. If memory serves, it was Ms. Peclet who was spotted skipping up the row to her seat on Parliament’s first day back this month.

Here she lit up the air around her, enunciating each syllable in a thick accent and crying her concerns about democracy and labour and the hard-working mail carrier across the aisle. She yelled and stared down her hecklers and jabbed her desk quite loudly. Those remaining on the Conservative side stopped whatever they were doing to watch. Olivia Chow wandered in from the opposition lobby to stand and watch, looking positively delighted with what she saw. When Ms. Peclet finished, removing her glasses for her final words, her friends on the NDP side rose to applaud. She broke into a great grin and laughed and even clapped a little for herself.

In response, Gary Goodyear stood to note that he’d received emails from postal workers who were not entirely supportive of their union. Members have, at regular intervals, paused throughout this debate to read from their inboxes. Oddly, the Conservatives seem only to receive messages supportive of the Conservative position, while the New Democrats only receive notes expressing support for the NDP position.

Shortly thereafter, the NDP’s Randall Garrison began detailing the life story and political principles of J.S. Woodsworth. And then there was some debate over to what degree the present day’s economic situation could be compared to that of the 1920s and where precisely to draw the poverty line.

“What this dispute is really about, what this legislation is about,” the NDP’s Jinny Sims declared at one point, “is the kind of Canada we want.”

Indeed, in short order there was some discussion of the Canadian Wheat Board, the NDP government that oversaw the province of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, the Conservative government that oversaw the province of Ontario from 1995 to 2002, the E. coli breakout in Walkerton in May 2000 and, of course, the Gomery commission. (Although, in fairness, it should be noted that the discussion remained mostly, if repetitively, on point and New Democrats remained, despite the hour, ferociously engaged.)

Conservative Colin Carrie stood and lamented for all of this. A fellow from the NDP helpfully advised that this could all be brought to a conclusion if the government would simply advise Canada Post to end its lockout of postal workers. And so we arrived back at precisely where we’d begun.

It was here that Elizabeth May, seated in the far corner for all of this, stood and attempted a sort of summation. A half dozen spectators remained in the visitors gallery above her. The clock stood around 2am.

She complimented all members on their sense of duty, even if she lamented for the regular outbreaks of partisanship. Everyone, she figured, wanted to see mail delivery resumed. One side thinks the best way to do that is to pass Bill C-6. The other side thinks the best way to do that is to fight Bill C-6. And so, she figured, perhaps the way forward was an amended Bill C-6.

In response, of course, the Conservative Michael Chong stood to lament for the opposition side and the NDP’s Peter Julian stood to complain of the government side. And so we remained in, as Ms. May put it, a state of “suspended animation.”

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