A Christophersonian filibuster - Macleans.ca

A Christophersonian filibuster

The procedural wars over the Fair Elections Act continue


The Procedure and House Affairs committee heard from Pierre Poilievre yesterday morning, after which the committee was scheduled to spend an hour sorting out its own business. At the start of that second hour, NDP MP David Christopherson tabled again his motion setting out the NDP’s preferred parameters for a study of the Fair Elections Act, including committee hearings across the country. And apparently lacking an agreement with the Conservative side about how to proceed, Mr. Christopherson, he of high dudgeon, proceeded to talk out the scheduled second hour.

“I say right now, Chair, at any time in this process until we have some kind of an agreement if the House leader wants to talk publicly, offline, texting, smoke signals, anyway he wants to convey that they’re prepared to compromise then I’m signalling we are receptive to that because this is not the fight that’s important,” Mr. Christopherson explained. “It’s not the primary fight as we see it.”

A rough count from the early transcript shows he committed something in excess of 7,000 words to the official record. Whenever the committee next meets—the House is scheduled to be adjourned next week—the floor will once again be Mr. Christopherson’s and he will be able to continue speaking for as long as he desires.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski lamented that the NDP would turn cross-country hearings into a “gong show.” During QP, Mr. Poilievre graciously suggested to Mr. Christopherson that “the member merely has to provide a list of witnesses and they can all be brought to the committee for testimony.” (Mr. Poilievre also said the committee would “improve” the bill, which again seems to suggest a certain openness to amendment.)

This filibuster (however long it lasts or takes) follows last week’s efforts to delay a time allocation motion and the current stand-off over committee travel.

Asked about rail safety during QP this afternoon, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt complained that the New Democrats had decided to “block … a parliamentary committee from getting real information from real safety experts from around the country”—seemingly a reference to the fact that the Transport committee was caught in yesterday’s denial of travel—and so after QP, Nathan Cullen stood and offered to break the impasse with a motion that the Procedure and House Affairs committee be allowed to travel. Mr. Cullen did not, not surprisingly, receive unanimous consent.

One must always allow for the possibility that the actions of politicians are motivated by politics and it remains to be seen how this struggle and delay will impact the wider debate around the bill and the standing of the parties involved—if the Conservatives agree to cross-country hearings, they increase the opportunity for the NDP to publicize concerns about the bill, if the Conservatives say no to cross-country hearings, they give the NDP an opportunity to complain that they’re avoiding scrutiny or stifling debate—but the Fair Elections Act is at least proving to be an educational survey of parliamentary tactics and the legislative process.