NDP MPs pose with a pile of paper, for democracy

NDP MPs pose with a stack of paper to protest the government's use of time allocation to limit debate in the House of Commons

CP/Adrian Wyld

CP/Adrian Wyld

Yesterday, for the 100th time in this Parliament, an end was imposed on a debate in the House of Commons. NDP MPs marked the occasion with a large stack of paper—apparently a pile constructed of every bill for which debate has been somehow constrained.

While it might be generally agreed that the debate of each measure and issue that comes before the House must be concluded at some point, there is inevitably bound to be disagreement about what constitutes an appropriate amount of discussion. As I wrote a year ago, in previous parliaments this was often settled via negotiation between the parties in the House, but mutual agreement has now been replaced entirely by government imposition. The government claims it is moving things along while still allowing plenty of time for debate. The opposition parties, particularly the NDP, claim the government is trampling our parliamentary democracy. The Conservatives and the Liberals have suggested the NDP is unco-operative in reaching agreement. The New Democrats put the blame entirely on the Conservatives.

Whatever has been happening in the weekly meetings of House leaders and however we got to the point of the routine use of guillotine motions in the House of Commons, it has resulted in a profound waste of time. Each motion of time allocation, the measure most often used by the government to curtail debate, is accompanied by a 30-minute debate and then a recorded vote. As a result, the 41st Parliament has spent something like 90 hours—roughly the equivalent of 10 full sitting days—debating and voting on how much time to spend debating. That is perhaps the epitome of dysfunction.

All of which at least resulted yesterday in the mildly entertaining spectacle of NDP MPs posing with a large stack of paper. After NDP House leader Peter Julian had spoken beside the stack in a news conference outside the House, the pile was apparently wheeled into the opposition lobby. Props are banned in the House of Commons, but social media remains blessedly unconstrained. And so began the tweets, compiled here for posterity and for the purposes of deciding who posed best (personally, I think Robert Aubin did the best job of projecting outrage—it’s all in the eyes).