Last night Bill C-51 passed third reading in the House of Commons by a margin of 183-96. This is a disappointment, to say the least. Not that it passed — since the Conservatives have a majority in the House it was always going to pass — but that the Liberals threw their weight behind the bill. Most media outlets are referring to the bill as “deeply controversial” but what they really mean is “bad law.” Bill C-51 is designed to undermine many of our constitutional rights for the convenience of the current government.
Let’s face it — we all know the Conservatives under Stephen Harper are corrupt, cynical manipulators who care only about their own power and perks. Bill C-51 was rammed through for two reasons: First, it makes them look like they’re tough on terrorism during an election year, and since they’re up to their assholes in scandals and have completely flushed the national economy, they’ve got to have something to show off in the hopes that they won’t be completely destroyed during this autumn’s election. Second, the Harper government is very much in the pockets of the oil companies, and Bill C-51 is tailor-made as a weapon to be used, not against terrorists, but against activists.
I’ve written about this before so I’m trying not to repeat myself. What I wrote in the above-linked blog post still stands.
What really disgusts me about the passage of Bill C-51, however, is the fact that the Liberals supported it. Justin Trudeau outright stated that “I do not want this government making political hay out of an issue… as important as security for Canadians.” Translation: They failed to oppose the bill because they didn’t want to be seen as “soft on terror” during an election year.
You know what that is? Cowardice. It’s the only word I can think of for Trudeau’s decision. Had the Liberals opposed the bill it still would have passed, but they could at least have made a stand on principle. I expected the Conservatives to act like greedy, cynical wannabe tyrants because that’s what they are, and now we’ve at least been given a demonstration of the callow, fickle, sheet-trimming attitude of a Trudeau Liberal government. The Liberals have — and let me be very clear on this — lost my vote, probably forever.
Which is a shame, because I rather like the local Liberal candidate. Maryam Monsef ran a fantastic, positive campaign for mayor last autumn, one which I enthusiastically supported and I think she’d do a great job in Parliament… but there’s just no way I can in good conscience support a Liberal government now. I actually feel bad for her that she’s hitched her wagon to a party which has proven, and proven well before the election, to be a hollow shell lacking principle or real values. This country needs a government which will take a tough stance to undo years of Conservative corruption. The Liberals have demonstrated they lack the necessary character to do so… or indeed any character at all. Justin Trudeau is nothing but a famous name and a haircut; our nation needs more leadership than that.
I must admit to enjoying the irony of the Liberals rolling over because they didn’t want the Tories to have a club to beat them with, only to find that NDP have reaped the benefit of being the only party of principle on the Federal scene. Bill C-51 has proven to be extremely unpopular with the Canadian public, and it is going to be a wedge issue during the next election; the voters will, I hope, remember who buckled and who stood up.
Which brings us to the NDP, which has impressed the hell out of me. I have long been a connoisseur of doomed stands made from principle, and Thomas Mulcair gave us one for the books. The NDP, unlike the Liberals, strongly opposed Bill C-51, almost (but not quite) from day one. If there’s a silver lining to this whole situation it’s that the NDP has shown, in an election year, to be the party willing to stand on principle and fight the good fight. Even knowing that they couldn’t defeat the bill outright, they tried to amend the legislation to include more oversight, clearly define the term “terrorism” (without a definition the law can be applied to “whatever the government of the day decides is terrorism”, which is piss-poor jurisprudence and problematic as hell), adopting measures to help communities prevent the spread of radicalism before it starts, and most importantly add a “sunset clause” which would require Parliament to revisit and re-examine the legislation in three years. None of these amendments were even considered by the Conservatives, and the bill was passed without substantial changes from the original draft.
But a stand was been taken, at least. Combine that with Monday’s shocking NDP victory in Alberta, and the news does not bode well for the Canadian Conservative Party. I strongly suspect that this autumn’s election will be a contest between the NDP and the Tories, and the Tories are dragging years of scandal, corruption and now undemocratic actions behind them. Even with the blatant gerrymandering of the so-called Fair Representation Act, I suspect that the Conservatives are sweating a bit when they contemplate Alberta’s “Orange Crush” moment this week.
If the NDP really wants my vote — and the votes of most young people in this country — here’s a list of what I’d like to see in their platform for the next election. (If any of my readers know Thomas Mulcair, by the way, feel free to pass this along.)
1 — The repeal of Bill C-51. Even if the current government was trustworthy, which is isn’t, the potential for the abuse of this law is far too great… and without a sunset clause who’s to say that future governments won’t abuse the process?
2 — Electoral reform, including proportional representation, because it’s clear that first-past-the-post is profoundly broken. I’d also like to see steeper penalties for electoral fraud, although that may be just because I’m one of Dean del Mastro’s “constituents.”
3 — Parliamentary reform, specifically an act outlawing of practice of omnibus bills and guaranteeing that debate cannot be stifled by a House majority.
4 — Environmental protections, including fixing as much of the damage that Harper’s polices have done as possible.
5 — An inquest into missing and murdered Aboriginal women because for fuck’s sakes it’s long past time.
6 — A commitment to diversifying the economy, strengthening the middle class and if necessary, reestablishing protectionist policies to foster domestic growth.
7 — Higher taxes on the 1% and corporations to help address income inequality in this country.
Whether or not the NDP wins this fall, in the long run I strongly suspect that Bill C-51 won’t hold. It’s clearly anti-democratic and contrary to the Charter values of this country, and the current supreme court has proven quite willing to go against the wishes of the Prime Minster’s Office. But in the short term I’m extremely concerned about this bill. I’m worried that, in order to demonstrate his “tough on terror” stance before the election, Harper will instruct his newly-empowered CSIS secret police to come out swinging; I fear that this summer will see a number of arrests made in the name of security to demonstrate that the anti-terror legislation “works.”
Which is, I will admit, a matter of some personal concern for me: Given my background as an activist, a street medic and a nonviolent direct action trainer, I worry more than a bit that I might be on a list somewhere. In the event of another major summit or protest, could I be in for some surveillance? Maybe a bit of “preventative detention” just to make sure I don’t start trouble? I’m not as personally active as I was, but I know people who are still very much involved in civil disobedience and direct action; will they be scrutinized, followed, arrested? A year or two ago I would have laughed at the notion… now it’s not quite so funny.
And that, gods help us, all is Stephen Harper’s legacy: The fear that the government might have us locked up if we step out of line.
October’s federal election can’t come soon enough.