A political opportunity
My former colleague Debbie Gyapong is becoming an increasingly indispensable read. Unlike most bloggers, Debbie does real on-the-ground reporting. Her scoop -- on video, no less -- that Liberal MP Dan McTeague has come out in support of Keith Martin's private member's motion to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to excise the abusive section 13 thought crimes provision, is important reporting.
(It is a sign of deep dysfunction that in a Parliamentary Press Gallery with about 200 members, it's left to an independent like Debbie to ask the only questions MPs are asked on this matter. I'm impressed with the comprehensive treatment that Canada's Op-Ed writers and talk show hosts have given the subject, but they are in the opinion business. What about the news reporting business? Other than a factually inaccurate smear by Joan Bryden, I haven't seen much news reporting on the subject.)
I have spoken with a handful of cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries and PMO staff over the past two months, and although I've detected strong moral support, the overriding response was that no meaningful changes were possible in the run-up to the federal election that was expected this month. Opening up new and potentially troublesome issues was not part of the Tory election plan; the phrase I kept hearing was "lock down".
Well, Stephane Dion decided to step back from the brink and, despite some overheated, Ottawa-only not-quite-scandals, it's a safe bet that there will be no election for at least six months, perhaps a year. Were it not for the fact that the Harper Conservatives have actually legislated a fixed election date, Harper's minority government might last indefinitely.
All of which means the Tories can put election planning on the back burner, and start governing again. It's actually quite amazing what they have passed into law, given their very slender minority. From beefing up the military to cutting taxes to marginalizing the Senate to toughening up the criminal justice system -- let alone extending the Afghan mission -- they've governed more forcefully than most majority governments do.
Which means that, in the months ahead, I think it is a distinct possibility that the reticence of the government on the subject of abusive human rights commissions will give way to action. That prediction is infused with hope and personal interest, of course. But, remember, this is the government that took on other politically correct sacred cows, from the Court Challenges Program to the Canadian Wheat Board.
It's time to fire up the e-mails again, and press Tory MPs to make the Keith Martin-Dan McTeague proposition a bi-partisan one. Two months ago, I thought that to amend the Act would be controversial. But with support from across the entire political spectrum, ranging from Eye Weekly, the Toronto Star, PEN Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the CBC's Rex Murphy, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Noam Chomsky(!) and a dozen metropolitan dailies, this should be a political slam-dunk.
The first stage in political reform -- the denormalization of these commissions -- is well under way. I predict we'll have good news on the second front -- political action -- before the year is out. What do you think?