Not many people remember the great “pipeline debate” of 1956. It has been, accurately I think, described as “one of the most famous confrontations in Canadian parliamentary history.” It led, I believe, almost directly to the defeat of the very competent, very successful government of Prime Minister Louis St Laurent and the emergence of John Diefenbaker as one of the most disruptive leaders in Canadian history.
The (linked above) Historica Canada article explains that: “Liberal Minister of Trade and Commerce C.D. Howe decided that a pipeline to carry natural gas from Alberta to central Canada was a national necessity. Howe argued that it must run entirely in Canada and deliver to Canadian consumers. The project required very large sums of capital and specialized products and expertise. In 1954 Howe assembled a private syndicate of Canadian and American businessmen to give effect to TransCanada Pipelines, a corporate shell incorporated in 1951; a temporary predominance of the Americans in the syndicate raised charges that the pipeline was a sellout to American interests … [and] … After many vicissitudes, a bill to authorize the pipeline and provide a loan for part of its construction was introduced in May 1956. Social Credit supported it, but the CCF and the Progressive Conservatives attacked the bill from every angle. The CCF preferred public ownership; the Conservatives objected to what they saw as American control. But these substantive concerns were overshadowed by the procedural issue of closure, [a first cousin to time allocation] by which the Liberals placed a strict time limit on debate. As they and the Opposition knew, laying the pipe had to begin by early June or nothing could be done until the next year. The government charged obstruction and the Opposition charged dictatorship, but the bill passed. A 3700 km pipeline was completed from Burstall, Saskatchewan, to Montréal by October 1958, and TransCanada became a principally Canadian-owned company. The debate, however, discredited Howe and the Liberals, and contributed to their defeat in the 1957 general election.“
Now, in order to cover up for their own internal ineptitude, the Trudeau regime puts itself at risk of appearing undemocratic or even downright anti-democratic by using time allocation to ram through a bill which the two opposition parties and some outside observers think needs a lot more discussion. Bill Curry, writing in the Globe and Mail, explains that “Bill C-76 is an omnibus bill that includes items from a previous Liberal government bill as well as new measures that respond to recommendations from Canada’s chief electoral officer … [and] … The legislation would reverse many measures introduced by the previous Conservative government through a Fair Elections Act that critics said would benefit the Conservatives and contribute to reducing voter turnout … [and, further] … Some of the new measures are aimed at addressing growing concerns that fake news on social media or deliberate hacking of computers could be used to sabotage elections or diminish public trust in the results.” The bill also imposes changes to election spending rules that some say the aim of those measures is to neutralize the Conservative Party’s superior financial support from Canadians, even though the Liberals outspent the CPC in the 2015 election campaign. It seems likely that this large (300 page long) bill will not get anything more than a cursory review by the House of Commons before it is passed into law … shades of 1956.
I think there were some mistakes in the Conservatives’ Fair Election Act, but there were also some good, strong points: like tightening the rules on voter identification. The CBC said that “eligible voters would once again be able to use a voter information card to identify themselves at the polling station or be vouched for by another elector.” That’s a step away from good practice and it appears to be aimed at allowing unqualified people to cast ballots because they are more likely to vote Liberal. There is, I think, also some doubt about just how much Bill C-76 will do to stop improper foreign financing of election propaganda by e.g. the shadowy US based Tides Foundation, which seemed aimed, in 2015, at defeating the Conservatives and promoting the Liberals’ green agenda. This is a topic which should receive serious parliamentary scrutiny before C-76 is passed . by the Liberal majority.
I’m not suggesting that using time allocation to stifle debate of Bill C-76 will have the same impact as invoking closure did in 1956 … but it should resonate with Canadians who are concerned about democracy. Even if this bill does correct some of the flaws in the Fair Elections Act, and every honest Conservative will admit there were some, it deserves more than a couple of hours of debate … just because the Liberals were too lazy or too disorganized or simple too inept to bring the bill to thew House in a timely manner. Canadian democracy should not suffer for the inability of Team Trudeau to manage its own programme.