What do same-sex marriage and the federal budget have in common? We can’t figure it out either, but both issues are being sucked into the vortex of high parliamentary drama.
Political parties (even renegade individuals within political parties) are exploiting both issues to indulge their political grandstanding. Threats are being conveyed that the government may be brought down over either issue.
This political intrigue consists largely of delay tactics. Citing democracy, accountability and any other imaginable claim to the moral high-ground, a number of politicians have become professional stallers. Ostensibly to make sure everyone has had a chance for vigorous debate, these foot-draggers now want to study these issues for, well - maybe indefinitely.
The Conservatives and their allies in the Bloc Québécois are holding up the federal budget in an obvious attempt to undermine the NDP-Liberal deal that makes investments in housing, the environment and our social infrastructure. If they succeed, they could bring the country to the brink of another vote of confidence in the House of Commons and an election Canadians clearly do not want.
By insisting that the extra spending negotiated by the Liberals and NDP must be painstakingly debated, the Conservatives and Bloc portray their stalling tactics as concern about fiscal discipline. Conservatives in particular are looking a little suspect on their claims of fiscal prudence: they always seem to think that there is plenty of cash for tax cuts, but suddenly the cupboard is bare when money is about to be earmarked for social programs. It’s even more curious that Conservative MPs, including the party’s leader, traveled the country prior to the election-that-never-was, assuring child care advocates, municipalities, provinces and others that they would go ahead with most of the spending promises. Good enough to promise, but not good enough to follow through on?
Stalling stunts are not just confined to the Federal Budget—they’re also popular when it comes to equal marriage. Opponents of extending civil marriage rights to all Canadians are complaining bitterly that this issue is being fast-tracked. Two years later -- after eight court decisions, one Supreme Court reference, hundreds of witnesses, one election campaign and three votes in Parliament - it makes us wonder how they define “fast-track.” At the rate these MPs seem to want to move, we would still be waiting for women to get the vote.
The only way to turn back the clock on equal marriage rights – which already exist in seven provinces and one territory – is for MPs to set aside court decisions and invoke the Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter of Rights. But since that option is politically unpalatable, these MPs are simply stalling for time by prolonging a debate that has already been rerun many times over.
And the budget? Making a big deal about the affordability of the amended budget is a red herring. All four of the independent forecasters who report to the House of Commons finance committee agree that there is enough money to fund the NDP amendments- without risking a deficit.
These stalling stunts are doing nothing to enhance the battered credibility of politicians. Behind the charade of these demands for ever more debate, there isn’t an undecided MP in the House when it comes to equal marriage. Or the budget. Our esteem for politicians would be greatly improved if they would just vote on the bills, and move on to all the other issues facing Canadians.
Alex Munter is the National Co-ordinator of Canadians For Equal Marriage. Ellen Russell is Senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.