The Harper government’s determination to limit debate on its jam-packed legislative agenda had Quebec politicians fuming and Ottawa politicos twittering on Thursday over an MP’s foul-fingered rant of protest.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier was furious when he learned that the Conservatives planned to end debate on Bill C-10, the crime bill that includes a broad swath of measures to limit bail and parole and to toughen sentences for young and adult offenders.
The Quebec government was hoping the bill could be softened and the provinces could receive compensation for having to house more criminals in jails.
“Today, we are not witnessing a move that is tough on crime but rather one that is tough on democracy,” Mr. Fournier said. “…Quebec showed that C-10 would increase repeat offenders and the number of victims, but the federal government doesn’t want to know.”
He vowed that Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government would do everything in its power to preserve the province’s more rehabilitative approach to young offenders, although it isn’t clear what options Quebec or any other province might have to limit the impact of the new laws once they are passed.
In a letter to Mr. Fournier released on Thursday evening, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson maintained that “the principles of rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons will continue to serve as the basis of Canada’s youth justice system.”
However, while assuring Mr. Fournier that the Conservatives had introduced amendments to the act to take Quebec’s concerns into account, tougher sentences for some young criminals “are necessary to protect society from violent and dangerous offenders,” Mr. Nicholson wrote.
The Conservatives have been limiting debate on a bevy of bills, hoping to get the bulk of its election platform passed into law before the House rises for the winter break. As well as the crime bill, legislation to end the gun registry, scrap the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly, and add more seats to the House of Commons, as well as two budget bills, have all been subject to time allocation.
Ending debate on the budget legislation prompted some profanity-laced tweets this week from New Democratic MP Pat Martin, who accused the Conservatives of using “jackboot” tactics to ram their agenda through Parliament.
The tweets “are a clear reflection of the frustration we’re all feeling,” Opposition House Leader Joe Comartin said. “Pat just expressed it more vigorously than the rest of us have.”
No Canadian government has imposed closure on so many bills in such a short time, he said.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan responded that the bills were debated in previous minority Parliaments and were part of the Conservative election platform, meaning the majority government has a clear mandate.
“Canadians have asked us to deliver on these, and we are delivering on them,” he said in an interview.
He added that other bills, such as copyright and human smuggling legislation, are proceeding without time limits.
But mounting criticism of the Conservatives’ pressure tactics resulted in at least a partial concession on Thursday night, as the government and opposition parties agreed to a maximum of two more days of debate on the crime bill next week before it leaves the justice committee and returns to the House for third and final reading.
As government and opposition MPs traded accusations at the committee, Conservative MP Brian Jean, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and NDP MP Jack Harris huddled to hash out the terms of the compromise.
“This was a wrong-headed way to go, and we’ll now have opportunity to prepare for what will be a lengthy session on Tuesday and Wednesday” Mr. Harris explained.