Are Liberals really “defying Trudeau” .. esp looking back to John A. Macdonald etc, etc, etc, 1873—1896?

Mar 10th, 2017 | By | Category: In Brief

PM Justin Trudeau with some backbenchers in background, Canadian House of Commons, January 25, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters).

[UPDATED MARCH 11]. Perhaps with half their minds on reported divisions among US Republicans over the new “Trumpcare” health bill in Washington, DC, our Canadian mainstream media have lately been giving we folks back home such headlines as :

* “Liberals defy Trudeau, approve genetic testing bill he calls unconstitutional” (CTV NEWS) ;

* “Liberal backbenchers defy cabinet wishes and vote to enact genetic discrimination law … Insurance industry opposed to bill making it illegal to demand the results of genetic tests” (CBC NEWS) ;

* “Liberal backbenchers vote against Trudeau, pass law banning genetic discrimination” (VANCOUVER SUN) ;

* “DISCRIMINATION GÉNÉTIQUE … Les députés libéraux servent une rebuffade à Trudeau” (LE DEVOIR).

Just a few further points : to start with, it was a so-called “free vote” in the Canadian House of Commons. MPs were not expected to vote as party whips instructed. So none of the Liberals who voted against the Trudeau cabinet’s declared position on the issue were breaking any rules.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant shepherded the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, also known as Bill S-201, through Canadian House of Commons. (SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS).

Second, as reported by the Canadian Press, the “bill passed by a vote of 222-60.”

There are 338 seats in the current House, five of which are vacant at the moment, 180 current Liberal MPs, and 30 members of the cabinet. Pondering all these numbers, it seems reasonable to guess that some democratic majority of Liberal MPs present supported the bill. (UPDATE MARCH 11 : And see Aaron Wherry on “What happens when Liberal backbenchers rise up” for further details here.)

Meanwhile, out of respect for the “Insurance industry opposed to bill making it illegal to demand the results of genetic tests,” let’s suppose the Trudeau cabinet also opposed the bill and officially advised its Liberal backbenchers to do the same.

Of course, the executive branch did not actually say it was bowing to the insurance industry lobby. It claimed it opposed the bill because addressing such matters in Ottawa intruded on provincial powers, under the Constitution Act, 1867.

(And Canada’s first aboriginal/indigenous justice minister, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, wrote to provincial premiers, urging them to urge their federal MPs to oppose the bill on constitutional grounds.)

So … the insurance industry can take some heart from the Trudeau cabinet’s opposition – and feel that any contributions of whatever sort to the Liberal Party of Canada it may have ever made were not altogether in vain.

Print of the Battle of Batoche during Louis Riel’s ill-fated Northwest Rebellion of 1885, based on sketches by Sergeant Grundy and others, published by Grip Printing & Publishing Co. in Toronto.

At the same time, democracy has been served by the ultimate passing of a bill that is almost certainly in the interests of the great majority of the people of Canada.

If advised that this is just how democracy works in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, some might say “And what is wrong with that?” And we’d find it hard to disagree ourselves.

We felt strengthened in this position when, just after we read about these contemporary Ottawa adventures, we finally received the next installment of Randall White’s work-in-progress, tentatively entitled Children of the Global Village – Canada in the 21st Century : Tales about the history that matters.

If you go to our “Long Journey to a Canadian Republic”Â page, on the bar above (or just CLICK HERE), you will find a short introduction to the project, along with the “Prologue : too much geography.”

This is followed by links to the currently completed six chapters in Part I, four  chapters in Part II, and the first chapter in Part III on the old Dominion of Canada. You will now find as well a link to Part III, Chapter 2 : “Arduous Destiny : Canada’s alternative to the Great Barbecue, 1873-1896.”

Once again we caught up with Dr. White and his irresistible business manager at the Tim Horton’s across from Kew Gardens in Toronto. And he explained :

“This chapter, which has been far too long coming, has a lot to do with the high tide of John A. Macdonald’s prime ministerial career, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Battle of Batoche, and the tragic hanging of Louis Riel on a cold November morning in Regina, 1885.”

He went on : “Our politicians today could still learn something from this era, I think. At least individual MPs not in cabinets had more freedom then, in most cases. And the system still worked well enough. In any case, I promise the next Chapter 3 – on ‘Sunny Ways : Imperial Preference, New Boom, and Last Best West, 1896—1911’ –  will not take so long.” (That at least is what the author hopes.)

UPDATE MARCH 11: According to an article on Canada’s new Genetic Non-Discrimination Act in the online Science magazine : “To delay and potentially kill the legislation, Trudeau’s government is considering not sending the bill to the governor-general (a tactic that doesn’t appear to have been used since the 1920s), and instead asking Canada’s Supreme Court to rule on the bill’s constitutionality. That process could take up to 2 years.”  We sympathize with retired Liberal Senator James Cowan, “the bill’s original sponsor,” who “says he can’t fathom the rationale behind the government’s stance. ‘Is it really up to the government of Canada to defend provincial jurisdiction, or the insurance industry?’” We still wonder : how serious is the cabinet about its declared position? Why hold a free vote in the first place if you are in fact deadly serious?  (And note too, according to the Science magazine article : “More than 100 Liberal members voted for the bill” — out of a total of 180, 30 of whom are in the cabinet!)

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