Democracy at Committees, not at BBQ’s.

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Parliamentary Democracy during majority governments are sometimes referred to as ‘friendly dictatorships.’ The process of government continues but at the end of the day most bills that the government wishes to pass get passed. In minority governments the process tends to hold true, until the opposition feels there is enough justification for them topple the government. But something changes dramatically in the process of passing bills. Committees become important, the fact that they aren’t important during majority governments is because the majority can pass the bill effectively with no input (as they also control most committees) but in a minority this is not the case.As wikipedia puts it:

Each bill goes through a number of stages in each House. The first stage, known as the first reading, is purely formal. At the ensuing second reading, the general principles of the bill are debated; though a rejection is possible, it is not common in the case of government bills.Next, the bill is sent by the House in question to one of several different committees. Most often, the bill is committed to a Standing Committee, a body of members or senators which specializes in a particular subject (such as foreign affairs). The committee may examine witnesses, Ministers, and experts, debate the bill, and recommend amendments. The bill may also be committed to the Committee of the Whole, a body which consists, as the name suggests, of all the members of the House in question. Finally, the bill could be referred to an ad hoc committee established solely to review the piece of legislation in question. Each chamber has their own procedure for dealing with this, with the Senate establishing special committees, which function like most other committees, and the House of Commons establishing legislative committees. A legislative committee is an ad hoc committee established to consider a piece of legislation, but the Chair is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and is normally one of his deputies.

So in other words, government introduces bill to house, in principal it passes (i.e. House agrees to general broad strokes of Bill, ie. Bill needed on subject) . Then bill goes to committee for discussion, Clause reviews, possible amendment, public consultation, Minister interview, etc. then bill is either sent back to house for third reading or its is adjusted and sent to parliament for a first reading (and the process recycles itself.) This process is why I take issues with Micahael Geist statements (that are sounding more shrill each week) about Jim Prentice avoiding discussing Bill C-61.

Just prior to the release of the bill, I posted an “unofficial” backgrounder that noted that Prentice was hoping to shuffle the bill to the committee so that he would not have to deal with it all summer long.

If anything this was a gift to people. It gave an entire summer for people to read the bill and figure out what they don’t like about it before. He could have just as easily introduced it the third week of September and had it passed by early November. And now ‘the i told you so’ from Michael Geist.

Prentice is now hoping to simply not answer questions by claiming that there will be an opportunity to debate the bill at committee.  In this exchange with Jan Rubak, Prentice is asked:Question: Canadians have a hundred questions about the Copyright reform bill. Are you going to actually answer them straight-out sometime soon?Prentice: Well there’ll be opportunity at the Parliamentary committee to debate all of those.In other words, Prentice does not plan to answer questions about Bill C-61.  Having previously hung up on interviewers, he now hopes to hide behind a committee despite the fact that the bill has not even been referred to committee yet.

As Michael well knows, it will be referred to a committee by the speaker of the house (a Liberal), all bills (every single one) are, that’s the process, just because it hasn’t yet doesn’t mean it won’t be. Implying that he’s shirking his duty to discuss it by saying that specific points will be discussed at committee is a bit disingenuous, he’ll be called to testify before them. If he does not go i would be shocked.The committee he’ll be at will most likely be the Standing Committee on Industry, Science & Technology. So there will be a chance for consultation, clause discussions, etc.  Since the conservatives are a minority on said committee I would encourage those opposed to provisions in the bill to work harder to actually get to the opposition committee members. To some extent I think this is Michael Geists angle here, then he can go and be the industry expert the MSM use for every discussion. His entitling Bill C-61 the Canadian DMCA was a great marketing play imho.By my view of what I’m seeing on the hill today, nearly every bill the conservatives have introduced has been amended in committee since the PM Harper took office.  There are exceptions, but I’d say we’re across the 70% mark here. That’s pretty good, committees are where a lot of grunt work gets done and where MP’s usually pay attention to constituents who voice concerns, it shows that you’re an engaged, and understand the process. I’d encourage those with views on C-61 to talk to these people. I think chasing the industry minister around the BBQ circuit this summer is silly and a waste of peoples time and for some reason this is Michaels way trumpeting his view that the gvernment is not reading his blog. The committee is where the Battle should take place and where individual MP’s who are not national icons usually stop to discuss and hear views. I think the rehetoirc should get toned down and a concerted effort placed there if people are hoping to make any changes. Just my two cents.

The Author

Hi. My name is Matt Roberts, you can find me at www.mattroberts.com.

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