The day after Bill C-391, and the days ahead

A lesser man than me would be more than glad to gloat about the death of Bill C-391 and the preservation of the long gun registry. It was a bill that put politics ahead of public safety, and it was a vote that Stephen Harper, Candace Hoeppner and their party no doubt felt that they could win without the bulk of the country noticing.

Which they probably could have done, if their decision to remove Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak from his position as director of the Canadian Firearms Program hadn’t instantly transformed a negligible private member’s bill into a national hot button issue. And although I don’t want to downplay or disregard the incredible amount of work that a great many Canadians put into making last night’s vote a reality, it’s also got to be said that the Conservatives played a major part in setting their own defeat in motion.

Mind you, to be fair, Chief Supt. Cheliak’s removal wouldn’t have been quite so newsworthy if it hadn’t been the latest example of a clear pattern of jettisoning anyone who disagrees with the government’s narrow agenda. That, more than any of the specifics of this issue, is what caught the nation’s attention.

There’s a lot more to say about that, and I’ll say it in a subsequent post. For now, let’s just acknowledge that in spite of all the right-wing complaints about Michael Ignatieff whipping his party on the vote, and supposedly defying the will of his constituents in the process, you’d have to be incredibly na├»ve to think that any Conservative MP could have possibly voted against Hoeppner’s bill last night without destroying his or her career.

I mean, I’m sorry, but why else would an informed voter think that people like Tony Clement continue to get out of bed every morning, put on a suit, and wantonly make an ass of themselves by telling the public something that happens to contradict whatever they told the public the day before?

Not that I’m gloating. Whatever personal pleasure I might take in having watched the Conservatives get spanked on national television last night as a direct result of their own hubris, I’m not going to gloat. After all, they’re still running the country, and we don’t even know when the next election is going to be.

By the way, the reason why we don’t yet know when the next election is going to be is because Bill C-391 was a private member’s bill. Very few of those bills eventually become law – and this one sure as hell didn’t, although I’m not saying that to gloat.

But you see, one of the advantages of pursuing a measure like this through a private member’s bill, as opposed to a bill put forward by the ruling government as a whole, is that the defeat of a private member’s bill doesn’t run the risk of leading to a motion of no confidence.

A motion of no confidence is a motion put forward by the opposition – the Liberals, in our current case – with the intent of defeating the ruling government. Such a motion can be put before Parliament whenever an important bill presented by the ruling government fails to pass.

The assumption, you see, is that the failure of the bill represents a failure of the ruling government to maintain the confidence of the people. And if a motion of no confidence is passed, then the people get to go to the polls.

Make no mistake: this was totally a government bill in terms of support and budget and everything other than name.

And if you take only one point away from this rambling post, then please let it be this one: if the Conservative government hadn’t made a rather shrewd decision to attack the gun registry through a private member’s bill, then we’d almost certainly be going to the polls right now.

Indeed, we’d likely now have exactly the same sort of opportunity to vote the Conservatives out that Harper denied us by successfully proroguing Parliament in 2008.

But thank God we’re not going to the polls, right? Because as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Tuesday, and as his colleagues in his cabinet have said many times before, now is not the time for an election.

Much as Bush and his cronies in the US argued that their country would fall apart if its people chose to elect a new president during what I’m sure he would been glad to maintain as a perpetual state of war, so the Conservatives in our country are arguing that we’d better not get any ideas if we care about our economy.

And the economy, by the way, is an issue that a great many more Canadians would like to see the government – and Mr. Flaherty in particular, because it’s his job – deal with instead of yelling about the gun registry.

But if you’d paid attention to the Conservative response to last night’s vote, then you certainly wouldn’t know that the government doesn’t think it’s time for an election. Hoeppner herself tried to get everyone excited about their next increasingly hypothetical opportunity to vote by telling the press last night that the opposition MPs who changed their minds on this issue, in spite of their earlier promises, had better fear the will of the voters.

Which is really pretty weird, because you know who else has absolutely flip-flopped on his stance on the gun registry during his career in Canadian politics?

Stephen Harper, that’s who.

And I’m sure you’ll agree that if anyone in the Government of Canada has any sort of credibility these days, then Stephen Harper does. I mean, am I right, or am I fundamentally wrong?

But I’m not going to gloat. It’s beneath me. I’d rather take a cue from the men and women I deeply admire who recognize the value of being magnanimous in victory. And if part of that magnanimity is a quiet recognition that sometimes the people and the forces of good can unexpectedly defeat the cynical powers that be, then I guess that’s not so bad.

Posted in Save the Gun Registry