Postal filibuster was a practice round

First Air Canada then Canada Post. What does the future hold in showdowns of Conservatives versus the union-backed New Democratic Party?

I noted a couple of days ago about how fast the NDP folded on their filibuster regarding bill C-6, back-to-work legislation. Why, I wondered, had they given up so easily? Indeed, Jack’s pack could have filibustered on all amendments to stretch out the debate not over days but weeks. Yet, when the NDP gave up after a few days, their union backers did not tear them up. Why?

Further, why was the Conservative government so eager to bring about legislation to legislate both Air Canada employees and posties back to their jobs?

The NDP is likely keeping their filibuster powder dry. In the ultimate showdown between the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the government, both sides have pre-positioned themselves in Parliament.

On one hand, the Conservatives have given government departments notice to table a 5% review plan and a 10% review plan. These strategic and operational revues will inevitably mean job cuts to the Public Sector and this has already set the union that represents these workers on red alert.

Within days of promised strike action, the government had legislation on the ready to cram work stoppages back into the can. One reporter noted to me that an amateur caucus of the NDP had faced off against a well-oiled Conservative machine.

However, the NDP’s strategy may have not yet become apparent to all. Perhaps the New Democrats have simply introduced the filibuster concept while not causing Canadians to tire of it so that they can unleash the mother of all filibusters when the government tables its plan for reductions in the public service. While setting the priming charge, the NDP is keeping their powder dry for big battle they intend to fight.

Thoughts on the NDP filibuster

The NDP filibuster over bill C-6 is over and it ended with more of a whimper than a bang.

With 102 MPs allowed to speak for 20 minutes (not including about 10 minutes of questions) on each stage of the legislation to put postal workers back on the job, the NDP perplexingly gave up much too early.

Solidarity forever, or at least until Saturday at 8pm. The NDP could have presented 102 speakers on the hoist motion and 102 speakers on *each* of the 22 subsequent amendments to the legislation. Further, they could have presented any number of amendments for the third reading of the bill. Indeed, they could have filibustered until CUPW reached a deal with Canada Post, or until the House was scheduled to resume on September 19.

It was a surreal scene: MPs reading emails from their constituents on the importance of postal delivery, the PM sleeping on his office couch, hospitality suites in Centre Block, and David Chistopherson rousing everyone at 3am in the House with his over-the-top mad-as-hell routine.

For many MPs, this was their first time participating in the House. Sure, most had risen before to thank their MPs by reading an SO31, but for a number of rookies, this was their first real exposure. From both sides, I’ve heard that the filibuster was good for team building: being stuck on Thursday for 56 hours can do that to you.

Regarding the issue itself, it was about a preemptive Canada Post lockout in the face of imminent rotating strikes by CUPW. If we look at the context of pre-positioning for an agreement, the government’s legislation also undercut Canada Post proposed offer giving the union additional incentive to settle with the Crown corporation.

On the legislation, it’s an ugly thing to see the government step in and meddle in a negotiation between two parties. Collective bargaining is a right, however there is no right to “strike” and to hold a company hostage. Then again, politics isn’t a game for philosophical purists. Back to work legislation is a perfect example of the imperfect and ugly sausage-making business of politics.

The Liberals were very much absent from the debate. The interim leader and about 2/3 of his caucus were absent from the votes. Mailing it in had a few Liberal partisan friends wondering again why they still back the Grits, now decimated.

The NDP must consider a few items going forward. First, they promised a different sort of politics and they’ve always promised to “make Parliament work”. The filibuster may be an effective tool in their arsenal for future political debates, but Canadians will become cynical of the tactic after it loses its renewed novelty. Second, the Conservatives will provide plenty of opportunity for the NDP to be polarized partners on issues. On the restoration of postal services this split was 70-30 but it was a stark division without much ground in between. The Conservatives and the NDP can provide each other many victories in this majority parliament. Keeping the Liberals marginalized and creating an established champion on the left in the NDP are in the interests of both the Tories and the Dippers. However, this dance will end with the Conservatives if the Dippers jam every piece of legislation in the 41st Parliament.

Conventioning

I’m at the Conservative convention here in Ottawa taking in the sights. Many have described the event as a victory party with 2500 of the party faithful, however a few policy and party constitutional proposals are under discussion. This morning, contentious motions on a proposed youth wing, Scott Reid’s riding weighting alternative for leadership elections and resolutionsnon euthanasia and high treason. Reid’s motion will be debated at plenary, the youth wing went down in a major defeat (only 14 votes for), the high treason and pro-euthenasia motions motions also advanced.

I’m currently taking in a “fringe” meeting (side meeting) of the convention that the Manning Centre is hosting at the Chateau Laurier. Under discussion is social policy. For example, Manning Centre fellow Nick Gafuik led a discussion about poverty alleviation through strengthening means of wealth creation rather than wealth redistribution. Further, charities and local organizations must be allowed wherever possible to provide social services in our communities. Gafuik set the markers for a discussion on a social X-prize to innovate the advancement of society and social services, the increase of “charity intelligence”, the creation of social impact bonds. Tools of wealth creation include property rights and access to information infrastructure.

Andrea Mrozek from the Institute for Marriage and Family discussed the role of family breakdown in societal instability. Suggested that charities can only go so far to address this. So how are families strengthened? First, government should not regulate intimate and personal relationships, says Mrozek. Instead, marriage preparation and marriage education (prior to crises). High public and private cost to the breakdown of marriage. Suggestion that focus on female well-being by society has caused unintended side-effect of neglecting the socialization and well-being of males. Mrozek calls upon the government to differentiate concepts in law of living common law and marriage. Law should encourage repair of marriages rather than facilitate divorce and separation (for non-abusive relationships). Family income splitting allows the recognition of the family as an economic unit according to IMFC. The average family tax burden in 2010 was 41% of income. The government would do well to increase financial literacy for families, to front-load child benefit payments and to allow extended family to care for children. Over 80% of families polled by IMFC found that they would prefer if one parent could stay at home to care for the children.

Monte Solberg also addressed the Manning Centre attendees. He started by outlining his experiences as Minister of HRSDC. Annual budget for his department was $90 Billion. Governments are good at making broad easy strokes but there is a role for civil society to fill in the gaps, Solberg suggests. Solberg says we need leadership from the bully pulpit (pm and ministers), appeal to those not interested in social policy that there is a financial cost to a poorly managed social policy by the government, most importantly we must begin discussion like the Manning Centre is doing today.

Candice Hoepper who is a recently re-elected conservative MP and addressed the attendees about her committee work on poverty reduction. Hoeppner spoke for the need for volunteerism, also spoke about replicating success stories where poverty alleviation was accomplished by the community.

Manning spoke about the politics of going to individuals and asking for their own personal platform for personal advancement. Our Canadian society cannot change overnight because the muscles of society — that would be in place to address issues in place of the government — have atrophied. Big challenge is to figure out how to address this problem in order to move forward on reforming how communities deal with social issues.