After a day of procedural bickering Nov 21, the partisan chasm in the House of Commons has opened a little wider. The government on Nov 22 shot down a motion aimed at tackling bullying in Canada.
M-385, a private member's motion introduced by NDP MP Dany Morin, sought to establish a standing committee tasked with studying the issue of bullying and eventually proposing a comprehensive national strategy to prevent it. The bill had the support of the Liberals, as well as the lone Green and Independent MPs.
The bill has received particular attention because of a spate of teen suicides that have shed light on the systemic bullying that takes place in Canadian schools, especially toward queer youth. One of the most high profile in the long chain was the case of Amanda Todd, a 16-year-old from Vancouver who died by suicide last month after facing years of intense bullying and harassment online.
The Conservatives, who derided the motion as ineffective and time-consuming, stood largely in opposition to the bill. Five backbench Conservatives voted in favour, while many who had previously supported the idea of a national strategy in the House voted to kill the motion. The Bloc, too, voted against it.
The vote count was 149 to 134.
The vote came immediately after a Liberal motion to establish compensation for firefighters who died in the line of duty. Enough Tory backbenchers stood in support of that bill to allow its passage, but its front benches opposed the bill.
The two votes marked the current tone in the House, where the partisan rancour is becoming increasingly toxic. The parties held caucus meetings earlier in the day and went into the afternoon's question period even more vitriolic than usual.
Several backbench MPs heckled Morin and the NDP with shouts of "Bullies! Stop bullying us!" as they left the House after the vote.
Morin sees a theme emerging.
"They don't want anyone from the opposition telling them what to do," he told Xtra in the foyer of the House after the vote.
He says that the Conservatives absolutely "do care about the children," but he thinks that, because he introduced it, the bill was doomed to fail.
He commended and thanked those Conservative MPs who broke with the rest of the party to support the motion, even if he didn't get enough of them to come onside.
Morin's office had run a campaign pressuring those MPs who had expressed support for a national strategy to support the motion. That effort, it seems, failed. Those statements, in the end, were "empty words," Morin says.
The Conservatives maintained that the motion was also redundant -- the Senate is currently studying the issue of cyberbullying. Yet Morin points out that Canada should be tackling bullying in all forms, not just online. Morin's committee would have been established with more delineated goals and outcomes.
If the motion had passed, and the committee was struck, the Conservatives would have had a majority on it and would have ultimately been the ones to decide what the strategy would include. Morin says he was looking forward to putting partisanship aside and working on the strategy together.
The Conservatives also highlighted their support for more local programs, instead of establishing a national strategy. Morin maintains that his strategy would have empowered local groups, as well as school boards and parents who currently have very little recourse to protect children from bullying.
The House will have one more chance to pass legislation to combat bullying when Liberal Hedy Fry's act to criminalize cyberbullying comes before it. Yet Fry's bill seems destined to meet the same end as Morin's motion, with the Conservatives having made no overtures to signal support for it.