The National Press Theatre quickly shuffled journalists at the conclusion of the Air India Inquiry press conference, and Jack Layton’s appearance. NDP handed out a press kit which talked about how the party was holding Harper to account, how they were proposing pragmatic solutions, they enumerated the government’s self-inflected crises, and a couple of graphs which demonstrated that the NDP had the highest average number or Private Members’ Bills per MP, the highest average number of Private Members’ Motions per MP, and that Layton had attended more votes than any other party leader.
When Layton came out, he spoke of how Canadians were telling him “something’s wrong in Ottawa,” and that the government was suffering from “visionless management.” In fact, those two words became his mantra as he listed off his usual issues of tax cuts going to big oil and big banks, which wasn’t helping to green our economy. He spoke of National Energy Board doing environmental assessments for oil projects, the “fake lake fantasyland” at the G20 media centre, and if you check the lobbyist registry, big oil and big banks were spending the most time lobbying the government.
But not to despair – the NDP were showing that change is possible. He cited the statistic of more bills and motions per MP than any other party, and claimed victory on the adoption of motions around prorogation, getting the Parliamentary Budget Officer to look at the G20 spending, and to examine foreign takeover laws. They also passed their Climate Change Accountability Act for the second time, and it was now in the hands of the Senate. He also cited their bills on workplace pensions, a national housing strategy, and outlawing Genetically Modified seeds.
But Layton’s metric for effectiveness – more Private Members’ Bills and Motions than any other party – is a flawed one at best. In fact, it becomes a deluge of paper, and a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signifies nothing. Why? Because there are only so many Private Members’ Business slots to go around, and the order of precedence is chosen at random by lottery. It then becomes a question of the usefulness of such bills if their only purpose is to prove a point. Yes, there can be utility in using Private Members’ Bills that ultimately won’t go forward as a way of showing that there is concern on issues, or for laying potential legislative groundwork for the government to take up if they want to take on said issue. But simply saying that your party has introduced the most number of these bills and motions ultimately says very little for your effectiveness.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Layton said that an election was always possible so long as Harper continued to ignore his fixed election law. He claimed they were always trying to change the tone of Parliament – look at the bills they passed! He denied that there was necessarily a culture of conflict in Ottawa because look – his door was always open when it comes to working with others.
Layton went so far as to say that the partisanship and rhetoric in Parliament was serving as a distraction from the real danger of all the lobbyists getting more powerful – how else could you explain why big oil and big banks getting such preferential treatment? (Erm, okay. That’s…a bit of a stretch, but okay.) He hoped that going forward in the fall that they could make progress on reforming the Canada Pension Plan, and could work together with other parties on that.
Layton did touch on the Libby Davies issues – that she had already apologised and spoken to the ambassador for Israel, and he did as well, and said ambassador was glad he got in touch, and that his party had clarified their position. As well, Layton said that his doctors are happy with the progress on his cancer treatments, and that he was feeling better every day. He thanked everyone for their personal support, and that he was touched when the whole House wore blue ties in honour of his battle with cancer that day.