The Liberals blinked.
And the Conservatives won an important battle in their campaign to stop the same-sex marriage bill.
Mark it down. May 30 was the day Paul Martin gave up the same-sex marriage bill. Oh, sure, it’s not dead yet. It may even pass in the end, but not because Paul Martin and his party are committed to making it happen. It will pass now only due to luck, not because the government works to get it through.
There’s a new energy in this country today. Social conservatives will feel energized by last night’s Conservative Party victory at the committee debating Bill C-38 after it passed second reading earlier this month.
Vic Toews, former cop, former Crown Prosecutor, former Attorney General of Manitoba – and a very, very conservative guy – won the day for his party and all those afraid that the homos are getting too uppity with this marriage thing.
Toews has been stalling discussion of Bill C-38 at the committee. For two meetings, he filibustered while demanding that his list of 22 delegates be invited to join the 41 already approved to testify on the bill (six have been heard already). Monday night, Toews started in again with his filibustering.
The Liberals surrendered, and quickly.
What followed was, to borrow a phrase from Stephen Harper, a deal with the devil as Liberals on the committee worked out an agreement with Toews. The result: Toews gets to invite his 22 delegates. The last of the 57 remaining delegates will be heard Jun 14. A clause-by-clause discussion of the bill will happen at committee the next day – with Toews threatening proposed amendments – and the bill will be sent back to the House no later than Jun 16.
‘So what?’ you may ask. Parliament can just ram it through before taking a vacation, and Martin can ask the Senate to sit into the summer until they, too, pass it.
Well, not exactly. There will only be three days for debate in Parliament before its scheduled summer recess.
And already some Liberals opposed to same-sex marriage are making bold threats in order to pressure Martin to hold off even the third vote in Parliament until the fall.
Martin continues to go through the motions of advancing this bill. But clearly, his heart isn’t in it. If it was, he’d have found a way to get the bill back to the House by Jun 9 as originally planned by limiting remaining delegations to Jun 1 and 2 – as outlined in a notice of motion from Don Boudria, a Liberal member of the committee.
Hold onto your seats, once Toews’ friends start testifying.
And get ready for some juicy quotes in the National Post, Canada’s unofficial newspaper of the Conservative Party and a loud campaigner against same-sex marriage. Between now and Jun 14, 57 individuals and representatives of groups will line up to tell us all, whether we want to hear it or not, why same-sex marriage is a good thing or a very, very bad thing.
Most presenters favour same-sex marriage. Most of the 22 additions do not. Many of those opposed are the usual suspects – the Catholic Civil Rights League, Bishop Fred Henry, Dr David Mainse, the Centre for Cultural Renewal, and the Christian Reformed Churches of Canada.
But no doubt there will be some unpleasant surprises.
Is it necessary that these people be heard? No. Two years ago, a cross-Canada consultation by Parliament on same-sex marriage heard the same arguments, often from the very same people.
Is it good for democracy that these people be heard? Probably. Same-sex marriage is a big thing for many Canadians. Too big a thing for some to swallow. They need a chance to blow off steam, to give it their best shot at convincing other citizens to their point of view. Not that they’ll actually change any minds.
“Two percent of Canadians and zero percent of MPs are undecided on this issue,” said Alex Munter of Canadians for Equal Marriage, after watching the committee proceedings last night. “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”
But that just highlights the half-hearted approach that Paul Martin’s Liberals have brought to this whole bill. If they’d pushed it through first and second reading more quickly, there would have been time for a full thrashing out at the committee stage, and time left over for getting it through third reading and even the Senate before summer recess. But they’ve dragged their asses.
And now the bill is in danger. If third reading resumes in autumn, it’s a very real possibility it won’t make it through the Senate before the minority government falls for the next election. If it’s not through Senate and proclaimed into law before the government falls, it’s dead.
Social conservatives know it and they’re rejoicing today. The Conservatives know it and I’ll bet they throw a party for Vic Toews. Liberals opposing the bill know it.
“What is the rush on this bill?” Pat O’Brien asks in today’s Globe & Mail. O’Brien is already on the record that he’ll quit the Liberal caucus if Paul Martin tries to ram the bill through the House.
A group called Defend Marriage is pressuring eight Liberal MPs to bring their own government down rather than allow Bill C-38 to pass this spring.
“Principle must come before politics,” said a media release put out by Defend Marriage.
Paul Martin often touts the principles of human rights. But on Bill C-38, we’re seeing nothing but brutal, raw, politics coming from him.
At our expense.