3 min

Marriage bill in trouble

Time running out before election

It’s still possible that Bill C-38, recognizing same-sex marriage rights throughout Canada, will pass third reading this spring and be passed on to the Senate for approval.

But it’s looking unlikely given last week’s developments in Parliament and at the Gomery inquiry into misuse of taxpayer’s monies under the Chrétien government.

Pull out a calendar and take a walk through the time squeeze facing Bill C-38.

Initially, the federal Liberals were planning to pass the bill through Parliament before June recess. The Senate would then deal it with next fall.

Then came Gomery and an immediate shrinkage of the Liberals in the public opinion polls with most of the loss benefiting the federal NDP, but with sufficient rebound for the Tories-bringing them back up to their standing at election day last spring-that some media commentators claimed Harper could form a minority government if a vote were held now.

But two-thirds or more Canadians don’t want an election right now. And they say they want to hear what Gomery has to say in his final report, or at least see if the damaging testimony of Jean Brault is contradicted by further witnesses.

Still, there’s little evidence that voters will punish the party that pulls the plug and causes an election. And that creates an incentive for all three opposition parties that are benefiting from the Gomery testimony the NDP, the Tories and the Bloc Quebecois to get back on the campaign trail.

Stephen Harper pledged to a May 7 Ottawa rally of religious opponents of same-sex marriage that he would do everything he could to stop Bill C-38. Within days he’d introduced a strange motion to deny second reading of the bill because it did not define marriage as between one man and one woman-a motion that he lost

That’s where your calendar comes in.

The Liberals plan to introduce Bill C-38 for second reading on Wed Jun 22.

Harper has threatened to filibuster. If each Tory MP who opposes the bill makes a speech, it could be days before the bill passes second reading and moves to a special committee set up to consider it.

But that’s just the beginning of the problems for the bill.

Paul Martin undermined his own Bill last week when he reportedly assured London Ontario MP Pat O’Brien that he’d lean on Liberal members of the committee to hold public hearings. O’Brien was threatening to join former Edmonton Liberal David Kilgour in leaving the party over the bill. Martin’s supposed pledge has same-sex marriage activists hopping mad. After all, a Parliamentary committee already held a cross-Canada public hearing on the issue at great expense two years ago. Activists hope Martin didn’t mean holding another national consultation-something that would condemn the bill to dying if an election is soon called.

And while Martin does not actually have the authority to require any kind of public consultation-it’s up to committee members whether to make O’Brien happy-some Liberals favouring same-sex marriage are hoping the most that Martin has in mind is a brief consultation with vested interest groups over a few days in Ottawa.

But even that would cause delays well into May. And meanwhile the clock is ticking.

On May 5 the NDP has a regularly scheduled opportunity to introduce a motion of non-confidence in the Liberal minority government. If either the Bloc or the Tories supported the motion, an election would start. But Layton said last Friday (Apr 15) that he intends to do nothing to force an election, preferring to wait for the Gomery report in October and the same-sex marriage bill to pass.

On May 12, it’s the Bloc Quebecois’s turn to introduce a non-confidence motion. The Tories could support it and an election would be called. But media reports suggest the Tories don’t want to be seen to be supporting a Bloc motion-how would that play in Alberta and BC where traditional Reform Party supporters see red at any sign of cooperating with separatists?

Besides, the Tories want to get credit for pulling the plug on the Liberals, say some commentators. They’ll get their chance to do that on May 26. If the Bloc supports the motion, then an election will be held the first Monday after a 36-day campaign: Mon, Jun 27.

If you accept that scenario-the alternative is for opposition parties to wait until they return after summer recess to introduce a non-confidence vote and by then testimony at the Gomery inquiry may be more favourable on balance for the Liberals-then Bill C-38 is in difficulty. Can it pass second reading with the Tories stonewalling it, then pass through committee-including public hearings-and then through Third reading, all before May 26?

It’s possible.

Just increasingly unlikely.