3 min

Questioning the established narrative

While the rest of the media gears up for the G8 and G20 summits, and spins itself into a frenzy over the CSIS allegations that there may be foreign agents (likely Chinese) influencing provincial cabinet ministers, there’s precious little else happening in Ottawa.

But while I’ve been busy wrapping up my coverage of Bill C-11 on reforming refugee protection in this country, going over everything that’s happened with the bill, I’ve been repeatedly struck by the way its passage has been described in the mainstream media.

“Liberals in chaos” has been the dominant narrative after members of the caucus put their collective feet down in order to defeat the “safe country of origin” provisions that would likely have passed if they hadn’t. And let’s face it – “Liberals in chaos” has been the dominant narrative for the party for, well, years and years. But I’ve been forced to wonder whether those members of the mainstream media bothered to drill down into the story to see whether it was chaos, or whether this was actual, genuine, democracy in action.

I know – it’s pretty hard to believe that in this age of iron-fisted leadership control and tight messaging that actual democratic engagement still happens within parties. And to the outside observer, it can appear to be little more than more backroom chaos. But look at what actually happened – there were provisions in the bill that most of the caucus (and most especially the Quebec wing) were unwilling to support because, if you listen to absolutely any single stakeholder who deals with refugees, they were very, very bad provisions. These very bad provisions would likely have gone through if MPs hadn’t put their feet down.

So they did, and the leader listened, and because he listened and said no to a process where the minister said that he would kill the bill rather than remove the safe country of origin list, the minister decided to take it to the other parties, and lo and behold, an agreement was struck. The “safe country” list was defanged, and a bill that was amended so that the stakeholder community agreed it was workable, albeit still imperfect. And it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t have put their feet down.

So why has this been characterized as chaos? Is it because Jason Kenney decided to play partisan games, and in his press conference made a point of calling out the “inexplicable” way the Liberals decided not to “support their own amendments”? Or is it because it was a description that fit the ongoing trope, and the assembled reporters, used to these kinds of horse race politics, didn’t look any further, didn’t talk to most of the other MPs on the committee (Denis Coderre excepted, but dismissed as a loose cannon, and rightly so except for the fact that, oh, he was once immigration minister)? And more importantly, was it that they didn’t bother talking to the majority of the stakeholder community, with whom the committee and the Liberals on it had been actively engaging when they made the decision not to support the bad provisions?

A much better bill is being passed now, and even the NDP’s critic, Olivia Chow, admitted that it would have been a bad bill if the Liberals hadn’t balked. But that is apparently “chaos” in the caucus. Has the mainstream media become so jaded and detached that they’ve forgotten what it looks like when parties have to do these kinds of tough negotiations to come up with a better bill? Or have we become so accustomed to the Stephen Harper way of doing politics – with a muzzle and a big stick – that it has become a foreign concept? Would they rather a bad bill have been passed in order to make Michael Ignatieff look like he has an iron grip over his caucus? It makes me wonder.

Back to the G8/G20: Paul Martin says safe abortions should be on the G8 agenda, while Jim Flaherty calls the global bank tax – which has returned from the dead – a “distraction.” The same kind of “sideshow” as climate change apparently is?

Chinese president Hu Jintao’s visit has apparently gone very well, considering that we just signed a memorandum of understanding with him regarding opening up China to Canadian beef exports, and more importantly, the loan of two pandas.

And finally, a look at the Queen’s busy schedule during her visit next week.

Up today – Her Excellency will be meeting with African leaders who are at the G8, while the actual G8 leaders meet.
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