Good Sunday Morning!
It has been quite a week! We have a wonderful new interim leader. Thanks to Dr. Amita Kuttner for stepping up when we most need a steady hand for rebuilding!
I can hardly believe that the 44th Parliament is only five days old. I found myself mentioning an event in Parliament that I was sure had happened the week before… but of course it had been two days earlier.
As I wrote last Sunday, I let my name stand for Speaker, but without making any effort to campaign to actually become Speaker. It was important for me to increase awareness of how political party backroom operatives are interfering in the House.
With only a five minute speech, I could not explain all the ways in which we have strayed from our rules. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8_bdrFxtBQ
With a bit more time, I would have shared how it was Flora MacDonald who made me aware of the erosion of proper practice. I had become a fan of Flora MacDonald from watching CBC News. From our one room log cabin in Cape Breton, we had a two-channel universe – CBC and Radio Canada. Over long wintry evenings, I came to appreciate that amazing daughter of Cape Breton.
She was the first woman to ever run for leadership of a party in Canada. She was a classic Red Tory – the kind that no longer exists. On our little TV with its rabbit ears, I watched her in Parliament surrounded by yapping and heckling, always dignified, head high, back straight, respectful and clear. It amazed me that years later we became friends.
It was some time after I became leader of the Green Party and before winning my seat that she invited me for lunch in her condo along Queen Elizabeth Drive and the canal. During a lively lunch, I asked her if she thought the current Speaker was doing a good job. She more or less harrumphed. “We haven’t had a good Speaker since Lucien Lamoureux!” I went home and looked him up: Speaker from 1966-1974. Oh my.
Lucien Lamoureux was so dedicated to the Speaker being non-partisan that he actually left his party and ran for re-election as an Independent. No one has done that since, I read his judgements and how he handled MPs in the many volumes of Hansard. And then I discovered why things had gone downhill.
In 1980, the Rt. Hon. Jeanne Sauvé became Speaker. (“Rt. Hon.” because after Speaker, she became Governor General). She was a remarkable woman and I hate that this disastrous mistake was hers. She had trouble seeing to the end of the Chamber to properly identify which member should be recognized to speak. So, she asked if the party whips could give her a list of whom they planned to put up that day to speak.
The rules were unchanged. Only the Speaker can choose who has the right to speak. Except that ever since, every Speaker has taken the list from the party whips. An accident becomes a habit and a habit becomes practice and the habit becomes convention. Several Speakers in a row have told me they need support from members to get the proper practice back in place.
My experience this week confirmed what I suspected. Almost no one knows that the Speaker is not supposed to surrender his authority to the party whips. With the system of rewards and punishments in the hands of the whips, no wonder so many MPs are disrespectful and rude. They want to please their party bosses. They have no fear of offending the rules and defying the Speaker. MP after MP came up to me after my speech to say they had no idea that our daily routines violate our rules. Many could see how wrong that was. One worried that we wouldn’t want the Speaker to have so much power.
Too much power? In my speech, I mentioned this recent exchange from the Parliament of Westminster with the UK Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle rebuking Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Instructive and exactly what a Speaker should do. Here it is for your viewing pleasure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewSkdhoCSdY
On Wednesday night, we had a very healthy and respectful debate on the climate emergency and the devastating impacts of the recent flooding in BC. I had asked for the debate, as had the Conservatives and NDP. Lucky for me, my letter was received first – otherwise I would have had no right to speak. I had the first speech of the night and a whole 20 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDk33spEBDw
The Prime Minister joined in debate as did the Minister for the new portfolio of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair. Steven Guilbeault, new Environment and Climate Change Minister spoke at ten minutes to midnight, the last speech of the night. I sense a real change in the attitude of all parties to climate. No one laughs or jokes that it is not a threat or not due to burning fossil fuels. As I wrote last week, I think COP26 may have been a turning point, just as the multiple disasters hitting my home province can no longer be ignored.
I add one last thought. One friend urged me to mention why a COP has to be in person and why so many people attend. Now, I am sure it would be better if the 503 fossil fuel lobbyists did not attend, but overall, there is no other way to build a global consensus. Canada’s delegation included representatives from the provinces and territories and a number of cities. Indigenous peoples, environmentalists, academics, lots of journalists, MPs from all five parties, labour union reps… all contribute. As for flights, I did my best to reduce flights, taking one direct flight from Vancouver to London, with a ferry to get there and a train from London to Glasgow. I know that Steven Guilbeault also took the train. And, of course, Mike Morrice! It is far from ideal, but I know we need to keep pressing for a global solution. Zoom simply cannot work for negotiations of this kind.
COVID lost us a year in terms of progress on global climate agreements. Millions of people who otherwise would have been flying and driving in 2020 stayed home. And COP26 was postponed. The total impact on Greenhouse gas emissions was a 6.4% reduction against 2019 levels. And we lost a year. We need to keep meeting. I wish we had better ways. But people need to meet face to face- even with masks.
Our thoughts are with all those in British Columbia still out of their own homes as we batten down the hatches for more storms on their way. Please donate now that every dollar is matched with 2 more. https://donate.redcross.ca/page/94172/donate/1?locale=en-CA
PS. a good exchange from the debate: