OTTAWA—Parliament Hill was either seething with animosity or awash in contrition for most of this extraordinary week, with the opposition and the government manoeuvring—elbows up—to get the better of one other.
The Trudeau government apologized no fewer than six times over a 24-hour period for transgressions past and present, and had to walk back a contentious proposal to impose stricter controls over debate in the House of Commons.
The drama managed to drown out or throw off course several other developments that affect everyday lives.
Here are three other developments in practical politics this week that will touch Canadians after the din of “Elbowgate” dies down.
ASSISTED DYING: The law that would allow some Canadians access to medically assisted death has been knocked about by politics yet again.
First, serious discussion was delayed by last year’s federal election. Then, the new government took time to set up a committee and consult, asking the court for an extension to comply with its order to allow access. Ottawa now has until June 6.
Then this week, the schedule was jostled again—this time by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s collision with NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau on the floor of the House of Commons prior to a vote to shut down debate on the bill.
The bill was already in trouble before Trudeau’s controversial and ill-considered decision to expedite matters by dragging Conservative whip Gord Brown through a crowd of mischief-making New Democrats, which included Brosseau.
An Alberta Court of Appeal decision this week took direct aim at the government’s rationale, saying the government should not restrict assisted dying only to those near death. The court also said the government can’t exclude people suffering solely from psychiatric conditions.
The ruling gave pause to many MPs, who have already been told they will be able to vote their conscience when the time comes.
The Senate has also made it clear it may not pass the bill unless it allows advanced directives from those with dementia or other competence-eroding conditions. Regardless, there’s little chance the bill will pass before June 6.
KOMAGATA MARU: Even as MPs hollered at each other inside the House, Sikhs from across Canada descended on Parliament Hill to hear the prime minister apologize for sending the steamship Komagata Maru back to India some 102 years ago.
Their presence and the apology’s prominence were a striking reminder of how diaspora politics have been pushing and pulling the fabric of Canada for more than a century.
South Asians are now the largest visible minority in Canada, and 17 Sikh MPs were elected last fall. Wooing blocks of ethnic voters has become central to election strategy for all parties.
Indeed, the day before the Komagata Maru apology, an official in Christy Clark’s B.C. government was charged with criminal breach of trust for his alleged role in an ethnic vote-getting scandal that included efforts to make public apologies for historic wrongs in multicultural communities.
The dynamic of diasporas in Canadian politics is not always black and white, however. As Conservative MP Michael Chong launched his bid for the party leadership this week, he pronounced himself in favour of the party’s long-standing policy against niqabs and face-coverings at citizenship ceremonies—even though the Conservative stand on niqabs may have cost the party heavily in the last election.
FUNNY FISH: With little fanfare, the government opted to let Canadians buy and eat genetically modified fish. Health Canada this week approved the first genetically modified animal to be produced for human consumption: an Atlantic salmon, modified to grow twice as fast by using genes from Chinook salmon.
The government says the fish are safe and nutritious, but that’s not the end of the matter. Critics say there is a risk to introducing what amounts to a new species to the environment, and want, as a bare minimum, to see the fish labelled—a practice the government has resisted for GM foods but now says it will study.
For now, AquaBounty Technologies Inc. will produce the modified eggs in its facility in Prince Edward Island, grow the eggs into full-size fish in Panama and then ship them back to Canada for consumption.