Things must look much different when you’re in government, compared to when you’re in opposition.
But not only does the view change, so, apparently, do your principles.
On Tuesday, the federal Conservatives voted through their so-called Fair Elections Act, voting down over 200 proposed amendments from opposition parties and successfully preventing the parliamentary committee reviewing the proposed law from holding hearings with interested Canadians across the country.
The law has been widely condemned by experts in democracy — and only grudgingly modified by the Tories to address some of those concerns.
Funny thing is, if Prime Minister Stephen Harper was still in opposition, he would have been outraged by the heavy-handed changes.
Stop and consider Harper’s comments when he was with the Reform Party, speaking against efforts to change federal election law on Nov. 26, 1996 in the House of Commons: “I intend to oppose this bill that imposes changes to the federal elections act without the consent of the opposition parties. These changes are not necessary and they are also dangerous to the operation of Canadian democracy. In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in Third World countries.”
The new law will make voting more difficult for some Canadians — an issue that used to bother Harper. Here he is again, from Nov. 26, 1996:
“People will be very upset when they realize the implications of this. I will say to them, a little bit tongue and cheek, to make sure the government pays for this decision at the polls, if they can get there, and that is an important if.”
Let’s let Harper continue: “The government is proceeding with this for reasons that are obvious only to itself and which are expensive to the taxpayers and ultimately it perceives as in its own interest. Otherwise the government would have reached an agreement with the opposition parties on how to proceed.”
“…in the big picture, this legislation remains flawed. It is flawed because we have followed a process that was rushed, undemocratic and unnecessary. With further discussion we would have reached a bill that not only was agreed to by all parties, but that was much better for the people of Canada.”
And Harper wasn’t alone. Here’s Reform member Chuck Strahl on the same day: “Not only that, but it is being pushed through with such haste that today the government is back again asking for unanimous consent to amend what we passed yesterday, because there is not enough time to get it into the regular process for the amendments to even be debated in the House. What a sad sack way of trying to bring all-party consensus and all-party co-operation to a bill. Ram it through, ask for amendments after the fact, limit debate, do not let parliamentarians talk about it and do not even let Canadians comment on it through the committee or the parliamentary system. That is a shame.”
Ah, the wonder of politics: do as I say, not as I do. It’s wrong — unless we’re doing it. Then it’s oh, so right. If it wasn’t tragic, it would be funny.