Honeymoon period may be over for Trudeau’s Liberals

Every new government, especially one led by a newly-minted and first time prime minister, enjoys a “honeymoon period” with the electorate, the first few months following the election when both the new government and new prime minister are given the benefit of the double as their actions and policies are closely watched.

Eventually, this period will end and, for many Canadians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon time with voters ended last week when he marched down the center aisle of the House of Commons and laid hands on the opposition Conservative party whip in a physical effort by a frustrated prime minister in an attempt to move along the debate, and eventual vote, on a crucial piece of legislation related to people’s rights, under certain circumstances, to determine the time and means of their deaths with medical assistance.

In the process of attempting to push the Conservative whip back to his side of the House, another MP, a female member of the NDP caucus, was also joslted by Mr. Trudeau.

For the balance of that day and the next one as well, the opposition parties made as much of a political meal as possible from the young prime minister’s unusual physicality and Mr. Trudeau spent much of that afternoon and the following day giving public apologies for his actions.

Prime Minister Trudeau was trying to urge along a vote on a procedural matter that, it is clear, would diminish the effectiveness of the Official Opposition Conservatives and the third party New Democrats as its intent was to limit debate on the government’s physician assisted suicide bill.

After the kerfuffle last Wednesday, the government, because of its majority, had its way and the bill to limit debate was passed.

The next day, however, no doubt due to Mr. Trudeau’s actions in attempting to herd the Conservative whip back to his seat for this very vote and elbowing the NDP MP in the process, the government wisely decided that these circumstances had tainted the procedural bill’s passage and so it was withdrawn by way of another indirect apology by not only the prime minister, but the entire Liberal government to the House.

To have done otherwise in light of the prime minister’s uncalled-for actions prior to the vote would have left the Liberal government and prime minister looking like bullies determined to get their way, no matter what.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its February 6, 2015 ruling, determined that Canadians have the right to physician-assisted suicide. Part of its ruling at that time was to direct all the provincial governments and the federal government to have in place their own laws legalizing dying in this way within a year.

Because of last fall’s federal election and the dissolution of parliament in the early summer, the new Liberal government petitioned the Supreme Court for an extension to have the federal law in place. In January, a four-month extension was granted and so the Liberals, by limiting debate, were attempting to live within the timeframe alloted by the Supreme Court in its extension.

The government will of course pass a law on physician-assisted dying because they have a majority in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Trudeau erred in judgment, however, in a number of ways and that is why his honeymoon period with the Canadian public can be seen to be effectively over.

He certainly should not have taken the law into his own hands and tried to lead the Conservative whip back to his seat so the government motion on limiting debate would proceed.

The female NDP member’s jostling was clearly an unintentional act but it wouldn’t have happened at all if common sense had prevailed and Mr. Trudeau hadn’t thought it necessary to lay hands on the Conservative Party whip.

The Liberals were using the power of their numbers to enact legislation that, by limiting debate, would allow government to eventually pass a bill formally legalizing physician-assisted dying and to do this within the time limit set by the Supreme Court.

From the opposition parties’ viewpoints, no one likes to be manipulated by procedure and so doubtless the members of the Conservative and New Democratic Parties were standing in the center aisle chatting because they were in no hurry to return to their seats to vote on legislation that would limit what they had to say about a topic that, for many of them, may be ethically troubling.

The prime minister should have recognized all of this, and, by humor or other means of cajoling them, encouraged them to eventually take their seats for the vote with its known outcome.

The fact that he attempted to physically move members around speaks to an immaturity and lack of judgment, which must be a lesson learned.

But the fact that the government side of the House so profoundly misread the opposition’s response to an issue that is important and that they were pushing back, as best they could, to the procedural legislation that would, in effect, shut them up, is equally troubling notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s deadline on the matter.

In the past, it has been common for the Conservatives and New Democrats to characterize the Liberals as arrogant.

Up to this point, Mr. Trudeau and his new government have gone out of their way to avoid this characterization.

This issue, and the Liberal majority’s backtracking on the legislation they pushed though following the prime minister’s aggressive blunder, must give the government pause to consider their future approaches to important legislation, especially laws that that have emotional overtones such as this one so that all sides can claim to have done their best even though the outcome was inevitable.