Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Filibuster Comes To Canada

Last week's postal filibuster is the first real case study of the new political reality. If it's a preview of the next four years, I'd say Stephen Harper's 2015 re-elected chances look quite rosy.

Personally, I don't know who was on the side of the angels on this one. I'm not up on the specifics of the previous or current Canada Post labour contract, or the precedents for Parliament forcing a deal. Neither are most Canadians. Because of that, politically this wasn't about pensions or even unions - it was all about getting the mail going again.

Yes, in the year 2011 it's certainly possible to get by without the Post Office, but the lock-out was still a major inconvenience. Many Canadians rely on Canada Post for everything from cheques to Father's Day cards to birthday presents to credit card bills - you name it, we still mail it. I'd ordered some party supplies online that missed the party because of the strike. Not end of the world stuff, but still a nuisance. And most Canadians - including many New Democrat voters - seem to agree.

So the optics of the NDP fighting to keep the mail from coming likely didn't help them. Not only that, but they were going all out, merely to delay the inevitable. Their filibuster accomplished nothing, other than extending the lock-out.

A lot of pundits have already pointed out how this cements the perception of the NDP as a "pro union" party, but the other lasting effect is that this will likely take some of the punch out of their next filibuster. There's something to be said for valiantly working around the clock to fight for an issue you believe in - but if we see a dozen of these a year, they'll become more nuisance than inspiration. The filibuster should be used to keep an issue in the spotlight when the public agrees with you - not one you're likely to take a political hit on.

So mark this as a loss for the NDP. And what of the Liberals in all of this?

Good question. Welcome to life as a third party.

This pattern could very well repeat itself several times in the coming years. Harper picks an issue where the NDP are outside the mainstream and goads them into action. It makes the Dippers look bad, and marginalizes the Liberals.

Welcome to the new reality. One that couldn't be any more perfect for Stephen Harper.


  • I remember filibusters against the Harris gov. in Ontario (against the Megacity Bill, I think) and a general strike against the SoCreds in BC, way back. This is hardly unprecedented. You youth are so fragile.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 7:16 p.m.  

  • Just a question, what are the NDP and the Liberals for that matter supposed to do during a Harper majority? Roll over and play dead? A filibuster seems like it was the only tool at the NDP's disposal, especially when Harper's style is "My way or the highway". There wasn't anyway he was going to accept compromise or any amendments proposed by any opposition members at anytime. And Lisa just does what he tells her to do, and does it with relish from what I see.

    Again with the "only about getting the mail out". So simplified. Bill C-6 is a bill about so much more than simply getting the postal workers back to work. This was a lock out. And the workers were punished? Bill c-6 sets a dangerous precedent for all working Canadians because it clearly shows a bias for management and who cares about workers--unionized or non unionized.

    We're only at the beginning of the mandate and it remains to be seen what other hideous legislation Harper has in store, like that tough on crime themed omnibus bill on tap. I really hope the NDP will be battling this with all the tools at their disposal, with as much zeal and I also hope to see the Liberals more present and in a battling mood on this one, as well. Part of rebuilding a party is the existing MPs to actually participate and, well, oppose.

    Yes, I know, most Canadians also like a more tough on crime agenda, but once again, do they really understand the long term consequences?

    Again, do we really want our opposition to roll over and play dead? If so, we may as well send them all packing and just skip the by-election, because, again, going by the logic that most Canadians hate going to the polls, let's just fill those opposition seats with Conservatives.

    Because, as it stands, most Canadians will walk to into fire for the Conservatives, no matter what.

    By Anonymous ck, at 8:30 p.m.  

  • I actually think the filibuster against C-6 was a good move on the NDP's part. It's a move to reassure the leftist, unionist base that they aren't totally forgotten, hopefully making a move to the center less painful. The general public will probably forget about it by the time an election rolls around.

    You're right about the Liberals however.

    By Anonymous Christopher, at 8:35 p.m.  

  • What Liberals? When it came down to it, only seven or eight Liberals bothered to show up in the House of Commons for the key votes. What was once a dig against Ignatieff is now true of the whole Party: they simply didn't show up for work.

    As for the NDP, this filibuster demonstrated not that they are "aligned" with the unions, but rather that they take their orders directly from the union leadership: the filibuster ended the minute the union told them to end it. It does not sit well with most Canadians that an elected Opposition takes their orders from a few who do not sit in Parliament. It might not be corrupt, but it's awful close.

    I must give credit to Elizabeth May, who put in an extraordinary effort to attend the debates and all of the key votes without having anyone with whom she could trade shifts. I disagree with almost all of her politics, but she gained the respect of many by her commitment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:19 p.m.  

  • 3 points:

    1) Every Liberal majority government has governed in the manner of "my way or the highway". It might not seem that way if you agreed with everything being done, but that's how it was.

    2) Canada Post imposed the lockout, not the government.

    3) A Liberal government set the precedent in 1997 when it ordered striking postal workers back to work and imposed a wage settlement that was less than Canada Post's final offer. Harper is hardly breaking new ground here.

    The public is NOT getting their panties in a bunch about this, and in fact support seeing the postal workers ordered back to work. So IMO, the LPC is wise to keep its powder dry for a real issue that has traction.

    By Anonymous Jim R, at 9:35 p.m.  

  • 2 things:
    1) Canada Post imposed the lockout, not the government, true, but Canada Post is actually accountable to the government, ultimately, so it's kind of hair-splitting.

    2)I think the NDP really drew a line in the sand here, saying "look, we're going to move to the centre, but there's some things we're not going to budge on." I'm not sure how far "out of the mainstream" this is, but I think it's kind of good to know that they actually stand for something (unlike the Liberals, at least as the public sees tehm). I think a lot of the messages they were trying to put out there, that this is about defending the middle class, kind of got lost, but it might stick next time. The NDP need to define themselves over the next 4 years and this was the first real step.

    By Anonymous HonestB, at 12:15 a.m.  

  • ck - I think the filibuster is a useful tool to use. I just question the political benefits of using it on this issue, when there are sure to be other more politically advantageous times to use it.

    Maybe the NDP truly did believe this was awful legislation, and you make some good points about that. But tactically, I just don't see the benefit of this.

    Even from a union solidarity perspective, all they accomplish was prolonging the lock-out, costing workers wages.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:43 a.m.  

  • I think you are buying into the Mr. Smith goes to Washington school of filibusters a bit too much. The tactic has been used many times when offside with public opinion. Here are some common reasons:

    1. In 1957 Strom Thurmond filibustered a Civil Rights bill alone for over 24 hours. His goal (he failed) was to allow civil rights opponents more time to cut deals and mobilize. Delays can matter a great deal - look at how prorogation served as a game-changer in our 2008 constitutional crisis.

    2. Filibusters can be used to signal intentions to core supporters. Four years from now, most people will forget this incident. I'll wager that the CUPW will not. Sure, they probably liked the NDP anyway, but the intensity of their support is much deeper.

    3. If delay is costly to the government (and it may well have been in this case), filibusters can also force a majority government to compromise with the minority. For instance, think of the cornhusker compromise attached to the Obamacare bill.

    4. Finally, threats of filibusters are more common than actual filibusters. However, in order to be effective, such threats must be credible. By filibustering precisely when public opinion is opposed, the power of future threats to filibuster (perhaps on issues where the public is on-side) is enhanced.

    I'd guess the NDP's goals were closest to 2 or 4, which is why they filibustered, but only for a short time.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 10:22 a.m.  

  • HonestB - I don't like your logic with Canada Post being accountable to the Government. Look at the cities - they are creations of the Provinces and accountable to them. However, every time a city makes a decision - we do not (or at least should not) blame the provinces.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:22 a.m.  

  • "goats them into action"? You mean "goads", I think. And I agree with your analysis. The NDP will have a tough time avoiding that trap.

    By Anonymous Drew, at 11:00 a.m.  

  • Filibustering everything has been an extremely successful strategy for Republicans in US. What the NDP has done here is show that it has spine. After years of spinelessness from the Democrats in US and Liberals in Canada, it's nice to see a left-wing party with a spine.

    By Anonymous yildo, at 12:06 p.m.  

  • What strikes me as odd about this is the argument that the NDP seems to be making: that Parliament should not have or should not use the power to impose terms on unions and employers.

    I'm all for collecting rights of workers, but I still think they're trumped by the collective rights of Canadians.

    If you're just complaining about imposing less than Canada Post was offering, then your solution is to win government next time.

    The argument that somehow what's important to the Legislature doesn't matter, and we should leave it to a balance between the self-centred concerns of the corporation and the self-centred concerns of the union to work out, is just silly.

    The government should be able to impose, and it should not have to limit itself to something between the two most recent offers, if it thinks what is right is outside those bounds, in either direction.

    No, the only argument the NDP is making is "that's not enough."

    Really? Postal workers deserve bigger raises? THAT's the high principle you're going to filibuster on, with absolutely no chance of it having any effect, only to generate support among people who have nowhere else to go?

    Yikes. Federal politics is starting to look like Alberta politics. Conservative dynasty with inward-looking and ineffectual opposition parties.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:19 p.m.  

  • H2H - Valid points. I guess it comes down to the age-old argument of playing to your base versus playing to the mainstream.

    In this instance, I feel like the NDP could have raised a stink in opposition without Filibustering - it would have shown the unions they still had their back, without upseting Canadians who just wanted to get the mail.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:41 p.m.  

  • yildo - I'm not sure how effective Fillibustering everything will be, when the NDP's main election pledge was "to make Parliament work".

    Then again, if their end goal is to cement their position as official opposition rather than forming government, looking like a "strong" official oppositon for four years might not be a bad strategy.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:43 p.m.  

  • One thing I could use clarification on - did the CPC set this bill up specifically so that it COULD be Filibustered when they didn't have to?

    I recall reading that somewhere, but I'm unclear on just what kind of power the government has. What I'm getting at, is if the government has to deal with an icky issue they just want done and over with, could they structure a Filibuster-proof bill?

    If that's the case, it would lend more credibility to the theory that Harper was trying to incite the NDP into filibuster, and that he might do it again.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:47 p.m.  

  • H2H usually wins me over hands down, every time, and I see the reason in each of the 4 points listed here...

    In this case, seems like playing to the base (who certainly aren't going to vote CPC anytime soon) should be less a priority than reaching out to Greens and LPCs and swing voters who want to see a progressive PM/government in 4 years time

    "shows they have spine"

    I don't see the spine here; it's predictable that the NDP would support the side they did, and they spent a great deal of energy on, really, a pretty safe, kid glove issue. Spine would be tackling something more controversial.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 3:29 p.m.  

  • The problem for the NDP is that they're still very much in the public eye.

    And the first thing they do as official opposition is fillibuster in support of overpaid postal workers in order to stop Canadians from getting their mail...?

    I'm sure a lot of people noticed, and they will remember.

    Of course, the Liberals could have gotten out ahead on this one. All they had to do was loudly denounce the NDP stance.

    They could have pointed out that postal workers are basically unskilled labour - with jobs requiring less skill than a waitress, but with vastly better benefits.

    When's the last time you heard of a waitress able to retire at 55?

    In the past, the postal union has been able to bargain for oversize pay and benefits because of its power.

    Now that it's less powerful, it's time to cut back what postal workers get.

    The media would have run such a liberal reaction as the big story of the day, if for no other reason than that this sort of populist stance would be so unusual for the Liberals.

    But would Bob Rae ever say such things? Of course not. It's all true, but it goes against the grain.

    And that remains one of the Liberal problems: Liberals ought to be the party of realism and pragmatism. Instead, the party obeys an ingrained leftist bias.

    All the best,
    - Brian from Toronto

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 p.m.  

  • "without upseting Canadians who just wanted to get the mail."

    Was anyone upset? First of all hardly anyone cared all that much about the postal lock-out since it was quite new. The filibuster was on a holiday weekend meaning that mail delivery re-started on exactly the same day that it would have restarted if the NDP had supported the legislation and had let it pass unanimously.

    People are getting junk mail and bills now - so who actually cares that the NDP gave 58 hours worth of speeches? Answer: A) a handful of union-bashing pundits and angry old men who all hate the NDP anyways and B) all postal workers and their friends and relatives who will never forget that the NDP stoop up for them.

    By Blogger DL, at 4:01 p.m.  

  • "Was anyone upset?"

    Yes. For most small businesses, charities and Canadians livig in the hinterland, the mail is a vital service.

    For the majority of ordinary citizens who live in the cities and suburbs, mildly annoyed would be a more accurate description.

    But regardless of whether they took a financial hit because of this strike or weren't really affected - everyone still noticed that when it came to choosing between the Postal Union and Canadians, the NDP chose the union.

    - Brian for Toronto

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:11 p.m.  

  • It's hard to know where to begin.

    Let's start with this one, "Four years from now, most people will forget this incident. I'll wager that the CUPW will not. Sure, they probably liked the NDP anyway, but the intensity of their support is much deeper.

    The fact is that NDP did what the CUPW leadership told them to do, but the CUPW membership was very much split on the issue, with about 44% of those surveyed supporting the legislation and about 45% opposed (i.e. aligned with their union leadership).

    Next, "Canada Post imposed the lockout, not the government, true, but Canada Post is actually accountable to the government, ultimately, so it's kind of hair-splitting."

    No, Canada Post is a Crown Corporation. That means that its executives, not the Government, decide how to run the company. And Deepak Chopra made it explicitly clear in testimony before the Senate's Committee of the Whole that he did not tell the Government what his plans were beforehand.

    "could [the Government] structure a Filibuster-proof bill

    The Government could protect a Bill against most filibuster tactics, including the "hoist motion" which the NDP introduced (the motion was to shelve the Bill for six months) by introducing "Time Allocation" on the Bill, and e.g. introductory motions limiting each Party to a finite number of amendments. The Government chose not to do so, although they had used Time Allocation on the budget bill just days earlier. Some would say this was a trap; I would suggest that the Government didn't want to be seen as shoving the Bill through but rather allowing the debate to unfold.

    [H]ardly anyone cared all that much about the postal lock-out since it was quite new.

    That's simply not true. Millions of Canadians were being seriously hurt by the strike, and by the subsequent lockout, as the payments and goods owed to them were not getting through, and they could not deliver their goods to their customers.

    Finally, as to the difference between the strike and the subsequent lockout: when a system is as large and complex as the Canada Post network, it is simply not possible to shut down one or two major hubs without having a major impact on all mail delivery. It is simply not true to suggest that the rotating strike was "isolated" in its effect - and the union knew this else it wouldn't have chosen that option.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:22 p.m.  

  • So the government monopoly forced the postal monopoly to strike a deal with the union monopoly.


    Liberals should have proposed privatization.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 4:37 p.m.  

  • If you read, Harper at the, Council of Foreign Relations, in New York. Also: Harper delivers his plan on, Global Governance for Canada. It won't matter a damn, what anyone says and does.

    I would have taken, Layton, Ignatieff or Elizabeth May, any day over Harper.

    Our Constitution is ignored. Our Civil Rights and Liberties, have been taken away from us. Democracy and Freedom, is all but gone. We were warned, if Harper wins a majority, we can kiss Canada good-bye. We will see, just how true that is. Harper is a dictating monster.

    The American people, say Harper's win was rigged. Well over half of Canadians, did not want Harper as P.M. So that I do believe. They said, there is a petition, to prosecute Harper and Peter MacKay for war crimes and crimes against humanity. I found the petition, it's with presscore. They also say, they are going to fight the N.A.U. right to the last ditch. They say, Harper should be tried for treason. In yesteryear, he would have been hung.

    Wikileaks has said, the American politicians say, Harper is a petty gasbag. Harper is known to be, arrogant, stubborn and impossible to work with. Every meeting of Nations, Harper always manages to anger everyone present. He refused to co-operate with the other country's, at the last meeting. Harper lost Canada's seat with the U.N.

    Harper really embarrassed Canadians in Copenhagen. He refused to comply with the other, over, reducing fossil fuel energy. That's because, Harper supports the dirtiest energy in the world, the dirty Alberta tar sands. An evil abomination, on the face of Canada.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:57 p.m.  

  • "And Deepak Chopra made it explicitly clear in testimony before the Senate's Committee of the Whole that he did not tell the Government what his plans were beforehand."

    If you actually believe that for one second - you are the most gullible person in the world. Chopra doesn't fart without getting permission from the PMO. Every single move in this saga was carefully orchestrated between Canada Post and the PMO. There is no way that Canada Post would ever have locked out its employees unless they knew in advance that the government would intervene and 100% take management's side.

    I wish the Liberals would propose privatization and position themselves as a right-wing alternative to the Tories. Their endless attempts to attract left of centre votes from the NDP have been a total failure. Its about time they tried something new. I'd like to see a new rightwing liberal party that can create lost of nice vote splits on the far right!!

    By Blogger DL, at 4:59 p.m.  

  • A lockout was the obvious move. Rotating strikes created uncertainty, which led many people not to use the mail.

    So while the strikes were crippling the post office, the postal workers were still getting paid - so obviously they could have kept that up for months.

    A lockout was the sensible reply.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:48 p.m.  

  • When's the last time you heard of a waitress able to retire at 55?

    My thoughts exactly.

    "Standing up for the postal workers" doesn't seem to equate to "getting results for people" to me

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 6:05 p.m.  

  • "There is no way that Canada Post would ever have locked out its employees unless they knew in advance that the government would intervene and 100% take management's side. "

    Its not like he had to ask, the norm is for postal workers to strike, and the government to intervene. Chretien used a virtually identical bill. The CUPW president ended in jail for defying back to work under Trudeau's watch.

    this couldn't have worked out better for Harper. Widespread support for the outcome, the NDP look like clowns, and both of them can attack the LPC for not showing up for the job.

    By Anonymous Mr rectifier, at 2:28 a.m.  

  • This can't really have effect, I think like this.

    By Anonymous camobel, at 2:00 p.m.  

  • By Blogger love, at 10:50 p.m.  

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