At least two aspects gave the doctor-delivered-death issue an air of surprise in the House of Commons this week.
The Opposition parties pressed the government to move quickly toward drafting a new law to replace the section struck down February 6 by the Supreme Court. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduced a motion (ultimately defeated) that would have had the bill drafted—not just studied—by an all-party committee, an idea about as helpful as suggesting that two vegetarians, two vegans, two celiacs and two red-blooded carnivores set out together to agree on one dinner menu. How that potential quagmire of intractable partisan entanglement would possibly have sped things up, he did not say. That, in itself, is not so surprising. Mr. Trudeau, for all his talents and charms, frequently sports the air of a man unaware he is riding a bicycle under water. Nor was it a bolt from the blue when both he and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair made similar, entirely contradictory, arguments in making their case for haste. The Opposition has its duty to press the government on everything, which breeds a tendency to believe no one will notice the utter fatuousness of what is being pressed.
Both Opposition leader based their call for immediate action on there being only eight to 10 weeks of sitting days left before the Commons rises for its summer break. Making matters even more urgent, they insisted, is the certainty of a fall election, which will prevent Parliament being around to pass anything.
Yet, they claimed, there’s plenty of time to pass the new legislation in the grace period imperiously granted by the Supreme Court. There’s plenty of the very time that we sorely lack. Let’s have it both ways, as the noose said to the guillotine.
What was truly surprising, watching this, was the air of normalcy of it all. A tactic here. A sound bite there. All business as usual. Except this isn’t business as usual. And few, if any, appear to realize it.
There seems a generalized failure, at least on Parliament Hill, to understand that Canada is about to cross the most significant threshold in its history. We will be one of the few countries on the planet whose entire national life is opened to the deliberate medical delivery of death for human beings. Whether we think that is a good thing or a bad thing, it is irrefutably a thing that is entirely transformative of us as a people.
We will be an irredeemably different country on February 6, 2016. We will have broken with the understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to live a human life, which has prevailed among us for 149 years of our confederated existence, and for the preceding millennia that bred us out of European culture and history.
Again, whether or not one thinks it’s long past time we crossed that bar, the sheer magnitude of the shift should be sufficient for us to put aside our busy work and say: “We should at least mark this passage with our full attention.”
But no. Hurry. Scurry. Push ahead with utter disregard not only for the rights or wrongs of the course we’re on, but for its existential meaning to us as a nation. We will be dealing death from our publicly funded health care system. We will be making death an administrative, indeed a mere managerial, matter. That should be a monumental moment for any people and its Parliament.
One of the few who seemed to get that was Prime Minister Harper himself, who surprised many by refusing to say in the Commons whether he has ruled out use of the so-called notwithstanding clause to override the Supreme Court ruling. It borders on the unimaginable, of course, that the government will actually invoke the clause. The prime minister’s office, in fact, sent signals to that effect shortly after the PM’s exchange with Mr. Trudeau.
Yet his reticence to say so was a surprisingly conservative gesture from a prime minister who is often seen by conservatives as anything but conservative. The insistence on at least keeping his options open was conservative not because the clause itself is a favored tool of conservatives—it was actually last used by a flamboyantly Liberal premier of Quebec—but because it embodied the conservative credo of refusing to be rushed in thinking about what we’re doing and, much more, what we’re becoming.