Ask Kady Anything: Will Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan lose his job?
Greetings, political enthusiasts, public policy fetishists and other interested and/or appalled bystanders to the majesty of our parliamentary democracy! Let’s get right to this week’s virtual mailbag (well, tweetbag, technically, but that sounds like a derogatory term for millennials that inexplicably failed to catch on).
First up: a very topical question from Arlene King, who opines:
— Arlene King (@Northern_Ozbird) May 3, 2017
Note: I’m taking the Canadian flag symbol as representative of the government of Canada, since that seems like the most logical interpretation, so if I’m wrong, this likely won’t provide a particularly satisfactory reply to Arlene’s questions. If that’s the case, please allow me to extent pre-emptive apologies!
For any readers out there who may have missed this latest controversy, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is — I would say “under fire,” but that seems hideously inappropriate in this context, so let’s go with “facing outrage” over his now-clumsily-retracted claim to have been “the architect” of Operation Medusa, a major multi-national military operation in Afghanistan in 2006. On at least two occasions Sajjan, who did take part in the mission during his tour of duty as an intelligence officer, publicly made that claim, most recently while on a visit to India.
Long story short: various and sundry mostly unnamed current and former soldiers and members of the military accused him of, at the very least, heavily embellishing his role in the planning process. As noted, Sajjan apologized for the statement, although has yet to provide any explanation for why he made it in the first place, but his delayed mea culpa has not dulled the calls for his resignation emanating from the opposition side of the House.
So, is the government — or, more specifically, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — “not taking this lack of trust into consideration,” as Arlene puts it?
Well, Trudeau has now made it pretty clear that he still has confidence in Sajjan, and when it comes down to it, he’s the only one whose confidence in Sajjan is constitutionally required.
(Okay, in theory, if the queen felt strongly about it, he might have to heed her will, as it is officially her privy council, after all.)
That doesn’t mean opposition members – or MPs in the governing party, for that matter – can’t formally express their lack of support for the minister. The Conservatives have actually put forward a motion of non-confidence in Sajjan’s “ability to carry out his responsibilities” that could be put forward for debate as early as next week.
But even if it passes, which is unlikely given the makeup of the House, it’s not binding on the prime minister, although it would undoubtedly be pretty mortifying, not just for the minister but the government as a whole.
In general, though, the only “non-confidence” motion that counts is the one passed in opposition to the government of the day — and it has to use that word, specifically — which actually does have the power to trigger an election. (Well, it triggers the prime minister’s resignation and trip to Rideau Hall to inform the governor-general, who dissolves Parliament and issues the instruction for the writs to be drawn up, but you all know what I mean, I’m sure.)
Next up, from ElliotTSP:
— ElliotTSP (@stereolion) May 2, 2017
Mark me down as “intrigued”, but waiting to see how many of those millennials (and non-millennials, too) who joined the party specifically to vote for Chong actually go through the moderately time-consuming process of filling out their ballots, photocopying their ID, sealing it all up inside two layers of envelope security, as required by party rules, and dropping it in a mailbox.
To be fair, some of those eligible voters may be able to cast their ballots in person if their local Conservative riding association intends to run a polling station, but that’s likely not going to be an option for the majority of party members, millennial or otherwise.
Now that we’ve gotten the outpouring of that bucket of cold water out of the way, if they do turn out in anything approaching large numbers — or even modest numbers that nevertheless keep pace with the overall voting base — it could definitely have an impact on the result, particularly if it goes to, say, a sixth or seventh round count.
That said, the fact that none of the other campaign teams seem to be doing anything to actively court that contingent in an effort to garner second-and-subsequent choice support makes the cynic in me think that they’ve already written off the possibility of a ragtag band of climate change-believing infiltrators deciding the victor. They could be wrong, though!
In general, though, I approve of virtually all influxes into politics: millenial, pre-millenial, post-millenial, post-post-millenial, you name it. (Baby boomers excepted.) Make it interesting, people! As a journalist, you’re the only ones we can count on to leave us all looking like idiots for not knowing how it will all turn out!
Now, from James Foster, a question that pierces my parliamentary-tradition-loving heart like a poison-tipped arrow:
— James Foster (@YKJFosterYYC) May 2, 2017
Do you want to reduce me to furious tears, James? Is that your real agenda here?
Because it is wrong, that’s why.
It is a travesty and a violent breach of our democracy, which requires each and every MP to stand in his or her place as the roll is called, to be counted with the yeas or the nays on behalf of their constituents, some of whom voted to send them to Ottawa to do literally exactly that.
No soulless pushing of buttons could ever hope to capture the chaotic majesty of a standing vote.
Especially when some MPs accidentally vote twice because they weren’t paying attention, or someone tries to sneak in after the cut-off and gets called out via point of order after the vote, or everyone cheers after a particularly dramatic decision, like after the vote to institute same-sex marriage.
Honestly, I know it sounds like an incredibly sensible modernization, but it’s really not necessary. Except during times of cross-aisle war, voting doesn’t actually take up that much time, and if everyone is getting along, they can even arrange to hold a whole stack of votes in one session, which means only one round of bells.
And when there is procedural skirmishing at play, the ability to briefly cause minor inconvenience to the government by orchestrating snap votes just to interrupt the daily order of business is actually a long-standing opposition protest tactic, which should also be preserved.
On a related-ish note, Cathryn wonders:
— Cathryn (@stocat1) May 3, 2017
Oh my gosh, Cathryn, yes. In fact, it doesn’t even usually take a trip back to the riding to turn them back into by-and-large normal human beings who don’t spend all their time waving their finger accusingly while bellowing at someone sitting a few feet away. It can happen the second the House camera switches its gaze to one of their colleagues — and that’s true for MPs from all sides of the chamber. I do worry sometimes that people might think what they see in those 30-second clips from question period is an accurate depiction of a typical opposition critic and/or cabinet minister.
If you ever get the chance, drop by the House of Commons public gallery just before a vote. If you time it right, and it’s not a particularly rancorous day in the precinct, you’ll be so reassured to see MPs of all parties mixing and mingling in the aisle and amongst the desks.
There is shared, non-cackling laughter! Shoulders are patted affectionately! Sometimes there are even hugs! The lack of razor-sharp partisan tension is usually also palpable at committee, albeit with the occasional exception, and on the parliamentary social circuit. Not everyone loves everyone else, of course — that would be even more disturbing, really, as it would suggest the whole place was actually a 338-member cult. There are definitely MPs with moderate-to-deep animosity against each other on a personal level, but that’s very much the exception to the rule.
Finally, a capper from Ryan Wright, who wants to know:
— Ryan Wright (@ryanwright) April 25, 2017
To which I can only say: How do you know that’s absolutely true, Ryan? It does have cloaking capacity, although officially, it’s been stuck on British police box for the last few decades of our time, but it’s also entirely possible that it has made the occasional foray into Canadian territory and simply not been noticed. We do have a lot of it, and so much of it is covered in trees or snow or snowy trees.
And frankly, if the TARDIS landed in Ottawa, it could pass as yet another dubious public art installation for years before anyone thought to ask where it came from.
I also want to take this opportunity to answer a question that I’ve been waiting patiently for someone to ask: Yes, I am loving the new season. As is the case for a surprisingly high proportion of NuWhovians,
Bill is fast becoming my favourite companion ever – yes, even inching out Amy and Rory – and I become a little bit sadder with every moment that takes us closer to Peter Capaldi’s departure as Twelve, who is truly the Cranky Uncle Doctor we never knew we needed.
That’s all for this week!
And don’t forget to hit @kady or @vicecanada with questions via Twitter using the #AskKady hashtag.
This story has been updated
Cover: Vice illustration