Canada has just passed a bill that would protect transgender people nationally. The Prime Minister voted against it, and it still has to make it through the Senate, but still: impressive.
I’m adding a bit sent in by a reader about how the Canadian system works, and some info on what’s actually going on up there in terms of this specific bill. Interesting stuff.
The law that just got passed is what is called a private member’s bill. Private member’s bills can be brought forward by the majority party or the opposition. If they are defeated it doesn’t mean anything other than the law didn’t pass. If they pass they become law. Typically votes on these bills are not whipped – MPs can vote according to conscience and don’t have to toe the party line.
Bills have to pass three times in the House of Commons (like your House of Representatives) and I think only once in the Senate.
The Conservatives have a majority of elected seats in the House of Commons. Our Senators are not elected and are all appointed by the Prime Minister of the day. That means you can be elected PM and have a majority in the House and you have to wait until enough Senators retire to appoint oyurself a majority, or you have to create new senate seats and appoint new Senators. No one likes this Senate system, but we haven’t figured out how to agree to abolish it or fix it yet.
The Conservatives, who are like your Republicans, are the result of a merger of two conservative parties, one was more socially progressive and one has more religious socially conservative folk. The stronger segment in terms of numbers and electoral votes is the socially conservative segment.
Here is the gossipy bit: A) Some of the Conservatives are jockeying for who will succeed the current leader. And B) some highly ranked Conservatives are rumoured to be gay and only some are quasi-open about it. Some of them would have been under pressure from their communities to support the human rights legislation.
Canada is pretty liberal socially, and so the PM has a delicate balancing act. He can’t be too conservative and he can’t be too liberal.
Lately he’s taken to allowing his own socially conservative MPs to do things like bring forward anti-abortion legislation, which he and other Conservatives and opposition MPs proceed to vote down and badmouth. So then in this latest vote he did the opposite and voted against a socially progressive bill that ultimately was passed with votes from more socially progressive members of his party.
OK, so what’s going on here?
In the Westminster system we all vote for our MPs (like your Representatives) at election time. Whoever gets most MPs voted in gets to form the government. The leader of the party, if he is elected as an MP becomes Prime Minister. That person can be forced out of the job by his own party the way John Major was forced out in England. We don’t have impeachment like you do. PMs get kicked out when a majority of their own party want a new leader.
Generally Canadian Prime Ministers (PM) enjoy a much greater degree of control over the House of Commons than the President does over Congress. This is because party leaders in Canada control the appointment of candidates. They can say who gets to represent their party in elections. Some people run as independents, but independents don’t usually have access to the same campaign funding. It wasn’t always like this, it isn’t like that in England. In England local party committees select their candidates and the party leader has no say. So in England MPs are more independent, the same way congressmen in the U.S. don’t always vote on party lines.
So, why is all that important?
There’s two kinds of bills that can be brought forward for approval by the House of Commons:
Bills brought forward by the majority party – the PM’s party
Private member’s bills, which may be brought forward by individual MPs.
Individual MPs can do private member’s bills whether they are part of the majority (currently the Conservatives, who are a bit like your Republicans, but mostly aren’t AS rightwing) or by the opposition (which is currently the NDP, who make your Democrats look pretty darn conservative).
An NDP MP sponsored the bill that would include trans people in human rights legislation that would theoretically protect us from discrimination.
If a private member’s bill is defeated it dies and that’s it.
If the majority party brings forward a bill (so, the opposite of a private members bill) and it is defeated the government “falls” and we have an election, because it’s seen as a vote of non-confidence in the government.
So the most recent vote allowed the Prime Minister to take a socially conservative stand, mollify progressive and conservative segments of his party and he can still ask the Conservative majority Senate to kill the bill, or he can let it pass. The Prime Minister seems generally to be fairly socially progressive in that if he thinks it will get him votes he’ll tolerate it. It should be noted that the highly touted Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, whose father decriminalized homosexuality and famously said that “the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” skipped the vote all together for a fundraising dinner.