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The problem with “Pass-now, amend-later”

A flawed strategy for Bill C-51 and the UTSU board structure proposal
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House of Commons- courtesy of Mone Cheng:Library of Parliament-14904302241_30f273fedb_k

The Conservatives’ Bill C-51 made it through the House of Commons last week with Liberal support, despite the bill’s many worrying infringements on Canadians’ civil liberties. Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau has recognized that the bill is problematic, but said he was going to support it in order to avoid the Conservative Party making “political hay” out of it — whatever that means.

The idea, apparently, is that while the bill is dangerous and intrusive, it is better to pass it now and simply amend it later. In spite of all the Liberal party’s failings, surrounding this bill, at least they recognized that they were willingly playing with fire and image politics.

Still, there’s something truly disheartening about a political leader effectively admitting to the failure of Canada’s democratic process. The strategy of “pass-now, amend-later” represents how detached the realm of formal politics is from the actual real-life consequences of policy. It is a failure of democracy when we can plainly see our leaders choosing to ignore a policy’s practical effects in favour of their own interests. It shows us that our elected representatives, who ask us to trust them, are acting in bad faith.

The issues of “political hay” and the “pass-now, amend-later” strategy were also reflected at U of T this past year at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the board restructuring vote. Student representatives managed to consistently opt in favour of looking and sounding like real politicians, instead of making sound policy choices.

Whether you saw the proposed board structure as a good idea or a bad one, it’s worth recognizing that a huge portion of the UTSU’s members, and their elected representatives, thought it needed more work. Amendments after amendments were suggested, even alternative board proposals. Over and over, it was clear that something was not quite right — yet, no substantial amendments took place.

Instead, the “pass-now, amend later” argument kept coming up.  Sure, this structure isn’t the best, but we can always change it when some member of the union creates some alternative ideas, and we really need to just vote on it now and be done with.

This argument surfaced frequently, despite clear backlash in one particularly remarkable example. A member of the board of directors, only five minutes into the debate, tried to motion to end all conversation about the bill and just go right to a vote. The logic was that, somewhere along the line, someone would deal with the problems in the structure — pass-now, amend-later.

The fact is that when we are engaging with politics on any level, there has to be an active effort to bridge the gap between a formal party, or organization’s, politics, and the real world of real policies and their all-too-real effects. This is not idealism: it’s necessity.

If we are going to trust our representatives to act in good faith, this gap needs to close, regardless of whether the politicians in question are party leaders or student representatives. That politicians are so comfortable ignoring the electorate, and their needs, in favour of image-saving politicking should worry us; it should inspire us to demand necessary change.

Alex Verman is a fourth-year student at New College studying political science.