I really thought the US would get there first and we’d see a fistfight on the floor of the House of Representatives before what happened Wednesday in Canada’s House of Commons. I was wrong.
In case you were on a social media sabbatical, I’ll recap: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau manhandled Conservative Whip Gordon Brown and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest, then got into a shouting match with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
Have a look (starts around 0:38):
What lead up to this was a vote being called on a reduced timeframe for debate on the Liberal Government’s controversial assisted dying bill. The NDP is not opposed to the bill itself, but nor do they support it as a party. Mulcair made it a free vote, so MPs could vote their conscience.
What they are opposed to is the way Trudeau’s Liberals have been limiting the debate time on this and other recent pieces of legislation. That’s why they were blocking Brown’s path, something the whip didn’t seem to have a problem with, which prompted our PM to leave his seat and take matters, and Brown, into his own hands.
I have some advice. Most of it is for the NDP, but we’ll get the easier advice out of the way first.
Dude, What Were You Thinking?
By all accounts, Justin Trudeau is a smart man and a skilled politician. That’s why his antics on Wednesday really make no sense.
The vote was going to happen. The opposition whip making his way to the Speaker was really just a formality.
If he wanted to break up the logjam, he had two viable options: officially ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to do it or unofficially get some MP craving the spotlight to do it. What he did wasn’t one of them.
Maybe he thought this would play like Jean Chretien choking a protester. Instead it came across more like the late Rob Ford knocking over a city councillor by accident.
Or maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe he was just pissed. If that is the case, then there is a real problem. When the opposition is pulling a stunt to highlight your government ramming things through, maybe pulling your own stunt of ramming yourself through them isn’t the best idea.
My advice to our Prime Minister is, well, to think.
Wrong Spin, NDP
As for the NDP, Trudeau had handed them the kind of PR gold opposition parties can only dream of. Their response should have been a simple one that stayed on message: Trudeau is trying to steamroll bills through Parliament and now look at him physically steamroll through the opposition.
Instead, they decided to sell it much in the same way a pro wrestling jobber would sell an elbow from an up-and-coming mid-card talent, by falling to the ground. They decided to take the “what kind of feminist is Trudeau, he just elbowed a woman and she had to leave the room” approach.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of ways to call bullshit on Trudeau’s much touted feminism. His recent arms sale to Saudi Arabia comes to mind. This, unfortunately, was not one of them, and I am astounded NDP leadership didn’t realize it.
In less than 24 hours, they managed to turn a story about our PM acting like a bully into one where they were the butt of jokes in The Beaverton and, at the same time, the posterboys of trivializing violence against women by reducing it to an accidental elbow caught on camera while others have suffered and continue to suffer much worse on a daily basis.
In some coverage, Trudeau is now coming across as the victim of an overzealous opposition. In other articles, writers are juxtaposing the faux outrage over this incident with the real suffering people considering assisted dying are facing.
The NDP stunt was a statement against fast-tracking legislation in general, not against the specific bill being fast-tracked, but it’s easy to conflate the two when Mulcair and company aren’t sticking to their original point of contention by making it all about the elbow. Trudeau has apologized three times for the elbow, muting further attacks based on it and the Liberals have now quietly withdrawn their attempts to speed up debate in the Commons, meaning the NDP has now completely missed their chance to make it an issue, at least for the moment.
Another unfortunate side-effect is that now Brosseau is fielding tons of personal attacks online about the incident which she, in no way, deserves. Getting elbowed in the chest, I can only imagine, is quite an unpleasant experience, even if it was an accident. She was right to leave the room after being hit and also perfectly justified in being upset about what happened.
The over-reaction and insistence of her party that this is all about the elbow is not her fault. Unfortunately, now when Mulcair and others defending her against the recent hate tweet something like this:
These vicious attacks against @RE_Brosseau must stop. I #StandwithREB. https://t.co/wzAo8cJNMV
— Tom Mulcair (@ThomasMulcair) May 21, 2016
Almost all the responses are about the elbowing incident and whether or not the party over-reacted and not about all of the hateful comments she has received.
So now the NDP has completely lost their message and are now fighting against internet trolls when they could have easily turned this into a statement about government bullying.
My advice to the NDP is the exact same advice I gave to Justin Trudeau: think.
So who comes out of this debacle on top? Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and the Conservatives.
May got her chance to chastise both the Liberals and the NDP for being incredibly immature. Meanwhile, former PM Stephen Harper, who doesn’t always show up in the House of Commons these days, but was present for this vote, can be seen briefly in the video feed of the incident smugly smirking at what was going on:
Harper’s reaction to the chaos in the House of Commons is gold https://t.co/At8aXTxBSz pic.twitter.com/F8NXHac94P
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) May 19, 2016
So, once again to recap: Justin Trudeau screwed up royally but the NDP botched their response and are now on the defensive and Stephen Harper had a good chuckle.