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Liberal support for NDP transgender bill could augur well for the future

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The Trudeau Liberals celebrated the first anniversary of their election by voting for an NDP MP's bill that would guarantee rights to transgender people.

It was British Columbia NDPer Randall Garrison who proposed the measure, Bill 16, which, if enacted into law, will help to stop discrimination on the basis of transgender status.

The Liberal party and its leader favour this sort of legislative protection, and it is to their credit that they were happy to use an opposition MP's initiative as the opportunity to put their support-in-principle into action.

What happened on Tuesday gives a glimpse of how the House might be functioning, now, had the election one year ago set the stage for either a Liberal-NDP coalition or a Liberal minority supported by the NDP, in a de facto partnership.

As it turned out, the 2015 election gave the Liberals a healthy majority of seats with fewer than four out of 10 votes cast.

That's not unusual in our system. The Conservatives won almost exactly the same kind of majority five years earlier, as did previous governments, including that of Jean Chrétien.

But, even with their comfortable majority, the Liberals have been mindful of the need to work with other MPs and parties in the House.

There was a moment last spring when it seemed they were about to slip into old, arrogant habits.

  • They force fed such a sensitive matter as assisted dying through the House.
  • They threatened to severely curtail debate in order to rush a slew of legislative measures through Parliament in time for a scheduled summer break .
  • And they waited until the last minute to name a special committee of MPs to consider electoral reform, and then gave their own party, the Liberals, a majority on that committee.

The good news is that the Prime Minister and his party backed down on all three.

They allowed more time for MPs to debate assisted death; withdrew their proposed measure to curtail Parliament's role in considering other legislation; and -- in a show of true political grace -- re-constituted the electoral reform committee, giving the opposition an extra seat, and denying themselves a majority.

There is much chatter today about what Trudeau has achieved and what he has not, one year in.

There have been some achievements, some promises kept, although, as we said in this space earlier this week, it has been mostly of the low-hanging fruit variety.

Still, to be fair, we have to recognize that the Liberals' mandate is still young.

The election was a year ago, but the Liberals have only been exercising power for about 11 months. They have more than three years to go. They have lots of time to tackle the more challenging promises on their long list.

They also have plenty of time to encounter many unanticipated obstacles and challenges.

As a Harold Macmillan, a British prime minister of the late 1950s and early 1960s, put it when asked what he considered to be the most difficult thing about his job: "Events, my dear boy, events." 

There will inevitably be events aplenty and almost certainly lots of acrimony and division in Parliament -- and in the political firmament more generally -- in the years to come.

Today, the fact that a majority government would choose to mark its first year in office by supporting an opposition MP's bill is cause for at least a modicum of celebration. 

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today!

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