Why Elizabeth May thinks Parliament needs to get past Elbowgate

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says Parliament needs to get back to work after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's elbowing incident on Wednesday that she says occurred in the midst of "partisan trickery."
Green Party MP Elizabeth May describes what happened in the House during the fracas with Justin Trudeau from her vantage point in the Commons. 0:43

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says Parliament needs to get back to work after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's elbowing incident on Wednesday that she says occurred in the midst of "partisan trickery."

The incident, in which Trudeau elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau while taking Conservative Party whip Gord Brown by the arm, occurred before a vote on a government motion to limit debate on Bill C-14, the government's assisted dying bill. May said opposition MPs were trying to delay the vote by blocking Brown.

May said tensions have been running high in the House of Commons all week.

"It certainly was disturbing, it was unfortunate, it was rattling to many nerves," May said on CBC's Metro Morning on Thursday.

"The key thing here is we dial down the acceleration of partisan hostility and actually do our work."

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, right, and Minister of Health Jane Philpott are seen speak about the physician-assisted death bill. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

May said Parliament is facing a June 6 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada to pass the assisted dying bill. She said the deadline has created a "very rare pressure cooker" situation in Parliament.  

Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould have said they have been told by doctors they need a new law. Once the deadline passes, doctors will have to interpret the Carter decision, May said.

In the Carter decision, the Supreme Court ruled people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die.

The court, which issued the landmark decision on Feb. 6, 2015, gave the federal government 12 months to craft legislation to respond to the ruling. In a 5-4 decision last January, the court granted the government a four-month extension, pushing the deadline to June 6.

"Tensions have been high because of the timeline and a honestly held belief on the part of the minister of justice and minister of health and prime minister that they must get through the bill on medically assisted dying and must do it before the Supreme Court invalidates certain sections of the Criminal Code that make that illegal," May said.

The Green Party leader said it's important to understand the sequence of events that led to the elbow incident.

After a snap vote called by the Conservatives and NDP on another piece of legislation on Monday, May said the Liberals responded on Tuesday by introducing a motion, Government Business No. 6, to control House business.

On Wednesday, May said opposition MPs then tried to block Brown from the walk the government and opposition whips traditionally take from the back of the House to the front before the vote to limit debate on the assisted dying bill.

Green Leader Elizabeth May says Parliament needs to get back to work after elbow incident in House of Commons. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc has since announced the Liberals will withdraw the Government Business No. 6 motion.

"Some members in the opposition parties realized, if we block the way here when the whips do the required walk from the back of the House to the front of the House, if we delay the vote by even three minutes, then we throw off the government's whole C-14 schedule," she said. 

"I don't think that's been clear. I'm not making excuses for the prime minister, but it's important to understand that tensions were high."

Trudeau apologized for his conduct in the House Wednesday when he pulled Conservative whip Gord Brown through a clutch of New Democrat MPs to speed up a vote. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

May said it's important for Parliament to maintain its reputation and not "to fan the flames" of the incident.

Trudeau apologized in Parliament on Thursday, for the third time in two days, for the physical encounter that resulted in a melee on the floor of the House.

"I apologize to my colleagues, to the House as a whole and to you, Mr. Speaker, for failing to live up to a higher standard of behaviour. Members, rightfully, expect better behaviour from anyone in this House. I expect better behaviour of myself," the prime minister said in the House after he apologized directly to two opposition MPs.

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