An unexpected display of unity in a normally disrupted parliament

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This week there was a surprising twist in Parliament that was highly unusual, if not unprecedented. Conservatives shocked political analysts by fully embracing a polarizing bill that the majority had vehemently opposed just before the election. Some conservatives even hugged opposition members after unanimously voting yes.

Before the election, the conservative opposition had turned a bill banning conversion therapy, the discredited practice that aims to alter one’s sexual orientation or gender expression, into one of the most controversial laws in parliament. Sixty-two conservatives voted against, while Erin O’Toole, the party leader, and 50 other conservatives voted in favour.

The legislation died when parliament was dissolved with the election call in August. But this week, the government tried again, introducing a new bill with a few extra safeguards to prevent attempts at conversion therapy.

Then came the unexpected twist. Rob Moore, a New Brunswick conservative, rose Wednesday afternoon and proposed a motion to speed up the bill and send it directly to the Senate.

“I was completely surprised when this happened,” Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told me. “This was something the House divided on before and we expected it to divide again — and then it didn’t happen.”

What exactly happened within the conservative caucus before Mr Moore presented his motion is not public. But Professor Malloy said the rare moment of parliamentary unity that followed could mark an important point in Mr O’Toole’s political career.

At times during the election and afterwards, Mr. O’Toole struggled to align his views on issues such as LGBTQ rights with those of his party’s social conservatives. That has led to a number of policy changes and compromises that have pleased neither the social conservatives within the party nor those who might consider voting conservatives but who are not social conservatives. Recently, Mr O’Toole has been criticized for personally advocating vaccination but refusing to approve mandatory vaccination even for his party’s members of parliament.

Another protracted battle over conversion therapy legislation, Professor Malloy said, would have allowed Liberals to suggest to voters that regardless of Mr O’Toole’s personal views, Conservatives are guided by the socially conservative wing of their side.

“For him to apparently get some sort of agreement within the party, this is quite something,” said Professor Malloy.

There is no guarantee that the rapid journey of the conversion therapy bill through the House of Commons will be repeated in the Senate. Mr. O’Toole’s influence on conservative senators is uncertain. Last month, Mr O’Toole removed Denise Batters, a senator from Saskatchewan, from the conservative national caucus after she started a petition to remove him as party leader. But the party’s caucus in the Senate defied Mr. O’Toole, and Mrs. Batters remains seated as a Conservative. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision not to allow anyone to sit as a Liberal in the Senate leaves his party without a formal vote in the Senate, posing another potential obstacle to legislation.

And the House of Commons ‘fantastic day’, as the Justice Minister David Lametti described it, is unlikely to mirror the tone of the rest of this Parliament. Just before this session started, Mr O’Toole named Pierre Poilievre, the most rhetorically combative member of the Conservatives, as the party’s financial critic.

Conservatives have also defined inflation and the growth of the federal deficit as their main points of attack against liberals for spending on pandemic support, meaning fans of overheated parliament and partisan speeches are unlikely to be disappointed.


  • I’m back from inland British Columbia, where swollen rivers devastated communities. My full report, illustrated with powerful photos by Ian Willms, can be found here. Of the many conversations I had with people there, one comment still stuck with me. “I never thought it would be as bad as this,” said Denise Cook, who had returned to her hometown, Princeton, as a cleanup volunteer. “It’s bad. People sitting here at home watching have no idea.”

  • Turner Sports is new to hockey and has brought in Wayne Gretzky and Paul Bissonnette, along with Anson Carter and Rick Tocchet, to analyze the game for American viewers. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved, but the group has found a chemistry no different from that of a hockey team itself, writes Jonathan Abrams, a sports reporter for The Times.

  • Peloton, the fitness company, has entered the apparel industry with products such as the Strappy Bra. That has led to a patent infringement lawsuit from Vancouver-based Lululemon.

  • Workers at three plants in Winnipeg owned by luxury parka manufacturer Canada Goose have voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionization, reports Noam Scheiber, a workplace reporter for The Times. This year, there were allegations that Canada Goose had disciplined two workers who identified themselves as union supporters. But the union said the company had abandoned efforts against unions in recent weeks.

  • As the Arctic melts, killer whales have found a new hunting ground.


Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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