The binary voting system “support/oppose”, though essential to our Parliament, often obscures the true nature of debate in our democratic institutions.
For instance, I voted against Bill C-603 last Wednesday (December 10) in the House of Commons, a measure that would have required new or imported large trucks to have sideguards.
Did that mean I opposed the motive of the bill? No, I support the motive, to cut down on cycling and pedestrian fatalities caused when truckers unwittingly crush cyclists.
Did the vote signify a disinterest in cyclists? Ironically, I’ve championed active transportation, including cycling. I created Bike Day on the Hill and worked with cycling groups across Canada last year to launch Bike Day in Canada. Annually, I “Ride My Riding”, participate in the Vancouver-Whistler Gran Fondo, Rotary Ride for Rescue, and other cycling events. I also commute to work on a bike. I love cycling.
Did my vote against C-603 signal my stance about health and fitness generally? In fact, only minutes before the vote on C-603 MPs had stood unanimously to pass Bill S-211, the bill crafted by Senator Nancy Greene Raine and me to create National Health and Fitness Day in Canada. Many of the MPs were wearing a bicycle lapel pin I had provided.
Did my vote reflect an opinion on the mover of the C-603? In fact, I respect NDP MP Hoang Mai (Brossard–La Prairie), among other things, for the way he has stimulated debate about the importance of cycling safety in Canada.
Is the vote on a bill the end of the discussion? No, in fact, the vote may trigger a discussion whose results accomplish more than would have been accomplished by passing the bill. In my case, I have communicated with my Bike-Partisan Steering Committee, a group of cycling advocates who help inform me about bike-related issues. We are more dedicated than ever to accomplish our goals, such as advocating for healthy physical exercise and safe cycling; promoting the economic and tourism aspects of cycling; and advocating for fiscal incentives for cycling.
So why did I oppose C-603? I wanted to support Mai’s motives in promoting safe cycling but opposed the bill for its cost and ineffectiveness. I learned that, although tragic, the true number of annual mortalities is extremely low in the type of event targeted by C-603; the measures proposed might not be as effective as other measures to prevent such horrible incidents; and that the measure would have cost the trucking industry half a billion dollars, over a period of several years.
So there were two developments on December 10 relating to C-603: the formal vote in the House that defeated the measure, and, arguably more important, the beginning of a discussion that will spur on events that may ultimately enhance bike safety.