Ed Broadbent On Bill C-51: 'Never Thought I'd See The Day' Liberals Won't Defend Charter

Ryan Maloney / Huffington Post

The elder statesman of the federal New Democrats says he cannot believe that the party of Pierre Trudeau will back Bill C-51, the Tory government’s controversial anti-terror legislation.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent made the remarks Friday in a speech kicking off a two-day conference organized by the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank.

Broadbent's speech was largely critical of the Conservative government’s economic record, saying Canada has become a “vastly unequal” country under the watch of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. However, he also criticized both the Tories and Liberals over Bill C-51.

He referred to a piece he recently wrote for The Globe and Mail with former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow arguing that the anti-terror bill should be scrapped.

“We made the case that not only will (Bill C-51) be ineffective to combat terrorism, not only does it threaten our civil rights, but most serious of all, it places the very protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the shadow of wider powers to interfere with lawful and legitimate conduct,” he said.

Broadbent added that he worked with former prime minister Trudeau in the early 1980s to create “possibly the best” Charter of Rights in the world.

“I never thought I’d see the day his party would back away from its defence,” he said. “C-51 is flawed. C-51 is dangerous. C-51 must be defeated by Parliament.”

Broadbent did not mention Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau by name but pointedly said that the goal of the next election should not just be to “defeat bad Conservative ideas,” but to ensure progressive policies take their place.

“Simply preventing further erosion is not good enough,” he said. “We need to move our country to a new and better place.

“Canadians deserve better than a new federal government that, while perhaps being a bit more polite, continues to make inadequate decisions.”

Broadbent also did not mention Thomas Mulcair, but the NDP leader addressed the group Friday afternoon. Mulcair’s New Democrats are sharply opposed to the anti-terror legislation.

Trudeau’s Liberals have faced criticism since announcing that they support Bill C-51, but aim to amend the legislation if they win the next election.

Earlier this month, Trudeau told students at the University of British Columbia that his party believes many of the measures in the bill will help keep Canadians safe, but wants stronger oversight of Canada’s national security agencies.

The Liberal leader was also candid about the political calculations behind his decision, saying he did not want Harper “making political hay” if Liberals voted against the bill.

“This conversation might be different if we weren’t months from an election campaign, but we are,” he said.

On Thursday, Liberals unveiled the amendments they would like to see made to C-51, including the creation of a national security committee of parliamentarians with up to six MPs and three senators and expiry of certain provisions after three years, unless Parliament opts to renew them.

Four dozen witnesses have testified about the bill before the House of Commons public safety committee. Many expressed concerns about potential infringements on privacy rights and the fear that protesters could also be targeted under the wording of the legislation, derided by some as too vague.

Last week, the Canadian Bar Association denounced the bill. The organization took particular objection to a provision giving judges the power to authorize the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to violate the Charter while attempting to disrupt terror plots.

The group said the provision potentially brings "the entire Charter into jeopardy, undermines the rule of law, and goes against the fundamental role of judges as the protectors of Canada's constitutional rights."