The sitting may have started when you were sleeping, and may be continuing as you read this. Last night, an informed source in Ottawa confirmed plans, unknown until now, for the House of Commons to convene in secret session as early as 3 a.m. today.
Secrecy in parliamentary debate is a drastic resort, used only when issues of the utmost delicacy are under consideration. There would seem to be high gravity involved in discussion of what the government labels its Interment Bill. In fact, it may be another Conservative attempt to shroud their agenda.
On close reading, the grandiosely titled legislation is actually a bill to amend the Canadian Burial Act. Beginning immediately, all cemeteries in Canada are to be required to bury all bodies at a depth of eight feet rather than six. All digging is to be by hand. Supporting amendments to the Canadian Cremation Act will increase the required heat in crematoriums and regulate the scattering of ashes in national parks.
The Harper government has been characteristically evasive about its reasons for rushing through these changes, especially on a weekend when Christians are celebrating resurrection. It’s simply being billed as an unusually literal infrastructure project. Government operatives, admittedly speaking in the dark, claim that six feet of earth is now inadequate protection against (a) animal predators, driven by climate change to seek new food supplies; and (b) human predators, medical students forced by provincial budget cuts to harvest cadavers essential to their education. A better buffer is needed. “Canadians will be able to rest in greater peace and security thanks to our action plan,” is the theme of the Prime Minister’s remarks to the House this morning.
He will also draw attention to the employment opportunities the bill creates for gravediggers. It will be marketed as another stimulus measure, somewhat analogous to the Bank of Canada’s policy of quantitative easing, but with precise measurement of the real dirt supply and prompt replacement leaving minimal deficits. “Eat your heart out, Mark Carney,” says a source close to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
There are indications, however, that the opposition will resist the proposal to make Canadians dig deeper. New Democrats will try to have the bill interred in the Senate, where they believe it belongs. Liberals are said to be drawing on their party’s recent history to draft an amendment allowing the self-digging of graves, to any depth.
Critics note that the Gravediggers Guild of Canada (GGC), one of the nation’s most historic trade unions, appears to be split between piece and hourly workers. The government did not help its cause when it mistakenly sent information about the bill to Girl Guides Canada (also GGC). The support of the Canadian Embalmers Association appears to have been bought with the promise of an ongoing supply of pennies, necessary to their underground economy. Quebeckers will continue digging their own graves.
There are darker accusations. Certain Liberals claim that credulous Conservatives are trying to create a zombie-free zone in the country. MPs, however, realize the need for extreme caution in referring to the living dead, and/or to the Prime Minister’s interest in vampire films (crosses are banned during this sitting, as is garlic in the parliamentary restaurant). Similarly, they’re waiting for Elections Canada’s report on the number of deceased Canadians, apparently hoping for a better hereafter, who voted Conservative in the last election. Conservatives deny directing robocalls to coffins.
The real reason for the cloak of secrecy appears to be more down to earth. It’s to try to contain the epidemic of black political humour sweeping the country. “If they don’t know what we’re saying, how can they keep on laughing at us?” one MP has said. Another suggests that our legislators would know where all the bodies are buried were it not for Conservative skulduggery.
Alternatively, whatever happens in Parliament on this day at the beginning of April may be considered so normal as to escape everyone’s attention, even if it doesn’t sit at all. It’s our funeral.
As a senior citizen, historian Michael Bliss’s nighttime thoughts sometimes turn to eternity.