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john ibbitson

Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.The Globe and Mail

Justin Trudeau took his medicine in the House Thursday morning, repeatedly apologizing for his physical aggression on the floor of the House the night before, and promising improved relations with the opposition parties.

"I look forward to working with all members in this House to move this debate forward in a constructive and productive way," he said.

We'll see. But the root of this situation involves a coterie of politically inexperienced ministers making one mistake after another. In the past, this has led to greater control from the Centre; cynics predict that same will happen with the Trudeau government. And the cynics are probably right.

Let's not forget how all this began. The Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting physician-assisted death was unconstitutional, and set a June 6 deadline for Parliament to respond with legislation appropriate to that decision. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould appointed a committee, co-chaired by Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, to study the issue, but then chose to ignore the committee's recommendation that people with both terminal and non-terminal illnesses, including mental illnesses, could request such a death.

Instead, Ms. Wilson-Raybould's legislation, Bill C-14, permits physician-assisted death to end suffering only when a natural death is "reasonably foreseeable."

Mr. Oliphant said he would vote against the bill, which he believes conflicts with the court's ruling. Alberta's highest court agreed this week with Mr. Oliphant, granting a physician-assisted death to a woman with a severe and incurable mental illness. The bill, on its face, is fatally flawed and will not survive a court challenge. The previous Conservative government was rightly criticized for pushing through such legislation.

When it became clear the opposition parties intended to delay passage of Bill C-14, House Leader Dominic LeBlanc sought to impose closure on the bill and also sought to pass a rule that would block opposition-party efforts to fight back against closure. Conservative and NDP MPs were furious.

To further raise tempers on the opposition benches, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef announced a parliamentary committee this month that will study replacing the first-past-the-post style of electing MPs with an alternative method. The committee is stacked with Liberal MPs, and Ms. Monsef refuses to permit a referendum on whatever new electoral system is proposed because "half the people impacted by past proposed electoral reforms in Ontario and B.C. did not participate."

Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose didn't hesitate to bring up electoral reform in her speech Thursday morning condemning Mr. Trudeau for his actions, pointing out that calling a referendum undemocratic is "absurd" and "insulting."

"But when the Prime Minister shows arrogance or dismissiveness or the disrespect that he showed us last night, there should be no surprise when the government follows."

Ms. Monsef is also a political rookie. And it was a rookie prime minister who on Wednesday lost his temper so badly. Had Stephen Harper done the same when he was prime minister, he would have been under intense pressure to resign.

The situation has become so grim that little of the government's rather thin legislative program, including Bill C-14, has any hope of passage before the House rises in June. Suddenly, surprisingly, the government appears to have completely lost control of its agenda.

In previous governments, when ministers botched matters and things got bogged down, the prime minister of the day responded by stripping ministers of their responsibility and centralizing operations in his office. Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly promised that will never happen on his watch. But if the past is predictive, his advisors will be warning that he needs to get the situation back under control. And that means control from the Centre.

It has ever been thus.