Liberals threaten to take full control of the House as deadline looms
Published Wednesday, May 18, 2016 1:52PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 19, 2016 11:29AM EDT
The opposition parties are pushing back after Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc gave notice the government could seize control of the House of Commons.
LeBlanc has given notice of a motion that would let the Liberals force overnight debates and adjourn the House for the summer without any notice and with no debate. The motion would also restrict the opposition parties' ability to slow down proceedings.
The NDP and Conservatives are protesting the Liberal motion, arguing the Speaker should find it out of order. But MPs said they wanted to debate C-14, the assisted dying bill, so they put off much of the discussion for another day.
"This is a sad day for our democracy," NDP House Leader Peter Julian told the House. The Liberal motion would rewrite the House rules in 17 different ways "so that they, the executive, have unilateral control over all the procedural tools in the House."
Once the opposition parties finished lodging their complaint, LeBlanc introduced a time allocation motion to cut short debate on C-14.
Notice is required before any motion can be put before the House for a vote, but giving notice doesn't require that the government go ahead with it. That means the motion to grant the government control could be simply a threat to force the cooperation of opposition parties as the Liberals try to wrap up business before the summer.
The assisted dying bill has been a major point of contention as the Liberals try to meet a Supreme Court-imposed June 6 deadline. The opposition wants more time for debate.
Tensions rose so high by Wednesday night that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was involved in an altercation on the floor of the House. When New Democrat MPs loitered in the path of the Conservative Party whip ahead of the time allocation vote, Trudeau strode to the back and grabbed Official Opposition whip Gord Brown to walk him to his seat so the vote could proceed. In the process, he elbowed New Democrat MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, who appeared to crash into one of the wooden desks. Trudeau returned to apologize, where NDP Leader Tom Mulcair confronted him and the two leaders squared off. Other MPs separated them. Brosseau left the House before the vote happened, and MPs spent the next hour debating how to handle the incident. Trudeau later stood twice to apologize.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer called the proposed Liberal motion unprecedented and said it came out of left field.
"The motion that they put on notice is something that I’ve never seen or even heard of. It’s one thing for the government to use the tools available to it to implement its agenda. It’s another thing to take away tools from the opposition, and that’s what we’re seeing. This is a very undemocratic proposal by the government," Scheer said.
LeBlanc and Trudeau say they're trying to extend House sitting hours to give more time for debate, ignoring questions about the other measures that would allow them the ability to shut down the House for the summer with no notice.
Mulcair accused LeBlanc of "straight-up lying."
"This attempt to put a straitjacket on Parliament deprives Canadians of their most important democratic institution," Mulcair said. "It's childish petulance by the Liberals who almost lost a vote this week, who are now trying to put their straitjacket on Parliament and submit it to their majority will."
On Monday, the NDP and Conservatives surprised the Liberals by triggering a vote on a bill regarding Air Canada maintenance. The government and opposition tied 139-139, which forced the Speaker to cast a vote. Following parliamentary convention, Speaker Geoff Regan voted with the government to keep the legislation moving.
The opposition parties say talks among the House leaders, which are a normal part of the behind-the-scenes discussions in Parliament, broke down this week. LeBlanc wouldn't tell the Conservatives and NDP which bills would be debated over the next few weeks.
"We had a very short house leaders’ meeting where the opposition were not even provided with a calendar. That's something that didn't happen in the last Parliament. Even when things broke down between the opposition and government, the Conservative government always gave the opposition a calendar for what was going to be debated," Scheer said.