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Conservatives launch marathon voting session over Liberal refusal to scrap carbon tax

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Pierre Poilievre's Conservatives have launched an overnight marathon voting session in the House of Commons, after signalling they'd be making good on their threat to delay the government's agenda over their opposition to the carbon tax.

On Thursday evening, the Conservatives began calling what could total to more than 100 votes on line items from the Liberal government's latest spending plans.

Following the debate and failed vote on the Official Opposition's last "supply day" motion of the season—once again calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to scrap the carbon tax — MPs moved to consider the latest batch of supplementary estimates for 2023-24, triggering what could be an estimated 27 consecutive hours of votes.

"This evening we'll be dealing with the supply bills. You may know by now that Conservatives have put on a number of opposed items in an effort to highlight the pain that the Liberal carbon tax is imposing on Canadians who are struggling with food prices at grocery stores," Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said after question period, setting up the session.

He said the Conservatives would be willing to back down and allow the estimate process to proceed in "an orderly and timely manner," if the government pushed the Senate to repeal the amendment that essentially gutted a backbencher's farm fuel carbon tax carve out legislation.

"If not, in order to ensure Canadians understand the devastating impact the carbon tax will have on them, we will be voting around the clock until this government gets it through their minds, that the carbon tax is causing all this misery on Canadians," Scheer said.

The supplementary estimates are a document that outlines additional government spending, and before this spending package can be voted on, the rules state MPs have to deal with any "opposed votes." There are currently more than 100 "opposed votes" posted by the Conservatives, which as a procedural tool forces the House to take a specific position on various line items from the estimates.

As a sampling, the Conservatives have asked for votes on repayments to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.; CRA, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and Canadian Food Inspection Agency operating expenditures; funding for the RCMP, CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment; and grants and contributions to Health Canada.

Just before the procedural showdown started, Government House Leader Karina Gould proposed the House sit until midnight, and then suspend to provide MPs a "health break," before picking back up at 7 a.m. on Friday. The Conservatives rejected that offer.

"I think that is something that is inappropriate, and they should quite frankly be ashamed about," Gould said. "The Conservatives are only here to obstruct."

The marathon voting session kicked off at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. As of 11:30 p.m. ET with just a fraction of the votes completed, MPs appeared poised to burn the midnight oil. They could end up voting well into Friday, which is typically a shorter sitting day allowing MPs to travel back to their ridings in time for weekend constituency events.

POILIEVRE ACCUSED OF 'GASLIGHTING' 

Poilievre fired a warning shot about throwing up all possible procedural tools they have in their arsenal, when speaking to his caucus on Wednesday.

"We're going to put in thousands of amendments at committee and in the House of Commons, forcing all night round-the-clock voting to block your $20 billion of inflationary spending and the rest of your economically destructive plans, until you agree to our demand to take the tax off farmers, First Nations, and families," Poilievre said Wednesday.

Poilievre was not in question period on Thursday, travelling to Montreal to attend a Conservative Party of Canada fundraising reception at a steakhouse, as well as a menorah lighting to mark the start of Hanukkah.

"So here he is yesterday claiming to Canadians that he's going to hold this government to account, that he's going to do these things. Well, let's see if he shows up to vote or not, or whether he's out there raising political funds," Gould said, accusing him of "gaslighting Canadians with this attempt."

When the first vote that kicked off the session came up, on his proposal to "axe the tax," Poilievre did participate, electronically. He continued to cast his votes that way as the evening went on, but was expected to join in-person overnight. 

Gould said she's confident the rest of the Official Opposition motions will fail as the government and "reasonable opposition parties" will "stand against bullies," and "keep working in Ottawa as long as it takes."

"They're proposing over 100 cuts," Gould said. "This is typical of the Conservatives under Pierre Poilievre … We've seen this playbook from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party that has tried to shut down the U.S. government and now Pierre Poilievre and his caucus are trying to bring those same tactics here to Canada."

While the stakes are higher given votes on government spending are generally considered matters of confidence, thanks to the pandemic-era invention of an electronic voting application, MPs are able to register their yeas and nays from anywhere in the country. 

The early evening votes saw most MPs voting from their seats in the chamber, but numbers dwindled some as the night went on.

This is not the first time the Conservatives have used this procedural tactic to prompt overnight vote-a-thons. In 2021 there was a 21-hour procedural standoff over the Liberals' handling of the Jaspal Atwal India incident, and in 2019 they led a record-setting voting session over the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

In both past examples the hours-long procedural showdowns ended with little fanfare or policy change, beyond leaving MPs and Parliament Hill staff bleary-eyed and with less House time left to pass priority legislation.

ALLEGATIONS OF 'ABUSE' AT COMMITTEES

This session is just the latest in increasingly heated exchanges in Ottawa.

Overnight, the House Natural Resources Committee broke what had been a months-long Conservative-led filibuster over legislation focused on jobs in the energy sector. 

After Poilievre's party put up an estimated 20,000 amendments to the 11-page "Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act," the other parties managed to use procedural rules to bulk batch vote on the proposed changes, making their way through around 200 votes around 2:30 a.m. ET.

The bill is now back on the move through the remaining stages, but NDP MP and committee member Charlie Angus described the stunt as "legislative abuse," and an example of the "degraded state of democracy that we're seeing in Parliament right now."

"Went through over eight hours of shouting and harassment… This is not what happens in Parliament. I have never seen this kind of intimidation and harassment that's been unleashed by Pierre Poilievre," Angus said.

"If anybody watched the unbelievable, childish behaviour and shenanigans that took place at the natural resources committee… you will have no doubt left in your mind that they have zero respect for this place," Gould said.

The Conservatives have characterized what went down differently, claiming it was the Liberal-NDP alliance that "under the cover of darkness" used "draconian" measures to ram through their "unjust transition agenda." 

Then on Thursday, the House Finance Committee was slated to hear from Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland about the increased cost to buy a home in Canada, but as soon as the rounds of questioning began, the hearing devolved into crosstalk and accusations of impropriety.

Conservative MP and finance critic Jasraj Singh Hallan kicked things off by asking if Freeland had watched Poilievre's self-described 15-minute "brilliant" housing documentary. As she began to respond, indicating she hadn't, he suggested she "like, share, and subscribe."

The back-and-forth went on from there, seeing the chair implore opposition MPs to allow Freeland to answer, "out of respect." The deputy prime minister then stated that Conservative senators have recently been reprimanded for "bullying" and "it would be terrible" to see that take place in the House.

Reflecting on the conduct on display, NDP House Leader Peter Julian pointed to the "enormous amount of taxpayers' resources" this wrangling is using up.

"Tonight we're seeing, what they're trying to do, is force all the hard working folks in the House administration — people who give their lives to preserving democracy and our Parliament — make them work all night, rather than to have some kind of negotiated, more sensible approach," Julian said.

"Mr. Poilievre is absent, he doesn't have the courage to be here in the House at the same time as he is obliging his members of Parliament to vote all evening," Julian said. "I deplore his tactics and it's not really even clear what he's trying to get at. It's just the Conservatives blocking things for the sheer delight of blocking Parliament." 

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