Feds cut off debate on budget bill, schedule midnight sittings
OTTAWA -- The federal government has limited further debate on the 2021 budget implementation bill, in an effort to pass it in the dying days of the spring House of Commons sitting, saying that the Conservatives left them “no choice” but to intervene to see key COVID-19 aid supports extended.
And, in a further sign that a two-month break for MPs from parliamentary duties is just around the corner: the government has reinstated late-night sittings a few times a week starting Monday and effective until the final scheduled sitting day next Wednesday, June 23. This week and next on Monday and Wednesday MPs will sit until midnight, and Friday's sitting has been extended to 4:30 p.m.
The budget bill was the first of what is expected to be a few priority pieces of legislation to have time allocation imposed on them in the remaining sitting days before a the summer break when Canadians could be thrust into an election campaign.
The legislation, Bill C-30, enacts several major budget 2021 commitments, including measures to see key pandemic aid programs like the wage and rent subsidy extended to the end of September. If the bill does not pass in the coming days, those support programs would expire while pandemic lockdowns are still in place.
The Liberals brought forward the time allocation motion Monday morning, and after a brief debate in which the Liberals were challenged on whether the move would be needed if they had more effectively managed their legislative agenda and had tabled the budget earlier, it passed with the backing of the Bloc Quebecois.
The bill is currently at report stage in the House, and will need to pass that as well as third reading before it can be sent to the Senate. The time allocation motion sets out that no more than five hours will be spent debating the bill at each of the remaining two stages before it comes to a vote. Also tucked into the bill are a series of other measures, including changes to the Social Security Tribunal, the Canada Labour Code, and the Canada Elections Act.
“This bill has been debated in the House. It has been studied at committee. It is now time to call the question. It is time to put aside the theatrics and to lay out once and for all, where we all stand on these issues,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland during a press conference on Monday.
She placed the blame for needing to cut short further debate on the Official Opposition, saying they were holding up the extension of key COVID-19 aid benefits. Subsidies aside, Freeland said that in her view, the bill cannot languish in the House over the summer break as it includes other important aspects of the government’s plans to see Canada “come roaring back” from COVID-19.
Debating the time allocation motion in French, Conservative House Leader Gerard Deltell called it a “gag order,” while NDP House Leader Peter Julian focused on his party’s calls for the government to reverse their decision in the budget to cut the amount of money provided through the Canadian Recovery Benefit, as people are still relying on it.
Tabled on April 30, a few weeks after the 2021 budget was presented, various committees in the Senate have been pre-studying aspects of the wide-ranging legislation for weeks, in anticipation of an end-of-sitting time-crunch.
Last week, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez first signalled that the Liberals would be moving ahead with motions to cut off debate on key bills, accusing the Conservatives of trying to stall key legislation. The Official Opposition denied the allegation.
In the days following last week’s legislative tiff, the government has moved to restrict how much time MPs will spend debating certain key bills, including Bill C-10 regarding Broadcasting Act Changes and Bill C-12 regarding Canada’s greenhouse gas emission targets.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to take the Chamber off scheduled agenda items when they have the opportunity to raise their ongoing concerns with the Liberals’ respect for Parliament, citing a refusal to comply with document production orders as one example.
“The Trudeau government at every step of this pandemic has either tried to limit scrutiny, limit debate, limit coverage,” said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Monday. “They're the least transparent government in Canadian history.”
On Monday, Rodriguez doubled down, stating that the current tone in the Commons is “toxic” and the Liberals are bracing for the Conservatives to keep obstructing “at every step.”
Despite this messaging and the stalemate in the Commons, the Liberals continue to say they have “absolutely no desire for an election.”
That was how Freeland put it when Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May questioned whether MPs are being put under “false time pressure” given the next fixed election date is in October 2023.