Liberals outline plan for controversial parliamentary reform
Published Sunday, April 30, 2017 6:56PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 1, 2017 8:34AM EDT
The Liberal government has proposed significant and controversial changes to Parliament, including something called the “Prime Minister’s Question Period,” where the prime minister will be obliged to attend question period in the House of Commons at least one day a week and then answer all questions from all MPs, CTV News has learned.
In a letter sent to opposition House leaders by Government House Leader Bardish Chagger late Sunday night, the government has proposed to go ahead with a series of changes the Liberal Party put in its platform to “modernize” Parliament. But the government is also dropping other ideas that were contained in a discussion paper that triggered vociferous criticism from the opposition.
- Scroll down or click here to read the letter
The government proposes to create:
“Prime Minister’s Question Period”: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be obliged to attend question period every Wednesday during a sitting and answer every question that day, as opposed to only questions from the other party leaders. The PM might appear other days, but would not do so on a regular basis. This would follow the tradition in the U.K.
Opposition parties have already said they are against this idea because they believe the prime minister would be less accountable. Trudeau soft-launched this idea by answering every question in the House on Wednesday, April 5. The Liberals argue this will make the prime minister more accountable. Under the new rules, the Speaker of the House would also have more power to give more time for questions and answers and to challenge MPs on their questions.
Rules around omnibus bills: The Liberals want to prevent the improper use of omnibus bills, something they argue the Harper government abused. The opposition parties have already called the Liberals hypocrites, accusing them of using an omnibus bill for their latest budget.
The letter also mentions changes to rules around prorogation of Parliament.
“We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny,” Chagger’s letter says “Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.”
The letter also promises to provide “better oversight of taxpayer dollars” by ensuring that government accounting is “more consistent and clear.” There’s also a proposal to strengthen the role of parliamentary committee chairs, including elections by secret ballot.
The Liberals also propose changing the rules so that ministers and parliamentary secretaries no longer have a vote on committees.
They will back off on the idea of putting forward a set parliamentary schedule, as the government does in the U.K., which was meant to make Parliament more predictable and avoid invoking time allocation on votes. Opposition parties did not like this idea so the government is putting it on hold for now. The government will also not cancel the Friday sitting in the House, as some have proposed, and is dropping the idea of electronic voting in the House.
The Liberals plan to put forward a motion proposing these changes before the summer break of Parliament. With a majority government, they can pass the motion without opposition support.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen was outraged by the letter, calling it a “disappointment” and a sign of “Liberal arrogance.”
“The government (is) trying to ram through changes before the summer break and we will oppose these,” she told CTV News.
Bergen said she was particularly disturbed by the plan for a prime minister’s question period.
“We think the prime minister should be in question period more than just one day a week and if he gives himself license not to be there he won’t be accountable,” she said. The Conservatives and the NDP both agree that any substantial changes to the Parliament should first have consensus and he should answer truthfully. “There should be a consensus from all the parties before these changes are made,” Bergen said.
In a statement, NDP House Leader Murray Rankin said the Liberals “have just announced that they will be unilaterally forcing through changes to the way our Parliament works, largely just to suit themselves.
“Discussion was always just a pretense -- it just took them a while to admit it. It's clear now that the emperor has no clothes,” he said.
The latest government proposals are all part of democratic reform the Liberals put forward in their election platform. But they come after the government failed to fulfill a major promise, which was to end the first-past-the-post voting system.