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Liberals push for long-term House rule changes they say are needed to combat Conservative obstruction

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Steve MacKinnon speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Steve MacKinnon speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The federal Liberals are trying once again to amend the House of Commons sitting schedule to allow for more late-night debates, a move they say is a result of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's party trying to turn the chamber into a "place of dysfunction."

On Monday, Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon kicked off a debate in the House on a new government programming motion, that if passed would change the rules around the timing of debates and votes, through until the end of the current session of Parliament.

Among what the motion proposes is to allow ministers, in co-operation with at least one opposition House leader, to request that the House not adjourn until midnight to keep debating government legislation.

The motion would also give the government power to "without notice" immediately adjourn the House of Commons in the few days leading up to a scheduled winter or summer break, and proposes a new provision to allow for an overnight health break between midnight and 9 a.m. to avoid the "chaotic spectacle" of marathon voting sessions.

"No one, whether it is a member of Parliament, or an employee working in the House of Commons, should be forced to work throughout the night simply because the leader of the Opposition wants to bully others into participating in his political game," MacKinnon said, speaking to his proposal in the Commons.

"He wants to turn this House into a place of dysfunction... We have a different view," MacKinnon went on, before the Speaker paused proceedings to address the heckling he was receiving from across the aisle.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Speaking with reporters after presenting the motion, MacKinnon said the Conservatives are using tactics to prevent bills, even those they support, from coming to a vote, and now they'll be forced to show how strongly they feel about certain bills, by potentially forcing MPs to stay up until midnight debating them.

"Their objections to bills are generally not principled. They're only about obstruction, they are only about stopping progress from being made for Canadians," MacKinnon said. "It must be a very depressing existence for a Conservative member of Parliament to serve only to feed the temper tantrums of their leader."

The Liberals accusing the Official Opposition of obstruction is nothing new, and as they have over the years, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for a stalled legislative agenda while indicating a resolve to continue with their parliamentary approach.

Sounding alarm bells that the motion, if passed as drafted, would afford the Liberals major new House powers without first seeking what once was tradition -- all-party consensus -- Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said his party opposes this motion.

"They can't come to this place and start talking about the rights of members of Parliament, the ability for opposition parties to hold the government to account, if they're going outside the normal process to make major changes in the House," Scheer said. "That being said, Mr. Speaker, we're going to continue to oppose their agenda, because it's failed."

While it remains to be seen when this motion will come to a vote, it appears the New Democrats are ready to back it, with NDP House Leader Peter Julian saying the proposal "makes good sense, makes us work harder, and also smarter."


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