The stage is set for a nasty two months of bell-ringing and procedural warfare as the Liberal government says it will use its powers to shut down debate to get its agenda through Parliament.
Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger announced on Monday that her government will make more use of time allocation, a practice that limits debate on specific bills or motions that will force votes and move the process along.
Ms. Chagger said the move is an unfortunate consequence of the opposition’s unwillingness to consider a package of proposed changes to the rules of the House of Commons. The government has decided to scale back its reform plans, but will push some of them through before the House rises in June.
“It is with regret that I inform my colleagues that, under these circumstances, the government will need to use time allocation more often to implement the ambitious agenda we were elected to deliver,” Ms. Chagger told MPs.
The government said it will make five changes to the Parliamentary rules – including establishing a weekly Prime Minister’s Question Period – which immediately angered the opposition parties, who said such a move should have the consent of all parties in the House.
The Conservatives and NDP said they intend to use all delay tactics at their disposal as a protest. Those options include forcing standing votes on routine matters, which causes delays as bells ring throughout Parliament Hill to alert MPs to return to the House for a vote.
“The NDP [and] the Conservatives are more united than ever in terms of fighting against this,” said Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, who spoke to reporters alongside NDP House Leader Murray Rankin.
“It’s a power-grab by the Liberals, plain and simple,” Mr. Rankin said. “The Parliament is for the people of Canada. It’s not to make the government’s work more efficient. It’s to hold the government to account.”
Ms. Chagger released a discussion paper in March with several options for Parliamentary reform. The original list included the five items the government is now pushing forward, which were also part of the Liberal election platform: improvements to the way spending plans are presented, limits to the use of prorogation (which ends a session of Parliament) and omnibus bills (which include a wide-range of policy changes in a single bill), increased committee powers, and the introduction of a Prime Minister’s Question Period in which the Prime Minister answers all of the questions.
It also included proposals that were not part of the Liberal platform, including the end of Friday sittings, the adoption of a practice called legislative programming that would outline how long bills would be debated, and limiting opposition delay tactics by capping the length of speeches in committee to 10 minutes.
The package infuriated the opposition parties and they have been engaging in a wide-range of procedural protests in committees and in the House in a way that has frustrated the Liberal government’s ability to advance bills.
There is some urgency for the government in that it is approaching its two year anniversary this fall, which is also the half-way point of the government’s four-year mandate. The midpoint would be the usual time for a government to prorogue Parliament and launch a new session with a Speech From the Throne. Prorogation effectively terminates all government bills that have not yet received Royal Assent. The government can use a motion to revive them at the same stage in the new session, but prorogation creates some uncertainty about the fate of government bills that have not yet become law.
The House is scheduled to sit until June 23, with one break week, leaving seven weeks of House business. However, another complicating factor for the government is the Senate. The growing numbers of independent Senators have increased the number of bills the Senate amends and sends back to the House for another vote. That means the government will likely want to pass its most important bills – such as its budget bill – before the end of June.
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May 01, 2017 4:35PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, May 02, 2017 7:15AM EDT