Plans to change par­lia­ment pulled back

Lib­er­als still push­ing some ideas through; threaten more clo­sure

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOANNA SMITH OT­TAWA —

The Lib­er­als are putting some wa­ter in their par­lia­men­tary wine, but their po­lit­i­cal ri­vals ar­gue they are still forc­ing the op­po­si­tion par­ties to drink it.

“It’s very clear that the Lib­eral ar­ro­gance and the plans that they have are not go­ing away,” Op­po­si­tion House leader Candice Ber­gen said Mon­day.

“They are tak­ing this sev­eral notches fur­ther and mak­ing this even more of an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion for us.”

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment took a big step back on its plans to change the ins and outs of par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure, aban­don­ing some of the more con­tentious re­forms it had been propos­ing — changes that have had Con­ser­va­tive and NDP crit­ics up in arms for weeks.

They are still, how­ever, go­ing ahead with other changes, in­clud­ing hav­ing the prime min­is­ter de­liver all the re­sponses in one ques­tion pe­riod each week.

And, since the Lib­er­als promised these changes in their 2015 elec­tion cam­paign, they are go­ing to push them through even if they can­not bring the op­po­si­tion par­ties on side.

“We will con­tinue to move ahead with the spe­cific com­mit­ments from our cam­paign plat­form, all of which will make the gov­ern­ment more ac­count­able, not less,” gov­ern­ment House leader Bardish Chag­ger said Mon­day.

The Water­loo MP also said the Lib­er­als are de­ter­mined to ac­tu­ally change the rules — rather than sim­ply their own prac­tices — so that fu­ture gov­ern­ments have to fol­low suit.

NDP House leader Mur­ray Rankin warned the Lib­er­als against view­ing the House of Com­mons this way.

“The Par­lia­ment is for the peo­ple of Canada,” said Rankin. “It is not to make the gov­ern­ment’s work more ef­fi­cient. It’s to hold the gov­ern­ment to ac­count.”

Rankin also pointed out the Lib­er­als have walked away from other prom­ises — in­clud­ing the one to re­form the way Cana­di­ans vote in fed­eral elec­tions in time for the next one.

“We are very sus­pi­cious of the ar­gu­ment that some­how they have to do this to keep a prom­ise,” Rankin said.

Chag­ger will put the changes in a mo­tion be­fore the House of Com­mons some time be­fore MPs head home for the sum­mer.

The other pro­pos­als the gov­ern­ment will im­ple­ment in­clude changes to how com­mit­tees op­er­ate to give them more power, bet­ter fi­nan­cial over­sight mea­sures and re­stric­tions on the use of so-called om­nibus leg­is­la­tion.

She made it clear Mon­day the Lib­er­als have no plans to budge from this bot­tom line.

Chag­ger also said with­out re­forms that would have al­lowed the Lib­er­als to move their leg­is­la­tion through the process more pre­dictably, op­po­si­tion par­ties should ex­pect them to more of­ten use heavy­handed tac­tics — such as time al­lo­ca­tion, which in­volves cur­tail­ing de­bate — to speed things along.

The Lib­er­als had pro­posed some­thing called “pro­gram­ming,” which in­volves sched­ul­ing a set amount of time to move gov­ern­ment bills through the leg­isla­tive process, but pulled the plug on that idea and sev­eral oth­ers in a let­ter Chag­ger wrote Sun­day to her op­po­si­tion col­leagues.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we have not found the will­ing­ness to study the sys­tem here and so I have re­gret­fully in­formed the op­po­si­tion par­ties that we will have to use time al­lo­ca­tion more of­ten to im­ple­ment the agenda of change we promised Cana­di­ans,” Chag­ger said, adding they do so “with full trans­parency.”

The battle over pro­ce­dural re­form had led to a lengthy fil­i­buster in com­mit­tee, with ten­sions spilling over into the House of Com­mons, even de­lay­ing the tabling of the fed­eral bud­get.

A Lib­eral source said it be­came clear some time over the break that the dis­agree­ment over those other sug­ges­tions was too deep and that re­vert­ing to the core elec­toral prom­ises — and away from those that would have in­creased the power of the gov­ern­ment — would be a way to break the log­jam.

Lib­eral MP Wayne Easter, who had ear­lier ex­pressed some trep­i­da­tion over chang­ing the rules with­out con­sen­sus from the op­po­si­tion par­ties, said Mon­day he was glad to see some move­ment from Chag­ger and that he hoped to see some from the other side, too.

“This isn’t just the gov­ern­ment’s fault,” Easter, of Malpeque, P.E.I., said Mon­day. “Now, I think it’s up to the op­po­si­tion par­ties to show a lit­tle com­mon sense here and try and re­solve these is­sues and get Par­lia­ment work­ing again.”


Gov­ern­ment House Leader Bardish Chag­ger speaks about par­lia­men­tary changes in the House on Mon­day.

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