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Bill C-38: Omnibus Budget Bill Amendments Could Make For Marathon, Days-Long House Of Commons Showdown

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UPDATE: The Speaker of the House of Commons is giving the green light to more than 800 of the opposition's proposed amendments to the government's so-called omnibus bill.

But Speaker Andrew Scheer says he will restrict the number of votes on proposed changes to the budget implementation legislation, Bill C-38.

Scheer says the structure of the legislation itself falls within the bounds of correct parliamentary procedure.

The Liberals and the NDP together proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the bill, which is more than 400 pages long and changes more than 70 laws.

Opposition parties say the legislation goes too far, but the government says the bill is necessary to create jobs and keep the economy percolating.

The Liberals want the government to pull items relating to fisheries, environmental assessment, EI and old age security and introduce them as separate bills.

With files from The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Opposition parties are planning a showdown against the Conservative government over its omnibus budget bill Monday — but it might not all go according to plan.

The NDP, Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party have had 871 amendments approved by the Commons’ law clerk — out of more than 1,300 submitted — in a bid to force days of non-stop voting in the Commons.

The point, says NDP house leader Nathan Cullen, is to send a message to the government that it cannot continue to abuse Parliament without consequences.

“It’s not a right wing, left wing [issue], it is right and wrong, and this is wrong. And so doing something wrong shouldn’t be rewarded and shouldn’t be easy,” Cullen told The Huffington Post Canada in a phone interview Friday.

“The cost to them is that they have to stand up over and over again for all these things that they want to see happen to the country. If you want to take people’s pensions away, you should have to stand up vote for that. If you’re going to get rid of somebody’s employment insurance, you should have to at least take the 10 minutes to stand up and vote for that too,” he said.

But Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan warned the opposition’s efforts to “delay and obstruct” might not succeed.

“A lot of people don’t seem to be aware that the standing orders have been changed after the 2000 election by the Liberals and there is now a clear direction to the Speaker that if amendments seem frivolous, vexacious and calculated to simply create undue delay, that he should not select them for voting by Parliament,” Van Loan said.

“I think it is quite clear that the object of the opposition parties is to oppose the budget and all they are doing is finding ways to say no to the budget a number of times rather than once, so it is clearly an abuse of process,” he said.

“I think the Speaker has to exercise his powers under that section,” Van Loan added.

The Speaker, Andrew Scheer, is a young Conservative MP who was elected by in a secret ballot by a majority of his Tory MPs last summer.

Cullen said he trusts Scheer and expects he’ll allow at least 200 to 300 amendments to move forward. Despite Van Loan’s assertions, government sources said they also expect Scheer will allow half the oppositions’ amendments to move forward.

According to the House of Commons standing orders, the rules of the chamber, the Speaker can rule out motions that are “repetitive, frivolous or vexatious or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at report stage.” The Liberals and NDP together brought forward 579 non-overlapping motions to delete certain sections of the budget bill while the Bloc Quebecois submitted 22 substantive amendments and the Greens suggested more than 300 substantive changes.

Scheer could strike as many as he wishes out of order. He will also be able to group similar motions together in order to limit the number of votes. Since the House of Commons does not have electronic voting, MPs must stand to vote yay or nay for each amendment or group of amendments. He is scheduled to rule on the number of votes at noon on Monday.

OPPOSITION STRATEGY

The opposition’s strategy to prolong voting was first laid out in May by the Green Party. During a sparsely attended press conference, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said her plan to force hours, if not days, of voting would not only raise awareness against the Harper budget which changes more than 70 laws, including scrapping environmental regulations, old age security, removing the oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency, but it would also cause Conservative MPs great physical strain.

“Once the voting starts no one can leave their chair, that is a situation of physical challenges,” May said on May 10. “The House Leader for the Conservatives did ask me before the omnibus crime bill to only put forward some [amendments] because he said the physical challenges for his caucus would be extreme. He actually said, 'Do I have to go out and buy Depends for my caucus now?' You can’t leave your chair at all,” May told reporters. “So that’s one thing I can do.”

Political parties have since told The Huffington Post Canada that MPs will be allowed to leave their chair between votes to use the facilities. Food will be provided in the lobbies just outside the chamber and MPs will be allowed to re-enter the House before a new vote has started. Parties are also planning sleep rotations in case voting carries on for days.

It is still unclear whether journalists covering the vote will be allowed to leave the chamber to use the washroom. The Speakers office has refused to answer The Huffington Post Canada's questions on the matter.

The Conservatives, with a 21-member majority, have a bit more leeway than the opposition parties who will have to have all their members around in a continued show of force if they want to have any hope of passing an amendment.

Related on HuffPost:

WHAT'S REALLY IN THE BUDGET BILL
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