POLITICS

NDP launches last-ditch effort to boost Speaker's powers

09/30/2014 03:21 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
New Democrat MP Peter Julian has launched a last-minute campaign to convince Conservative backbenchers to back his bid to give the Speaker the power to crack down on non-responsive replies during question period.

Just hours before MPs are scheduled to pass judgment on his motion, the NDP House leader has sent an urgent missive to his colleagues across the aisle, imploring them to support his proposal.

"This motion is a non-partisan, modest step that would allow the Speaker to put an end to the type of embarrassing — and totally irrelevant — replies that we all had the misfortune of witnessing last week," Julian wrote.

That is a reference to the brouhaha that ensued after Conservative MP Paul Calandra responded to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's questions on Canada's military deployment in Iraq with an attack on the party's position on Israel.

Calandra later apologized for his conduct.

"The motion would simply enable the Speaker to ensure that the response has something to do with the question," Julian added.

'Will not cure all that ails our democracy'

And although he acknowledges that the move "will not cure all that ails our democracy [or] even all that ails question period," it will "ensure that ministers and parliamentary secretaries are required to at least attempt to address questions that are asked of them."

Later, Mulcair joined the call with a tweet inviting supporters to sign a "Fix QP" petition:

During question period, both Julian and his caucus colleague, Megan Leslie, challenged Government House Leader Peter Van Loan to make it a free vote, but the government House leader refused to answer.

As yet, just one Conservative has spoken up in favour of the NDP proposal — Michael Chong, who last week managed to garner the support of the House for a similarly modest adjustment to the rules that he hopes will rebalance power between leaders and MPs.

So dismissive is the government of the NDP's initiative that Van Loan sprung a procedural trap that would see the motion die without even going to a vote. Van Loan on Monday moved that "the question now be put," which means the House will vote first on whether to even bring the NDP motion to the floor.

If Van Loan's motion is defeated, the NDP motion would be dropped from the Order Paper without a vote.

The first vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The full text of the Peter Julian's letter: