New Democrats and Conservatives are alleging that a government motion to change how they do their work in the House of Commons is retribution after an embarrassing Liberal fumble this week.
And while both parties say the move is unlike anything seen before, the Liberals maintain they are just trying to get things done.
Late Tuesday, Government House Leader Dominic LeBlancfiled notice of a motion that, if adopted, would let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet extend sitting hours in the House until a minister or parliamentary secretary decides to adjourn proceedings — something that would be "deemed adopted without debate or amendment."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Dominic LeBlanc as he is sworn in as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
The motion proposes extending the House sitting to June 23, and would also give a minister or parliamentary secretary the power to adjourn the House until September — on the spot and with no warning to other parties.
The proposal includes strict time limits on opposition motions and would make it difficult for the opposition to call a snap vote. The powers are temporary, though, and will lapse when Parliament returns from summer break.
Earlier this week, Liberals were caught napping after opposition parties forced a snap vote on Bill C-10, the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Though Liberals boast a majority, many government MPs weren't in the House at the time. House Speaker Geoff Regan averted disaster for the government by breaking a 139-139 tie.
Now, New Democrats and Tories believe it is payback time.
"What we're seeing today is the total betrayal of Justin Trudeau's promise to be more respectful or open to Parliament."
— NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters Wednesday that the Liberals' gambit was "unprecedented in the history of Canadian Parliament."
"What we're seeing today is the total betrayal of Justin Trudeau's promise to be more respectful or open to Parliament," Mulcair said.
He dismissed the motion as "childish petulance" from Liberals who nearly lost a vote this week and now want to put a "straitjacket" on Parliament.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said that "even the Conservatives never went this draconian" in terms of trying to control the debate in the House. He said the motion will take away tools from opposition to debate and express dissatisfaction with the government. It would also prevent the kind of negotiations between parties that Canadians want, he said.
"We're living in a democracy not a dictatorship," Julian said in French.
"This is changing it from having a government and opposition to a government and an audience."
— Tory House Leader Andrew Scheer
That was much the same message Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer delivered to reporters. He blasted the motion as "vindictive," and the result of the bruised egos of Liberals.
Scheer, a former House Speaker, also called it "unprecedented."
"What's really interesting here is that nothing up to this point has warranted any kind of response about taking away opposition tools," he said, noting that Tories and New Democrats haven't unduly delayed any piece of legislation.
He accused the Liberal majority of "unilaterally disarming" MPs across the aisle.
"This is changing it from having a government and opposition to a government and an audience," Scheer said.
Opposition exaggerating things: LeBlanc
LeBlanc told reporters that the situation was being exaggerated. The motion, he said, would allow for more debate beyond normal sitting hours — something opposition MPs want.
Later, in question period, LeBlanc tried to beat back a claim from Scheer that the prime minister was showing "disdain" for Parliament.
"My friend across the aisle knows very well that what we are seeking to do, in fact, is allow more members of Parliament to speak to ensure that important government legislation can have a full and complete debate in the House," he said.
LeBlanc suggested Scheer was upset he won't be able to "get up in the middle of the day" and try to adjourn the House.
"In no other workplace is it acceptable to arrive at work, pull the fire alarm, and make all of one's colleagues cancel their meetings in committees," LeBlanc said.
Previous Tory track record
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose also accused Trudeau of disrespecting Parliament, treating the opposition as an "audience," and abandoning a campaign pledge not to resort to "legislative tricks."
The prime minister said Liberals seek to extend hours to allow MPs to "contribute thoughtful, responsible interjections on a broad range of topics."
"We knew that the prime minister admired (the) basic Chinese dictatorship but we did not think he would actually emulate it," she said, resurfacing an old gaffe.
Of course, some have already argued Conservative MPs aren't in a place to complain considering the previous government's track record with prorogation – including shutting down Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote in 2009.
Tory MP Michelle Rempel said on Twitter that "even we didn't go this far."
Tbh, even we didn't go this far. This is a govt house leader using draconian methods to be lazy / keep his job. https://t.co/fYKGcFjv4k— Michelle Rempel, MP (@MichelleRempel) May 18, 2016
Rempel also suggested that the move was more about LeBlanc seeking to keep his gig after the close call earlier this week.
The new Liberal government has also come under fire in recent weeks for using time allocation motions to shut down debate on government bills.
With files from The Canadian Press
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