OTTAWA — The Liberal government rejected an offer by the Conservative party Tuesday to rejig the House of Commons schedule to allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to spend more time in the chamber answering the opposition’s questions.
“[I]t it would be disrespectful to the work of all MPs if we were to change the schedule of the House of Commons on an ad hoc basis to accommodate the schedule of one person,” wrote Sabrina Atwal, Government House Leader Bardish Chagger’s spokeswoman, to The Huffington Post Canada in an email.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds ups a fur mitten he was presented with after speaking to the AFN Special Chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Que. on Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
“The government values Parliament and takes the work of all Parliamentarians seriously,” Atwal added. But moving the schedule of question period so Trudeau could attend more sessions would “disrupt the many committee meetings and witnesses who appear before” them, she stated.
In a letter to Chagger Tuesday, Conservative House leader Candice Bergen wrote that the official Opposition was “prepared again today, or any subsequent day leading to the winter adjournment, to support a motion to make the necessary arrangements that would ensure that the Prime Minister meets his obligation to attend Question Period in the House while accommodating his busy schedule.”
NDP House leader Murray Rankin told HuffPost his party was also prepared to support a motion moving question period so the prime minister could attend.
“That [Trudeau]’s attendance record is worse than Mr. Harper’s is something that is very disturbing, very disappointing,” Rankin said. The Liberal leader is starting to have a litany of broken promises, the NDP House leader said, pointing to the pledges to roll back door-to-door mail delivery and re-do the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline approval process.
Tory House Leader Candice Bergen speaks in the House on Nov. 18, 2016. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
“This is one promise that all Canadians who care about democracy and accountability should be concerned about.”
Trudeau missed question period again on Tuesday — the time set aside each day for MPs to hold the government accountable. Trudeau was on Parliament Hill at noon placing flowers in remembrance of the victims of Montreal’s École Polytechnique shooting rampage.
He then addressed the Assembly of First Nations’ special chiefs assembly across the river from the House of Commons at 1:30 p.m. Question period usually begins at 2:15 p.m.
The Huffington Post Canada reported on Tuesday that Trudeau missed more question periods during his first year as PM than he attended. The prime minister skipped 58 per cent — 69 of the 118 QPs held from Dec. 7, 2015, to Dec. 3, 2016.
In comparison, former prime minister Stephen Harper missed 46 per cent of question periods — 60 of 130 — during the first year of his majority mandate in 2011-2012.
Bergen points to PM’s guidelines to ministers
Rankin and Bergen said they accept the prime minister will be absent for reasons of foreign or domestic travel, but, when he is in Ottawa, Trudeau should be in the Commons.
“We understand if he is out of town, if he has meetings in different parts of the country, obviously he can’t be in two different places at one time. But when he is in Ottawa, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect the prime minister to be at question period a few times a week,” the Tory house leader said.
Trudeau attended the special chiefs assembly, Atwal said, because the government believes no relationship is more important than the one with indigenous peoples. It was unclear if the PMO had explored other timing opportunities.
Bergen noted in her letter that Trudeau, in his guidelines to ministers last fall, emphasized to cabinet the importance of being “present in Parliament to answer honestly and accurately.”
8 sittings left before break
With only eight sittings left before Parliament breaks for six weeks of winter holiday and constituency work, the Conservative House leader said she believes it is “essential for the Prime Minister to be present for the daily Question Period to answer honestly and accurately about the affairs of his government, including matters of the economy and concerns of ethical breaches.”
The Tories have been hammering Trudeau’s government for its so-called “cash-for-access” fundraisers, with some donors and critics alleging real and perceived conflicts of interests, as well as illegal activity, such as improper lobbying.
During question period Tuesday, Conservative deputy leader Denis Lebel noted how difficult it is for MPs to have access to the prime minister.
“Will MPs need to pay $1,500 [the fundraising limit] so they can ask him a question?” Lebel asked.
’Snub’ to Parliament: Bergen
Bergen called Trudeau’s spotty attendance a “snub” to Parliament.
“The Liberals are making a lot of mistakes,” she told HuffPost, pointing to their bungling of the democratic reform issue, their questionable fundraisers and the continuing unemployment situation in Alberta. “I think he is wanting to avoid answering tough questions,” she said.
Atwal said Trudeau “is open and transparent” and unlike Harper proactively discloses his schedule every day for everyone to see.
“The Prime Minister’s responsibilities are not limited to Question Period,” she wrote in the email. “[H]e has made it a top priority to engage directly with Canadians across the country in as many ways as possible – in their communities, homes, workplaces, and businesses.”
The prime minister’s itinerary on Wednesday indicates that he will attend question period.