POLITICS

Trudeau's House Changes Would Allow Future PMs To Duck Scrutiny: Opposition

05/01/2017 04:56 EDT

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's efforts to avoid scrutiny will likely mean future prime ministers are held less to account, opposition MPs warned Monday.

The Liberal government announced late Sunday that it plans to press ahead and unilaterally change some of the rules of the House of Commons. Government House Leader Bardish Chagger said the Grits campaigned on the promise to have the prime minister answer all questions once a week and will enact that change with or without the opposition's’ support.

The Conservatives and New Democrats say that would break 100-year-old tradition where Commons’ rules are changed only with the consent of all parties.

candice bergen

Conservative MP Candice Bergen asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, April 11, 2017. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“It’s clear that they want to have the ability to give the prime minister permission to only be in the House of Commons to answer questions one day a week for one hour,” Tory house leader Candice Bergen told reporters.

“They don’t have to change the rules. If he wants to be here all day on Wednesday, they could be doing that. But it’s clear that they want licence so that he doesn't have to show up any more than that one hour, one day a week.”

In April, Trudeau started responding to all opposition MP questions on Wednesdays. Nothing in the current standing orders — the rules of the House — prevent him from answering all the questions during question period. But nothing in the rules force him to show up either.

By parliamentary convention, the prime minister is expected to be present to answer for his government’s behaviour several times a week.

“It’s pretty rich. It’s hypocritical.”

Chagger told reporters Trudeau plans to be in question period more than once a week, but she didn’t specify how many days he planned to show up.

The opposition warned that over time, prime ministers will just stop attending the daily accountability period and the public will no longer be able to see the leader of government address scandals, big international events, or an economic downturn.

“I presume what they will do is have the prime minister come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so forth but over time, you know, it will just be Wednesdays because that is what the standing orders say,” NDP House leader Murray Rankin said.

“And then, another government comes in and it will become the Wednesday rule and the prime minister’s need to be there, and answer the Canadian people on important issues of the day, will have disappeared. That is how things changed.”

HuffPost Canada asked Chagger about that possibility but she dismissed it, saying: “I would believe that all prime ministers want to be held to greater account.”

Watch a press conference Chagger held on Monday embedded below:

Bardish Chagger News Conference On Parliamentary Reforms

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger explains the Liberals change of strategy on Parliamentary reforms.

Posted by HuffPost Canada Politics on Monday, May 1, 2017

The Conservatives and New Democrats pledged to continue to filibuster and use all the tools at their disposal to pressure the Liberals to abandon their changes.

“We are more united than ever,” Bergen said.

Chagger warned the government will likely use time allocations to push Liberal legislation forward.

Bergen responded that the Liberals were using the rule changes as political cover to employ legislative tricks such as time allocation and omnibus bills — things that they criticized the previous Conservative government of doing.

“It’s pretty rich. It’s hypocritical.”

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