06/08/2011 07:55 EDT | Updated 08/08/2011 05:12 EDT

Throne Speech Debate Nixed By Tories: Opposition Cries Foul


Conservatives dispense with throne speech debate, opposition cries foul

Just days into the new session, opposition parties are accusing the Harper government of showing disrespect for Parliament.

New Democrats and Liberals are criticizing the government for dispensing with the traditional debate and vote on the throne speech.

The blueprint for the Conservatives' first majority mandate kicked off the 41st session of Parliament last Friday.

Normally, a throne speech is followed by six days of debate and a vote, which is usually the first test of a government's ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons.

But Peter Van Loan, the government's House leader, says throne speech debate is not mandatory and there's simply no time for it this session.

The government's priority is to get its budget passed by June 23, when Parliament is scheduled to break for the summer.

"The budget vote will establish the confidence of the House so, in that sense, a throne speech debate is not entirely necessary," Van Loan said.

Debate on the throne speech could theoretically take place when Parliament resumes in the fall but he said: "It's possible that there will be no debate at all."

He added that there is "no requirement constitutionally that the government has to have a vote on the throne speech in order to stay in office."

Thomas Mulcair, the NDP's House leader, pointed out that the Harper government avoided a throne speech debate and vote in 2009, when it held a precarious minority and had reason to fear confidence votes. He said it's disappointing that the government is continuing that pattern now that it has secured a comfortable majority.

"It's a lack of respect for our parliamentary traditions," Mulcair said, laying the blame squarely on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his penchant for "hyper-control."

He said the decision deprives Parliament of "a full-dress debate" on the government's priorities, effectively shutting out the 60 per cent of voters who supported alternative visions of the country in the May 2 election.

"It's that vision, those alternative voices that are hereby muzzled."

Liberal Leader Bob Rae said it's "absurd" not to have a debate on the throne speech.

"Having the speech on a Friday, with no debate, means no one else gets a chance to speak, no other voices heard," Rae said.

He said the Conservatives are "uncomfortable with Parliament and uncomfortable with opposition."

Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon called the refusal to hold a debate a "gesture of arrogance," and accused the Tories of using their majority "in an abusive manner."

Parliamentary procedure expert Ned Franks said the tactic is somewhat surprising but "justifiable" because the government must quickly pass its budget or risk running out of money over the summer.

Franks noted that the government has been using "special warrants" to finance its operations since Parliament dissolved in March for the election campaign. But the ability to rely on warrants expires 60 days following the return of the election writs.

By Joan Bryden The Canadian Press