OTTAWA — The Trudeau government will press ahead with plans for a weekly prime minister's question period, but is giving up trying to codify it in the formal House of Commons rules.
Instead, Trudeau will make it a convention to field all the questions himself once a week, rather than formalizing it within the so-called standing orders of the House.
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons on May 1, 2017. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
The government has filed a formal notice of motion that preserves just a few pieces of what was once a major effort at modernizing the way the House of Commons works.
Those include: letting the Speaker allow separate votes and committee studies on different sections of omnibus bills; requiring the government to explain its reasons for proroguing Parliament; changing the schedule for the release of spending estimates; and allowing parliamentary secretaries to sit on committees as non-voting members.
The government backed away from a number of other ideas earlier this year, including a proposal to use "programming motions" to set in advance the amount of time to be devoted to debate and committee study of each bill, and a time limit on MP speeches during committee hearings.
Opposition parties unanimously panned those recommendations, calling them a bid by the Liberals to control the parliamentary agenda and hamstring their efforts to hold the government to account.
'Take it or leave it'
Conservative MP Chris Warkentin said the government is trying to break with decades of political convention by trying to ram through changes to the standing orders, rather than seeking all-party approval.
"This is the way Parliament is governed," Warkentin said. "It's quite frankly disappointing to see that this government has taken a tack of, 'Take it or leave it."'
He said the Conservatives would look at what the government is proposing and decide whether to support the changes.
"In the past, as was the case in the last Parliament, there was a committee that was set up of all members of the recognized parties and effectively there was a veto power from all the other parties," he said.
"In this case, the government brought the proposal forward, demanded that the opposition parties support it and threatened to use their majority to pass these provisions if in fact we didn't."
Electronic voting gone, Friday sittings stay
Government House leader Bardish Chagger has also dropped plans to test electronic voting, rather than forcing MPs to stand in the Commons for all votes.
The idea of eliminating sparsely attended, half-day Friday sittings of the Commons, reallocating the time to other days or weeks in the parliamentary calendar, has also been deferred.
Chagger said the few changes she wants to see implemented were part of the Liberal election platform.
"All of these changes will strengthen the House of Commons and make the government more accountable," she told a Commons committee Thursday.
Trudeau answered 233 questions on various Wednesdays
The prime minister's question period idea is similar to what is standard practice in Britain.
"This special question period would be in addition to the other days of the week when (Trudeau) attends the regular question period to answer questions with his cabinet ministers," she said.
"Already, our prime minister has shown he is committed to this reform. He has attended six special question periods on Wednesday, answering a total of 233 questions from MPs on those six days alone."
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