OTTAWA — Conservatives are forcing MPs to stay up all night voting continuously on more than 250 motions — a filibuster launched in retaliation for the Liberals voting down a Tory motion to call Justin Trudeau's national security adviser to testify at a House of Commons committee about the prime minister's disastrous trip to India.
Conservatives predicted the non-stop voting on all the motions, which started around dinner time Thursday, would take about 40 hours.
The filibuster will result in a hefty overtime bill for the Commons, since its services must be available whenever the chamber is sitting.
Those services include security, cafeteria, shuttle buses, messengers, translation, transcription, printing, maintenance and tech support.
After about three hours of voting, Liberal MP Rob Oliphant asked that the Commons mobilize additional staff so that the young pages in the chamber would not be "run off their feet all night."
Back in 2011, when the NDP conducted a 58-hour filibuster against the then Conservative government, Tory MP Candice Bergen — now the party's House leader — pegged the cost of keeping the Commons running at $50,000 an hour, although her own government disputed that figure.
Whatever the overtime costs for Commons employees, they don't include the cost of rearranging travel plans. Many MPs, particularly from far-flung parts of the country, normally return to their ridings on Thursday nights. Cabinet ministers also tend to fan out across the country on Fridays to make announcements or attend events.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau had to cancel his plans to travel Friday to Lac Megantic, Que. — site of the 2013 rail disaster that levelled half the downtown area — where he was scheduled to discuss rail safety with the Quebec Federation of Municipalities.
Conservatives maintained the disruption was warranted, given the government's refusal to let the prime minister's national security adviser, Daniel Jean, testify at the national security committee about the briefing he gave journalists during Trudeau's India trip.
"We need the same rights that journalists had, and if he doesn't give it to us through this vote tonight, we are going to show that Parliament is going to sit until they do the right thing," Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said earlier Thursday.
Jean suggested to reporters covering Trudeau's trouble-plagued trip last month that rogue factions in the Indian government had sabotaged the prime minister's visit.
That included the embarrassing revelation that Jaspar Atwal — a one-time Canadian Sikh separatist extremist convicted of attempting to murder an Indian minister during a visit to Vancouver Island in 1986 — had been invited to two events with the prime minister during his India sojourn. The revelation came just as Trudeau was attempting to convince Indian officials that his government supports a united India and does not countenance violent extremism.
In a media briefing arranged by the Prime Minister's Office, Jean suggested Atwal's presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.
Trudeau has since defended Jean, saying he's a professional, non-partisan, veteran public servant who only says what he knows to be true.
But the Conservatives maintain Jean was used by the PMO to deflect attention from a public relations disaster.
"When the prime minister uses a senior and respected civil servant as a human shield to get out of a bad political scandal, that's terrible," said O'Toole.
He questioned how one could argue that Indian factions could have been responsible when a Liberal backbencher, Randeep Sarai, has taken responsibility for getting Atwal on the guest lists and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called the incident an "honest mistake."
"Both of these scenarios can't be true and the fact they brought up the India conspiracy theory also is a blight on a good relationship with an important country," O'Toole said.
The Conservative motions are all related to budgetary matters, which are considered matters of confidence. The government must, therefore, ensure enough of its MPs are present at all times to avoid losing any of the votes — which would be deemed a loss of confidence and trigger an election.