Liberals Going Ahead With Some Parliamentary Reforms Despite Opposition

Changes will make the government more accountable, not less, Chagger says
By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
May 4, 2017 Updated: May 4, 2017

OTTAWA—The Liberals are putting some water in their parliamentary wine, but their political rivals argue they are still forcing the opposition parties to drink it.

“It’s very clear that the Liberal arrogance and the plans that they have are not going away,” Opposition House leader Candice Bergen said.

“They are taking this several notches further and making this even more of an untenable situation for us.”

The federal government took a big step back on its plans to change the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure, abandoning some of the more contentious reforms it had been proposing—changes that have had Conservative and NDP critics up in arms for weeks.

They are still, however, going ahead with other changes, including having the prime minister deliver all the responses in one question period each week.

And since the Liberals promised these changes in their 2015 election campaign, they are going to push them through even if they can’t bring the opposition parties on side.

“We will continue to move ahead with the specific commitments from our campaign platform, all of which will make the government more accountable, not less,” government House leader Bardish Chagger said May 1.

Chagger also said the Liberals are determined to actually change the rules—rather than simply their own practices—so that future governments have to follow suit.

We are very suspicious of the argument that somehow they have to do this to keep a promise.
— NDP House Leader Murray Rankin

NDP House leader Murray Rankin warned the Liberals against viewing the House of Commons this way.

“The Parliament is for the people of Canada,” said Rankin. “It is not to make the government’s work more efficient. It’s to hold the government to account.”

Rankin also pointed out the Liberals have walked away from other promises—including the one to reform the way Canadians vote in federal elections in time for the next one.

“We are very suspicious of the argument that somehow they have to do this to keep a promise,” Rankin said.

Chagger will put the changes in a motion before the House of Commons some time before MPs head home for the summer.

The other proposals the government will implement include changes to how committees operate to give them more power, better financial oversight measures, and restrictions on the use of so-called omnibus legislation.

She made it clear the Liberals have no plans to budge from this bottom line.

Chagger also said without reforms that would have allowed the Liberals to move their legislation through the process more predictably, opposition parties should expect them to more often use heavy-handed tactics—such as time allocation, which involves curtailing debate—to speed things along.

The Liberals had proposed something called “programming,” which involves scheduling a set amount of time to move government bills through the legislative process, but pulled the plug on that idea and several others in a letter Chagger wrote to her opposition colleagues.

“Unfortunately, we have not found the willingness to study the system here and so I have regretfully informed the opposition parties that we will have to use time allocation more often to implement the agenda of change we promised Canadians,” she said, adding they do so “with full transparency.”

The battle over procedural reform had led to a lengthy filibuster in committee, with tensions spilling over into the House of Commons, even delaying the tabling of the federal budget.

From The Canadian Press

Where things stand now with parliamentary reforms

OTTAWA—The federal government has backed down on some of its more contentious proposals for changing the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure, while promising to push ahead with the ones in their 2015 campaign platform.

Here is a quick look at where things stand now:

What’s gone?

  • The Liberals had proposed bringing something in called “programming,” modelled after the system used in Britain. It involves scheduling a set amount of time to move government bills through the legislative process. It can bring some predictability, but also means limiting the ability of the opposition parties to surprise and to stall.
  • The Liberals also wanted to put a 10-minute cap on the length of time an MP could speak during a committee meeting. The suggestion was meant to cut down on filibustering, although the Liberals said MPs could sign up for as many 10-minute speaking periods as they wished.
  • The Liberals had also suggested bringing in electronic voting in order to remove the need for MPs to drop what they are doing and come stand up in the House of Commons every time the bells ring.

What’s still on?

  • One question period each week would be dedicated to grilling the prime minister. The Liberals have promised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not use it as an excuse to avoid showing up on other days. Trudeau began implementing this practice, without having to change the standing orders, last month, but the Liberals say they want to make sure future prime ministers do it too.
  • The Speaker would have the power to allow separate votes and committee studies on different sections of an omnibus bill, which would counter a move by the government to package dozens of unrelated measures into one massive piece of legislation in order to avoid proper scrutiny or force the hand of the opposition parties.
  • The Liberals promised they would not prorogue Parliament early as a way to get out of a tricky situation, as the previous Conservative government did in 2008 to avoid a confidence vote. They want to require governments to issue a report explaining their reasons for proroguing as soon as Parliament returns. That report could then be studied at committee and debated in the Commons.
  • The Liberals also want to change the schedule for the release of spending estimates so that they reflect measures included in the annual federal budget.

What might come later?

  • The Liberals had proposed doing away with sparsely attended Friday sittings, or making Fridays like any other day of the week, with the same hours and business to be done. Now, they are asking opposition parties to ask their respective caucuses what they think about reallocating the time now spent on Fridays to other days or weeks in the parliamentary calendar.

Source: Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press