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IN THE HOUSE – The House is not the audience for the government

MP Cathy McLeod in the House. (Image: File photo, CPAC)

An excerpt from lengthy remarks by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod on Monday, May 1, 2017 on the issue of the Liberal government’s plans to change how the House of Commons works. Among the changes would be a new weekly question period dedicated to the prime minister, electronic voting, the elimination of Friday sittings, and limits on the ability of MPs to filibuster committee meetings. The Opposition filibustered the proposal at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee until the Liberals shut it down today, May 2.

THIS IS the House of the people. This is not the audience for the government. We are the opposition for the government. It is the House of the people. When we are talking about the rules of the House, it is not just the government that should get to decide how they are changed. It should be, and has been throughout Canada’s history, done by consensus and moving forward.

The Liberals created a mess in this committee. They were not all bad suggestions. Their discussion paper is basically creating an audience as opposed to an opposition. It is really about creating convenience for themselves, that they want to make these rule changes. The majority of the things in the discussion paper are not about making things better.

They have number of themes.

The first is the management of the House. Under management of the House is sittings. They do not want to work Fridays. Constituents in the riding I represent ask how often I am in Ottawa. I tell them I am here 26 weeks a year. Twenty-six weeks a year is really half a year. We have a lot of time in 26 weeks to do other things in our constituencies.

Yes, we need to have a balance between what we do in Parliament and what we do in our constituency, but right now when we are in Ottawa half the time, plus we can go home on weekends, if we choose, and at home half the time, we have created what is a reasonable balance. When people hear we do not want to work Fridays and we are only there 26 weeks a year, they want to know what this is all about. Being from the west coast, it costs a lot of money for me to fly here for the week. People might ask why I should only work a four-day week rather than a five-day week when the government spends thousands of dollars to fly me to this place to work.

Electronic voting is another theme. We could have a debate about it, and perhaps PROC should have a debate as well, but we might lose something if we do not stand to be counted. Yes, we could say electronic voting would be more efficient, but is efficiency everything? Is that all that matters?

Because we are here for thoughtful deliberation, voting. It does take a long time sometimes, when we have seven or 10 votes in a row. However, when we have to stand to be counted, when people have a vote that matters to them and they watch it on television, they can see how their member of Parliament has voted. They can see it quickly and easily. We all think very carefully every time we stand to exercise our privilege of voting. We would lose something. We can talk about whether it is more important to be efficient and push a button or whether it is more important for us to stand, take a bit of time to show Canadians, and be very transparent in what we do and how we do it.

Then there is the House calendar theme. The Liberals looked at the calendar and what they should do. I think the bigger thing is the Friday issue.

There is theme about routine proceedings.

Throughout this paper, the Liberals want to do many things. They have a majority government. They can ultimately get anything they want done, but they want to take away the few tools that an opposition has to sometimes say that we are not sure the government is on the right track, or that we are going to make this a bit more difficult for it. However, when the Liberals have a majority government, they will ultimately get what they want done, but there are some ways that the opposition can show the government that perhaps it is not totally pleased with the direction it is taking. They wanted to take that way. Again, they want an audience, not an opposition.

Private members’ business is another theme. There are a lot of things.

Management of debate is another one the Liberals want to change.

Lots of times in the House, if we agree on a piece of legislation or know that it will ultimately pass, there will be very limited debate. When there is something as important as perhaps the marijuana legislation or the assisted dying legislation, many people want to speak to it, and it is important that they be given the opportunity. The government wants to program manage, put all of the bills on some sort of even playing field and manage it so that it makes it easier for the government. When the Conservatives were in government, they had a majority and managed to get the important pieces of legislation through without taking away the tools the opposition has to show displeasure.

Another one is question period. We are here 26 weeks of the year and the Liberals are suggesting that the Prime Minister show up one day a week for not even an hour; it is actually 45 minutes. They think a great way to modernize Parliament is that for one day a week during the 26 weeks, the prime minister will be in the House for 45 minutes so the opposition can hold him to account. That is what they are suggesting is a good step forward for efficiency and modernizing Parliament.

That could be done right now, as has been shown. The Liberals do not have to change the rules of the House for the prime minister to take every question. Indeed, today the NDP leader stood and asked a lot of questions, and for the first time ever, the Prime Minister showed disrespect in not answering a question posed by another party leader.

Why does he only want to attend question period for 45 minutes 26 days of the year? Maybe he does not like being here. Maybe he finds it tough to answer questions when his budget is not balanced the way he said it was going to be. Maybe it is tough to explain why the defence minister has stolen the valour of our military. Maybe it is hard for him to explain why he did not follow through with his electoral reform promise. However, that is his job. It is his job five days a week for 26 weeks. Whenever possible, the Prime Minister should be in the House to answer questions from the
opposition.

The committee was very concerned that there was going to be a decision to ram the discussion paper through, contrary to the workings of the House since Confederation, and contrary to the consensus that we should build for these sorts of changes. The majority of the changes were only in the interest of the government creating an audience rather than an opposition.

Where are we now? We have seen this playbook before by the government with Motion No. 6 last year, which is when the government tried to change the Standing Orders unilaterally. We all know what happened then. That very bad motion had to be retracted. The Liberals’ instincts keep showing through on these issues, in terms of blurring government versus Parliament. Sometimes there is great value in having the perspectives of the different sides of the House. Some members who have been around for a long time are expressing concerns with what the government is doing. The newer members perhaps are not aware how serious it is.

It is time the Liberals reflected on what they are doing and how they are doing it. We need to have the question of privilege dealt with so that people are not impeded in their ability to vote. The government needs to seriously think about how it is manhandling and abusing Parliament and the parliamentary system. I hope the Liberals will do some soulful thinking over the next few days.

Source: OpenParliament.ca

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About Mel Rothenburger (4913 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on IN THE HOUSE – The House is not the audience for the government

  1. Grouchy 1 // May 3, 2017 at 9:48 PM // Reply

    It seems to me, that Canada could cut it’s emissions by at least 25%, at no cost to the taxpayer just by having Cathy M sit down, and shut her mouth.

  2. Grouchy 1 // May 3, 2017 at 9:45 PM // Reply

    Good comment David. And right on the mark to boot.

  3. Really Cathy?
    “When the Conservatives were in government, they had a majority and managed to get the important pieces of legislation through without taking away the tools the opposition has to show displeasure.” you say.

    No … your Government just prorogued Parliament to shut down debate, and force votes to ensure Canadians couldn’t really figure out what a bill was about. It strikes Canadians that the Harper Government did far, far more than this proposal ever could, to negate democracy, stifle debate, or hide legislation in massive over reaching omnibus bills.

    The previous Conservative Government wrote the book on manhandling and abusing Parliament and the parliamentary system. What your experiencing is a little push-back.

    You do seem very pleased with yourself, using the term ‘audience’. Had to search the thesaurus for that one, eh?

    The difference between the last government, and today’s government is, Liberal MP’s can speak in the house, with the media, and publicly regarding issues affecting their constituencies. Cathy, how did that work out for you while your Government was in office?

    We heard nothing of note from you until you became opposition, but all we hear now … is rhetoric.

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