Subscribe Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Election 2021 Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Reuse & Permissions Advertising FAQ
Contact UsLog In
50 142
Legislation

Opposition MPs declare ‘war’ over feds’ efforts to ram through sweeping changes to House rules, ‘we’re filibustering to protect the right to filibuster’ 

By Rachel Aiello      

Members of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee are in the in midst of a filibuster spurred by opposition MPs and prolonged by the government over voting on the Liberal motion to expedite the study on changes to the House rules.

NDP MP David Christopherson, Conservative MP Scott Reid, and Liberal MP Scott Simms. There is a filibuster underway at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee over Mr. Simms' motion to have the committee expedite a study on the Standing Orders. The Hill Times Photographs by Jake Wright
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

PARLIAMENT HILL—Opposition MPs spent nearly 15 hours in the basement of Centre Block on Tuesday, holed-up in a committee meeting room filibustering the Liberal government’s attempt to expedite a study on possible sweeping changes to how the House of Commons rules, and the saga is set to continue on Wednesday too.

After going through much of the day and well-into the night with just a handful of suspensions for votes and a pizza dinner, the Conservative and NDP members of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee will be back at it on Wednesday following their caucus meetings—a deal that was agreed to at about 3 a.m., according to Conservative MP Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, Alta.) who is not a regular committee member, but is one of the Conservative caucus members who spent the night on the Hill to lend support to caucus colleagues.

Get Today's Headlines Newsletter

Canadian politics and policy stories that are shaping the day. Weekdays.
By entering your email address you consent to receive email from The Hill Times containing news, analysis, updates and offers. You may unsubscribe at any time. See our privacy policy

NDP MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.), a member of the House Affairs Committee, is calling it “war,” and told the committee on Tuesday evening that he would be addressing caucus on Wednesday with the plan of having everyone of his New Democrat colleagues “on the ceiling” and “ready to bleed” to defend the House rules from the Liberal majority interference.

Liberal MP Scott Simms (Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, Nfld.), a member of the House Affairs Committee, introduced the controversial motion calling for the committee to complete a study and issue recommendations on possible changes to the Standing Orders by June 2, 2017.

The Liberal majority on the committee wanted the vote to happen on Tuesday to determine whether or not the committee could proceed with an expedited study of the Standing Orders, or House rules, by June. The opposition wanted to wait until Thursday’s meeting to vote, so they’d have time to consult their caucuses on it.

The motion proposing the study is strongly aligned in its wording with the March 10 ‘discussion paper’ from Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) on potential reforms to the way the House operates, including introducing electronic voting, removing Friday sittings, and changes to how opposition days and private members’ bills are handled.

Tuesday’s meeting was supposed to end at 1 p.m., and opposition MPs tried to adjourn in an effort to push the vote on the motion to Thursday’s meeting, but the Liberal MPs—led by Liberal MP and deputy Government House leader Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ont.)—refused to grant the unanimous consent needed to adjourn the meeting, and are continuing to do so.

So, in order to delay a vote being called on the motion, the opposition is continuing debate.

Conservative MP Scott Reid called it a “despicable attempt” by the government to ram through sweeping changes to how the House of Commons operates, even including when it sits. Mr. Reid (Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, Ont.) made the comment about two hours into the filibuster. He said the way the government is going about forcing the vote to change the Standing Orders, or House rules, is a “contemptible abuse” of the system.

Throughout the evening, members of the opposition took turns holding the floor, including Mr. Christopherson, who went over previous parliamentary studies of the Standing Orders and the much longer timelines they had to complete them, compared to the time frame proposed by this motion. He also took every opportunity to highlight previous broken promises or contradictions of the Liberal government’s word on things like electoral reform and the independence of committees.

“We’re filibustering to protect the right to filibuster,” Mr. Christopherson said. “Who would have thought it would be this government, under this prime minister” to try to use its majority to make changes to the Standing Orders without all-party backing, he said. “It’s not your House… we have rights, too.”

Pizza was delivered to the committee members at around 10 p.m., and other MPs arrived to step-in and take their shift at the committee, which—for the Liberal members—essentially consisted of sitting there and saying nothing as the opposition continued their knocks on the government’s behaviour.

Once the cards had been put on the table at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and the opposition knew they’d have to continue filibustering to put off the vote, Mr. Reid said the Liberals were going to ram through “whatever the fuck they want,” and then quickly apologized for his vulgarity.

“This is directly from the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Mr. Christopherson, who called the Liberal procedural move “a joke.”

Conservative MP Blake Richards (Banff-Airdrie, Alta.), another member of the committee, said the Liberals are attempting to “force through” changes that will benefit the governing Liberals and that will make them less accountable to Canadians.

“Frankly, it’s disgusting and pathetic,” Mr. Richards said at committee.

Mr. Simms’ motion calls for the committee to, if needed, meet outside of its regularly scheduled committee sitting hours in order to complete the study on a wide range of potential House reforms. It also proposes that the study be completed by June 2, ahead of the House’s scheduled summer break on June 23, according to a copy of the letter sent to The Hill Times by Mr. Simms’ office.

Mr. Simms’ motion also asks for the study to be divided into three themes: management of debate, management of the House and its sittings, and management of committees. These themes are nearly identical to the three main subjects in Ms. Chagger’s discussion paper, which included changing the Standing Orders.

The opposition MPs, throughout ongoing meetings, have continued to level allegations that Mr. Simms’ motion was not done on his own initiative and rather was a direction from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) office, which Mr. Simms denied, saying “my direction came from experience.”

The motion from Mr. Simms was sent to committee about two hours after Ms. Chagger’s discussion paper was released, and Mr. Reid said that between reading it, drafting the motion, and getting it translated, “clearly this is a coordinated effort.”

In arguing his proposed and defeated amendment to the motion—to make the deadline open-ended, and to require that all of the recommendations for Standing Order changes that the committee makes would need to be unanimously agreed to—Mr. Reid said it was completely unfeasible for all aspects of the Standing Orders and their potential changes to be explored by the motion’s proposed June 2 deadline.

Mr. Reid dominated the debate, taking the floor for the majority of the filibuster. Throughout his dialogue, he drew parallels between past Liberal procedural moves—including the controversial Motion 6 from May 2016 which would have given the majority government more control over Commons debate and sitting hours, and their broken electoral reform promise—and this new effort from the government to change the rules of the House.

As The Hill Times has previously reported, there had been skepticism growing at the end of last year over whether the government would be able to deliver on its commitment to modernize Parliament, or at least get all-party consent on changes, as is normal for such operational changes. Government officials have said the best time to make such changes, with all-party consent and enough good-will, is within the first two years of a mandate, before tensions in the House get too strained.

“There’s no good will, I’m sorry… I don’t see any,” Mr. Christopherson said on Tuesday.

The committee, which is the one tasked with tackling the expansive review of rules that govern the House of Commons, has been very busy. The group has more meetings left to go on its report on recommendations from the chief electoral officer on the 42nd election, before aiming to report back in May.

Ms. Chagger’s office declined to offer comment on the opposition allegations of the PMO influencing the motion, or whether there is a lack of good-will between her and her Conservative and NDP House leader counterparts. When asked about the ongoing saga in the committee during Question Period on Tuesday, Ms. Chagger said, “Our objective has always been to ensure that Parliament is relevant to Canadians and that the House becomes accountable, predictable, efficient, and transparent.”

The Hill Times 

Conservative call for ethics probes ‘entirely to script,’ making character a ballot box question, say strategists

News|By Mike Lapointe
Strategists and pollsters say they expected the focus to shift to the issue of a leader’s character at this point in the campaign calendar.

Legislative change needed on access to information, but ‘overheated rhetoric’ doesn’t help, says Wernick

Canada has a ‘blackout bureaucracy,’ says journalism professor Sean Holman, who debated the former Privy Council clerk this week on the role of access to information in Canada’s democracy.

AFN’s call for Indigenous voters to be election ‘kingmakers’ challenged by lack of voter enthusiasm, say chiefs and politicos

News|By Matt Horwood
First Nations electors have the political power to flip several ridings, but turnout among Indigenous voters is traditionally much lower than it is for the average population.

Rising support for far-right People’s Party unlikely to trouble Tories, say strategists and experts, as O’Toole makes a pitch for the centre

News|By Neil Moss
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has tried to recruit support from the centre, but it may have left the party vulnerable to a challenge on its right flank.

Green Party targets Prince Edward Island seats in rare campaign trip by leader Annamie Paul

News|By Matt Horwood
The provincial Greens' rise to become the official opposition in 2019 signals that P.E.I. voters are tired of 'politics as usual,' says one prof, which could translate into increased support for the Greens at the federal

Youth turnout may be stronger than expected this year and the NDP are reaching them the best: politicos

News|By Alice Chen
The Liberals have a conflicting track record, the Conservatives are sticking mostly to their older base, and the Greens are failing to capitalize on their opportunities, say experts and candidates.

Northern races heat up as candidates vie to succeed Qaqqaq, Bagnell

News|By Alice Chen
Experts say that left-leaning parties seem to have a foothold in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but Yukon could be anyone’s game.

International students struggle to come to Canada amid COVID-19 variant concerns, says Universities Canada president

News|By
The number of international students may rise this year compared to 2020, but travel restrictions related to COVID-19 variants may be a roadblock, according to Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada.

Trades worker shortage getting worse as politicians promise more construction

More than 700,000 skilled tradespeople will retire by 2028, and Canada's efforts to replace them are falling short, warns a new report from the Royal Bank of Canada.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.