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‘If you keep your door open long enough, people will walk through it’: Chagger

By Rachel Aiello      

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger talks about the Senate, balancing two cabinet portfolios, and a prorogation.

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger says she thinks the government is 'doing very well when it comes to delivering on our commitments.' The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
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PARLIAMENT HILL—The government passed 14 bills in the spring sitting and is expected to focus on legislation to legalize marijuana, to remodel Canada’s national security services, reform Canada’s political financing laws, and amend parts of the Criminal Code when the House comes back in the fall.

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) also said the agreement to adjourn the Commons early indicates that it’s possible for the government and the opposition parties to find common ground in the fall session. The House is scheduled to return on Sept. 18.

“We definitely showed by the end of the session that it’s possible, which has given me some confidence to know that it was the right way to move forward, that if you keep your door open long enough, people will walk through it,” Ms. Chagger said. 

This interview has been edited for length, and clarity.

Why did you go ahead with putting forward the adjournment motion knowing that things were still up in the air in the Senate?

“Often times, the House of Commons—that’s why the schedules are so different between the House of Commons and the Senate, is the House will take care of the business that we need to take care of… and the Senate will then have to finish off and do what they need to do as well. In that sense that’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

Did you not think it was a risk? Why not wait another day?

“We’ve had an ambitious agenda and we’ve advanced on a lot of legislation. We’ve been having good-faith conversations with the opposition parties and it was important that I not change the parameters of those conversations in the best interest of Members of Parliament on both sides.

“Reality is, when you see legislation advancing at a faster pace we have to be reasonable in our expectations and we have to really be reasonable in our expectations of the Senate as well.”

You were in the Senate to watch some of the proceedings on Bill C-44. Do you think that’s appropriate? Since for months you’ve been saying the Senate is a separate place and you wouldn’t comment on the work the Senate is doing, and then you go and sit and watch.

“I need you to know that I did not watch the vote. There was a royal assent ceremony that took place that day, so I had been over for the royal assent ceremony. … Some of our colleagues on that side had asked me to come by for conversations, which I committed to doing, and that’s why I was on that side.

“I was having conversations and, as I ran in to some Senators, I did partake in my normal conversations. I have the utmost respect for the Senate and the work that they do, but the reasons that I was there are on the Senate side are very different than are being reported.

“As I’ve said, my door will always be open, I will always have those conversations, whether that means you come to me, or I come to you. That is how I believe this place functions better.”

Update: The minister’s office has since said that Ms. Chagger “misremembered”  the sequence of events, incorrectly blending two days into one while explaining her presence on the other side. While Ms. Chagger did attend the royal assent ceremony Monday, her office says she was also in the Senate Chamber on the Tuesday before the vote. 

During the Standing Order motion debate, NDP House Leader Murray Rankin asked you specifically if you’d commit to no further unilateral Standing Order changes, and you didn’t directly answer. Are you able to commit to that now?

“The campaign commitments [on House rule changes] that we made have all been delivered on, and I worked very hard with opposition parties to ensure that was the case; anything more, … if the committee [Procedure and House Affairs] wants to advance that, the committee will be able to do that. That is beyond the mandate that I was given.”

“There are Members of Parliament from both recognized opposition parties that have advanced changes to the Standing Orders that have been accepted, not necessarily unanimously, but that’s their prerogative.”

You’ve been juggling both this position and minister of Small Business and Tourism for about a year, and you and the prime minister have faced criticism over being put in this position. Do you think you would have done a better job or had been more successful if you just had one file to focus on and not having to split your time between the two?  

“Under the leadership of this prime minister, we are taking a whole-of-government approach. The previous government definitely had a centralized Prime Minister’s Office that made all of the decisions for ministers, we are actually working as a team.

“I have an amazing team. … I believe that it takes a solid team to help run a country, and everyone has a role to play. I am a team player and that’s why I believe that when it comes to the responsibilities the prime minister has asked me to take on, and that he has the confidence in myself to take on, is that I will advance them and I will ensure that I have the resources necessary to be able to advance those responsibilities.”

What is the focus or message your government is sending with the legislation that you’ve introduced so far?

“I would say the theme or the focus is people, middle-class Canadians and those hoping to join it. … When people benefit, the economy benefits.”

Going forward, without your proposed scheduling tool to move bills, will you continue to use time allocation to move legislation through? It seemed to get things rolling along faster near the end of the session.

“I will always endeavour to find agreement with opposition parties to see if we can find out how much time is needed to ensure that we are having meaningful debate as well as advancing the ambitious agenda that Canadians elected us to do. That will always be my starting point, asking how much time is needed, because I know Members of Parliament have different priorities when it comes to their communities.”

The government has tabled a number of more substantive bills in the last few weeks of the sitting. Does prorogation still makes sense?

“My job, as the government House leader, is to ensure that we’re advancing the ambitious agenda that we were elected to advance. … I believe that we are doing very well when it comes to delivering on our commitments.”

So do you think you’re doing well enough then to not have that reset? There’s been an argument made, including from some people with the government, that it’s a logical thing for a government two-years in to do.

“I think that’s nothing I need to comment on.”

What’s one thing you see as the biggest accomplishment this sitting, and one area that needs improving? 

“I think my goal will always be to work better with all Members of Parliament. … I think we showed success at the end of the session. It’s something that I’ve been asking for since taking this role, but we definitely showed by the end of the session that it’s possible, which has given me some confidence to know that it was the right way to move forward, that if you keep your door open long enough, people will walk through it.”

The Hill Times 

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