OTTAWA — The Liberals are trying to change the rules of the parliamentary game to give their majority government even more power over how and when things happen in the House of Commons.
Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc mounted a strenuous defence Wednesday of a controversial motion that his political rivals decried as an unprecedented affront to parliamentary democracy.
“In no other workplace is it acceptable to arrive at work and pull the fire alarm and make all your colleagues cancel their meetings at committees,” LeBlanc fumed during question period, returning fire on the opposition benches.
LeBlanc has filed notice of a motion that would give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet more control over the ins and outs of parliamentary business.
If the Liberals get their way, a day in the House of Commons would not end — and the summer break would not begin — until a cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary moves to adjourn proceedings.
The motion would also make it harder for the opposition to surprise the government like they did on Monday, when the Liberals had to scramble to their seats for a snap vote on proposed changes to Air Canada legislation.
The opposition said the Liberals are merely trying to extract a measure of payback for the embarrassing near-miss, which required Speaker Geoff Regan to cast a vote in order to break a 139-to-139 tie.
“It’s one thing for the government to use the tools that are available to it to implement its agenda,” Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer said Wednesday after the weekly caucus meeting.
“It’s another thing to take away tools from the opposition, and that’s what’s we’re seeing … this is a very undemocratic proposal by the government and I think it speaks to, perhaps, bruised ego or pride about what happened on Monday when their members weren’t here to work.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the controversy should matter to Canadians, even if parliamentary procedure can be a little dry.
“This attempt to put a straightjacket on Parliament deprives Canadians of their most important democratic institution,” he said.
“It’s childish petulance by the Liberals, who almost lost a vote this week, who are now trying to put their straightjacket on Parliament and submit to their majority will, even though that majority is only 39% of Canadians.”
LeBlanc said it was all about making sure they are able to pass important legislation in a timely manner, something he said the opposition has given the Liberals no confidence they would otherwise allow them to do.
“It shouldn’t surprise Canadians that we feel strongly that Parliament should be allowed to vote on government legislation in an orderly and responsible way, at the same time balancing the ability of all members of Parliament to speak — and that’s why we’ve consistently tried to allow for more debate.”