With just 10 scheduled sitting days left in the House of Commons before MPs take a two-month summer break from passing bills and debating in Parliament, the minority Liberals are feeling the pressure to move key legislation and are calling out the Conservatives for trying to stall proceedings.
Thursday morning, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez—who has been tasked with shepherding government business through the Chamber since 2019—spoke to reporters about the priority and “progressive” legislation the government wants to pass before the summer, but denied that a coming election was the motivation to pass these bills now.
“I cannot overstate the urgency,” Rodriguez said. The Liberals are now looking to extend the hours of the sitting to pass as much as possible before the end of day June 23 when the House is scheduled to rise for the summer.
Asked why the government is feeling the pressure to move bills now, and whether it’s connected to the much-speculated suggestion that a fall election is on the horizon, he said that while the government could wait to resume acting on its promised legislative agenda in the fall, the Liberals “don’t want to.”
If there was to be a fall election, it’s possible the House would not reconvene in September to continue passing legislation. In that scenario, anything that has not passed by the end of this month would die on the order paper when the current 43rd Parliament ends with an election call.
Specifically, the government says it’ll be focusing what remaining House time there is left, while factoring in there will be two opposition-focused days in the mix, on four pieces of legislation.
Overall, there are 17 government bills before the House of Commons, not all of which the government intends to move forward with. And there are three government bills currently before the Senate.
“Over and over, they’re obstructing the work of the House of Commons. They are using countless procedural tricks… not because they want to improve the bills, but because they want to kill those bills,” Rodriguez said, alleging that any Conservative denial of obstruction would be untruthful.
Responding to the government House leader’s remarks, Conservative House Leader Gerard Deltell denied holding up the legislative agenda, saying the Liberals are to blame for the “bottleneck” given they prorogued the first session in August 2020 forcing several bills to be re-tabled. He also pointed to the hundreds of hours they’ve spend filibustering at a handful House of Commons committees.
“So without a shadow of a doubt, the Liberals are the kings of the filibuster,” Deltell said.
While the Conservative House leader was speaking, the House of Commons morning business was halted after Conservative MP Michael Barrett moved to adjourn the House for the day, and requested a recorded vote on that move, taking the better part of an Hour to resolve.
In his press conference, Rodriguez laid the ground work for the Liberals to use tools like time allocation and closure to limit or shut down further debate in order to move the agenda along, saying he will use “every parliamentary tool” at his disposal and called on the Bloc Quebecois, NDP, and Greens to back these moves.
The Liberals are also looking to set up extended hours to debate every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the end of the sitting but Conservative MPs filibustered the discussion on that proposal, pushing the vote on the motion to next week. If passed, MPs would sit until midnight on Mondays and Wednesdays, and until 4:30 p.m. on Fridays.
The Liberals are also looking to call a vote Thursday to set up late sittings on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the end of the sitting, but Conservative MPs are currently filibustering the discussion on that proposal. If passed MPs would sit until midnight on Mondays and Wednesdays, and until 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. If the proposal passes today it would come into effect tomorrow.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly denied that he’s looking to go to the polls amid the pandemic, though he has also suggested that if the opposition makes it so that the minority Parliament becomes unworkable, or if enough opposition MPs vote non-confidence in the Liberals, an election may be prompted.
Since the minority parliament kicked off in late 2019 the Liberals have avoided falling on a confidence vote, with the backing of the NDP, which has strongly opposed a federal election taking place while Canadians are still grappling with COVID-19.
Asked whether coming out now to accuse the Conservatives of jamming up the House so much that it cannot function was setting the stage to trigger an election before the House of Commons is set to resume on Sept. 20, Rodriguez downplayed the suggestion.
“We don’t want elections, we want bills,” he said. “But we don’t control everything.”
ELECTIONS CANADA PREPARING
One other piece of legislation that is still slowly moving through the House is Bill C-19, proposing changes to Canada’s elections law which the government has said would help make a pandemic election more feasible.
Appearing before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Thursday, the minister responsible for the bill, Privy Council President Dominic LeBlanc called on MPs to move quickly in studying the legislation and said the Liberals are open to amendments to help ensure the proper mechanisms are in place for Elections Canada, like an enhanced mail-in ballot system, before the next election.
However, in a statement to CTVNews.ca, Elections Canada indicated it has been able to set up safety measures without the bill. The federal agency said it has been preparing for several months for a pandemic election, talking to health authorities about what’s required, and doing what it can under the current law.
“At this stage, Elections Canada is confident that we could deliver a safe and secure election, whenever an election might take place,” said spokesperson Matthew McKenna.
Already the agency says it has improved mail-in ballot capacity, plans to allow for physical distancing and adequate sanitation, and is working on options to facilitate voting in high-risk locations like long-term care homes.
“Our priority is and will remain the safety of voters, election workers, and political participants,” McKenna said.
Rodriguez said despite the talk from all sides that an election is undesirable right now, there is no explicit agreement about not going to the polls before the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
Another upcoming item of business that will take likely at least a few hours out of the limited House of Commons hours left this month will be the June 15 farewell speeches from MPs who are not running again.
Last week MPs unanimously agreed that any colleagues who will not be seeking re-election in the 44th Parliament will be able to spend time saying final thank-yous and goodbyes. It’s a move typically made at the tail end of a session when an election is anticipated.
All parties have begun nominating candidates in anticipation of the next election, and have been fundraising off of the prospect of a snap summer or fall vote for months.