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Latest parliamentary session characterized by scandal, unrest and rejection of debate

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Photo: flickr/US Embassy Canada

The headlines covered some of what happened: scandals, Senate fraud, a $90,000 cheque from the prime minister's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, (who quickly became the former chief of staff) to pay off Senator Mike Duffy's wrongfully claimed housing expenses, but not Wallin's. The RCMP are investigating the PMO cheque as a potential criminal act. And we had still not seen the dust settle from Senator Patrick Brazeau's arrest for sexual assault and his claims for a secondary residence that was really his main residence.

We also saw the first signs of Conservative back-bencher rebellion. First Langley MP Mark Warawa complained of being muzzled by his own party whip. Then he was supported by eight other Conservative MPs, and (of course) I spoke in support of his rights to free speech. (Not covered in any media was his punishment. His efforts gained him a serious demotion. He was removed as chair of the Environment Committee.) The Speaker ruled (more or less) in Warawa's favour, slamming down the Conservative position that MPs were like players on a team, and the umpire (speaker) could not dictate to the coach (party whip), which players get played. More dramatically, Edmonton Conservative Brent Rathgeber quit his party and its caucus to sit as an independent when the PMO ordered his Conservative colleagues to amend his private members bill. Rathgeber's version called for publication of public service salaries over $180,000. The PMO forced amendments to publish only those salaries over $440,000. Rathgeber takes his principles seriously.

Much less covered are the bills that were passed, and the treaty that remains signed but still not ratified, the Canada-China Investment Treaty.

So this article is dedicated to the events that barely made it to the newspaper since the January re-opening of the 41st Parliament.

Blocking of Amendments

Conservative efforts have worked steadily to stop my presentation of amendments at report stage. First, last November, Government House Leader, Peter Van Loan, asked the Speaker to rule that I not be allowed to move multiple amendments related to Bill C-45, the second of the 2012 budget omnibus bills.

It was hard to believe he was actually making a motion dealing with only one MP. He suggested that the Member of Parliament for Saanich Gulf Islands not be allowed to submit amendments at report stage. "One member should not be allowed to hold the House hostage." Mr Van Loan presented a proposal that all my amendments at report stage should be grouped and one motion would be selected as a "test motion." Only if the test motion was adopted would any of the other amendments be put to the House.

The Speaker ruled that my amendments at report stage in the fall omnibus budget bill, C-45, could stand and be put to the House for a vote. But in so doing, he also set out some circumstances which would provide an alternative procedure which might be seen as opening an opportunity I currently don't have.

By the spring budget omnibus bill, C-60, the Conservative machine had figured out how to jam my rights at report stage. I was 'invited' by the Finance Committee to submit my amendments to them. It was clear that if I didn't accept the invitation, my amendments would be ruled out of order because I had had an earlier opportunity. (The full background on all this can be found on my website on the Point of Order Argument to the Speaker.) The Speaker accepted the Conservative argument.

Ritual Rejection

So now, I race from committee to committee, for the ritual rejection of all my amendments. I am allowed one minute per amendment to present them, but am not allowed to defend the amendments, answer questions, nor respond to suggested ‘friendly amendments'.

So far, this has happened on the omnibus budget bill for which my amendments attempted, among other things: to remove or repair the sections allowing the PMO to name representatives to participate in collective bargaining in crown corporations (CBC, IDRC, and VIA Rail); to protect the favourable tax treatment of credit unions; and to prevent CIDA being folded into DFAIT.

This has also been the case at the Justice Committee on Bill C-54 which allows longer detention of people judged ‘Not Criminally Responsible' due to mental illness, and in Environment Committee on S-15, the bill to create a National Park on Sable Island in Nova Scotia, while allowing oil and gas exploration to continue in the park.

All these bills have been forced through the House in the last few days of the sitting. Since May 22, regular hours of adjournment were moved to midnight, which on a number of occasions slipped to 1:30am. I was the only MP who stayed through to the end every night.

With longer hours and repeated use of closure on debate, bill after bill was forced through. It is now a criminal offence, with a mandatory minimum sentence, to wear a face-covering in a riot. Trade unions are required to publish their financial information. One must ask, if we are legislating non-government affiliations, why not law societies, etc? (Senate Liberals have vowed to take their fight against passage of this into the summer).

Not to mention the multitude of changes in the omnibus budget bill (described at Omnibus Budget Bill #1 of the 2013 budget.).

To end on a positive note, some bills were passed that are actually good news. NDP MP Randall Garrison's private members bill on gender identity and Conservative Larry Miller's bill banning bulk water exports from Canada's boundary waters -- both passed!

Lastly, as the wrangling to adjourn a few days early required that I grant consent, I negotiated a right of participation in the committee that will examine the way we handle MP expenses in the House this fall. I promise to keep pushing for maximum transparency as to how we spend taxpayers' dollars.

Hope to see as many constituents as possible in all our summer and fall fairs. Have a great summer!

Originally posted in the Island Tides Regional Newspaper.

Photo: flickr/US Embassy Canada


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