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[Analyse] The return of the gags promised from the first election

The opposition is accused of blocking everything in Parliament. The government is being criticized for inventing reasons to impose closure. The refrain always seems the same, at the end of parliamentary sessions. Except that this time, the figures confirm that the government of Justin Trudeau imposes its will more on the Commons. About as much as Stephen Harper before him. What looks like a homecoming for the Liberals, thanks to the support of their NDP ally.

Again on Tuesday, the government tabled a motion to limit the time for debate on Bill C-21 on firearms. The 11e the kind to have been summoned on a 9e bill, of the 28 introduced by the Liberals since the fall election. Of this number, ten motions have been voted on since the minority government of Justin Trudeau reached an agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP) to obtain its support.

By way of comparison, during the first six months of Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government in 2011, he used nine time allocation motions for 5 of his 21 bills.

“It’s a government that doesn’t like Parliament, that doesn’t like to debate,” laughs Bloc Québécois parliamentary leader Alain Therrien about the Liberals. “There they found a friend: their little lapdog, the NPD. And from that moment, they were finally able to achieve their goal of jostling Parliament. »

Between 2019 and 2021, when the Liberals were also in the minority, but did not have an official alliance with one of the opposition parties, the government passed seven time allocation motions in 20 months.

In majority rule, from 2015 to 2019, they limited debate time 91 times for 51 bills (a time allocation motion can be voted on at more than one stage of parliamentary consideration). The Conservatives before them, during their majority mandate from 2011 to 2015, had chained 102 time allocation motions for 67 bills.

At the time, the Conservatives provoked the ire of the opposition parties — including the Liberals — and justified themselves by blaming them for dragging out the debate.

A speech that is now taken up by the parliamentary leader of the Liberal government, Mark Holland. The Conservatives are constantly obstructing, he denounced. To oppose on principle is one thing, to do it systematically for no reason is another, he insisted. “They represent only a third of the seats in the Commons. They do not have the right to block the work of the other two-thirds of the House. »

New Democrat Peter Julian agrees. “In 18 years in Parliament, I have never seen such a systematic blockage. These time allocation motions, which the NDP now supports, are “a legitimate response,” he defended.

Conservative John Brassard rejects these accusations, accusing the Liberals of not even looking for a compromise since they can count on the sole support of the NDP. “Justin Trudeau was elected a minority. He did not receive a majority mandate,” he argued.

The truth lies somewhere in between. The Conservative Party is indeed very often opposed to the government, observes Mr. Therrien, of the Bloc. But the government has “not given it time to become excessive”, he nuances.

A return to basics

Assured of the support of the NDP, the Liberals of Justin Trudeau can now reconnect with their aims at the start of their reign.

A year and a half after coming to power, they had proposed to modify the rules of the House in particular to reduce the powers of the opposition to disrupt the work, on the pretext of wanting to better schedule the debates and thus avoid gags. The government had been forced to back down, faced with the outcry. But he warned that he would therefore have to resort “more often to time allocation in order to implement real change”.

Three years later, at the onset of the pandemic, he proposed inserting into his first emergency relief bill the power to spend, borrow and tax Canadians by regulation — without the approval of Parliament — for a period of 21 months. The Liberals had explained that they wanted to take advantage of flexibility, in the midst of a crisis, but had once again been forced to give up.

Added to the repeated gags of recent weeks is the government’s intention to extend the hybrid operation of the Commons for another year.

A democracy shunned too

The Conservatives and the Bloc keep repeating that the Liberals are undermining parliamentary democracy in this way, but their leaders are not setting an example.

Out of the 91 days of parliamentary work since the election, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, appeared at 31 question periods – as many as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Interim Tory leader Candice Bergen ran 37 times. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh 45 times.

By limiting parliamentary debate more and more often, the Liberals are indulging in precisely the behavior they denounced loud and clear in their predecessors. But by not deigning to appear in the Commons more often than their Liberal rival, the opposition leaders are not setting an example of the relevance of this parliamentary work which they say is essential.

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