Liberals back down on parliamentary changes, but closure will be cost: Chagger

Brace for closure, Chagger warns Commons

OTTAWA — The Liberals are putting some water in their parliamentary wine, but their political rivals argue they are still forcing the opposition parties to drink it.

“It’s very clear that the Liberal arrogance and the plans that they have are not going away,” Opposition House leader Candice Bergen said Monday.

“They are taking this several notches further and making this even more of an untenable situation for us.”

The Liberal government took a big step back on its plans to change the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure, abandoning some of the more contentious reforms it had been proposing — changes that have had Conservative and NDP critics up in arms for weeks.

They are still, however, going ahead with other changes, including having the prime minister deliver all the responses in one question period each week.

And, since the Liberals promised these changes in their 2015 election campaign, they are going to push them through even if they cannot bring the opposition parties on side.

“We will continue to move ahead with the specific commitments from our campaign platform, all of which will make the government more accountable, not less,” government House leader Bardish Chagger said Monday.

Chagger also said the Liberals are determined to actually change the rules — rather than simply their own practices — so that future governments have to follow suit.

NDP House leader Murray Rankin warned the Liberals against viewing the House of Commons this way.

“The Parliament is for the people of Canada,” said Rankin. “It is not to make the government’s work more efficient. It’s to hold the government to account.”

Rankin also pointed out the Liberals have walked away from other promises — including the one to reform the way Canadians vote in federal elections in time for the next one.

“We are very suspicious of the argument that somehow they have to do this to keep a promise,” Rankin said.

Chagger will put the changes in a motion before the House of Commons some time before MPs head home for the summer.

The other proposals the government will implement include changes to how committees operate to give them more power, better financial oversight measures and restrictions on the use of so-called omnibus legislation.

She made it clear Monday the Liberals have no plans to budge from this bottom line.

Chagger also said without reforms that would have allowed the Liberals to move their legislation through the process more predictably, opposition parties should expect them to more often use heavy-handed tactics — such as time allocation, which involves curtailing debate — to speed things along.

The Liberals had proposed something called “programming,” which involves scheduling a set amount of time to move government bills through the legislative process, but pulled the plug on that idea and several others in a letter Chagger wrote Sunday to her opposition colleagues.

“Unfortunately, we have not found the willingness to study the system here and so I have regretfully informed the opposition parties that we will have to use time allocation more often to implement the agenda of change we promised Canadians,” Chagger said, adding they do so “with full transparency.”

The battle over procedural reform had led to a lengthy filibuster in committee, with tensions spilling over into the House of Commons, even delaying the tabling of the federal budget.

A Liberal source said it became clear some time over the break that the disagreement over those other suggestions was too deep and that reverting to the core electoral promises — and away from those that would have increased the power of the government — would be a way to break the logjam.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who had earlier expressed some trepidation over changing the rules without consensus from the opposition parties, said Monday he was glad to see some movement from Chagger and that he hoped to see some from the other side, too.

“This isn’t just the government’s fault,” Easter, of Malpeque, P.E.I., said Monday. “Now, I think it’s up to the opposition parties to show a little common sense here and try and  resolve these issues and get Parliament working again.”

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Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press