Amid questions about the Prime Minister’s Office, Senate spending, Justin Trudeau’s work for charities and Thomas Mulcair’s run-in with Mounties on Parliament Hill, MPs have agreed to adjourn the House of Commons.
The adjournment came Tuesday evening after a series of bills were pushed through, and after the governing Conservatives agreed to back an NDP motion to look at overhauling how MPs’ expenses are governed – including potentially doing away with the secretive, powerful Board of Internal Economy. Liberal transparency motions were also recommended to be studied by a committee, and the government let a controversial bill backed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney essentially stall.
The sitting ended because all parties agreed to it. The deal was being celebrated by the NDP, which had previously said it would take “something extraordinary” to adjourn before Friday, the last scheduled day. That, apparently, was an agreement to study how to overhaul the board.
“If I had suggested we could get this even a few days ago, no one would have believed it possible. So we’ll take it,” NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said in an interview. The NDP motion requires the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to conduct hearings on how to replace the Board of Internal Economy and boost oversight of MPs’ salaries, expenses and office budgets. The committee would rely on the help of officials such as the Auditor General, and must produce a report by December this year.
“The sacred cow has been put on the block here. We’re talking about removing the way the Board of Internal Economy works,” Mr. Cullen said.
A spokesman for Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan, however, said the committee only needs to study the proposed changes. Mr. Cullen agreed, saying a motion can’t force the hand of a committee, but that the attention on the issue means “the pressure will be extraordinary for [the Conservatives] to agree to some of the things we suggested,” he said.
Mr. Van Loan was set to speak Wednesday about the government’s accomplishments in the session. “Our government is happy to have delivered results for Canadians, including the most important legislative objectives that we set out in January like the passage of the job creating measures in the budget implementation bill,” Mr. Van Loan’s spokesman, Fraser Malcolm, said in an email.
The adjournment stalled Bill C-425, a private member’s bill from Calgary MP Devinder Shory. The bill proposes stripping Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen if he or she “engages in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.” It also smooths citizenship requirements for residents who agree to serve three years in the Canadian Forces.
“I wanted to send a clear message that Canadian citizenship cannot be used as a flag of convenience by violent terrorists,” Mr. Shory wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail Tuesday evening, adding the bill was supported by several groups, including the Air India 182 Victims’ Families Association. “I can assure Canadians that as long as I am in the House, I will not let this issue die,” Mr. Shory said.
The opposition had warned the bill creates two-tiered citizenship, and have said the government is abusing process by amending Mr. Shory’s private member’s bill to include the citizenship-stripping provision rather than tabling a government bill.
Mr. Shory’s bill was emphatically backed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a key figure in cabinet and the Conservative Party. Mr. Kenney's spokesperson, Ana Curic, said the NDP will have to answer for blocking the bill, saying they "should be truly ashamed" and pledging: "Let's just say, this isn't over yet."
A series of bills also passed third and final reading in the House of Commons, Mr. Van Loan’s office said. They include Bill S-15, creating Sable Island National Park in Nova Scotia, and Bill C-32, which closed a same-sex marriage loophole by, in effect, allowing same-sex divorce for non-residents. Bill C-54 passed, allowing those deemed not-criminally-responsible to be nonetheless considered a “high-risk accused.” Bill S-14 also passed, introducing stiffer rules around bribing officials of foreign governments. Finally, Bill S-17 passed, implementing recent tax treaties signed with Namibia, Serbia, Poland and Hong Kong, while changing the rules around sharing tax information with Luxembourg and Switzerland.
It’s an end to a legislative sitting that has been plagued by controversies, particularly for the governing Conservatives. It included an RCMP investigation of a deal between Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and Conservative-appointed senator Mike Duffy. It included outcry over the expenses of four senators, three of them Conservative-appointed, including Mr. Duffy. The Liberals, meanwhile, had their own former senator mired in controversy and lately had faced questions about Mr. Trudeau, who accepted fees from 17 organizations, including charities, to give speeches since becoming an MP. Mr. Mulcair, the NDP leader, has faced accusations about being offered a possible bribe 17 years ago and, last week, being pursued by Mounties on Parliament Hill after failing to stop at a checkpoint, reportedly asking one officer: “Don’t you know who I am?”
The deal also ensured Mr. Harper – who, on Tuesday, wrapped up an eight-day trip to Europe – won’t have to return to Question Period until fall.
With files from Gloria Galloway