Federal politicians are preparing for a rare all-night voting session to deal with hundreds of amendments proposed by opposition members to a massive government budget bill that they say was crafted to push unpalatable measures through Parliament without proper debate.
“We will be voting around the clock,” NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told reporters on Tuesday. “I want these folks [the Conservatives] to feel a little pain for their arrogance. I think it’s foolhardy to approach Parliament as an annoyance, as a problem to overcome, that democracy is somehow in the way all the time.”
The votes will be a test of stamina for MPs of all stripes – and especially the Conservatives, who must keep almost all of their members in their seats for every vote. Because C-38 is a budget bill, the New Democrats say all amendments to it are confidence matters and could cause the government to fall.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives moved to shut down debate on the legislation. That means – barring a government slip-up – the final vote on the 425-page bill will likely take place next Monday.
Opposition MPs have pleaded with the government to slice the legislation into several pieces that can be studied in greater depth to give the public a full understanding of its implications.
Among other things, it includes changes to the way fish habitats are protected, changes to Employment Insurance eligibility, and an increase in the age at which Canadians can collect Old Age Security. It also would severely restrict the number of federal environmental assessments.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the wide-reaching bill. “The government makes no secret of the fact that it brought forward a budget in March that is very comprehensive in its efforts to ensure that we create jobs and growth for the long term for the Canadian economy,” he told the Commons on Tuesday.
Most MPs admit they are not looking forward to the overnight session. Endless hours of repetitive voting could send the most stalwart soul into a stupor. But the politicians say they are devising ways to cope.
Heritage Minister James Moore said it would have been worse in the pre-Internet and WIFI days. “Now we have our iPads. We will have connectivity to our offices, to work and family, and there will be plenty of opportunity to find lots of work to get done.”
Brent Rathgeber, the MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, said his plan is to get as much sleep as he can in advance. “And then you resort to your old university tricks, which is drink lots of coffee and try to stay alert. You try to pay attention or you put something on your laptop because otherwise those eyelids are going to get very heavy.”
Judy Sgro, the Liberal MP for York West in Toronto, said she absolutely dreads these sessions. “I have no idea how I am ever going to get through it because, when 11 o’clock comes, I am out like a light,” she said. “But this omnibus bill is a horrible bill. It’s packed with everything from soup to nuts. And if I have to stay up all night for a week to show my opposition to it, then I am going to do that.”
John McCallum, the Liberal who represents Markham-Unionville north of Toronto, said there will have to be breaks once in a while. “But I don’t think we want to make them too numerous because then it really affects our voting record. Maybe, if we take to sleeping, our neighbour will wake us up.”
Joe Comartin, the New Democrat who represents Windsor-Tecumseh in southwestern Ontario, said he plans to get a good sleep on Tuesday night. “I am going to go out and buy some Power Bars. That, and I have a couple of novels that I am sneaking into my desk and I will be reading those intermittently as I am voting.”