For weeks now on Parliament Hill, bells have been ringing at odd times.
The alarm means a countdown is on for MPs to rush to the Chamber and vote. Usually, voting takes place at agreed-upon times, such as immediately after Question Period.
Instead, committee meetings have repeatedly been interrupted or cancelled of late, forcing some witnesses who had travelled to Ottawa to pack up and return home. Buses are arranged to whisk the frustrated MPs to Parliament's Centre Block.
A string of motions from the Liberal government to shut down debate on government bills has caused some of the votes, while the NDP on Monday used a procedural trick related to how amendments are managed to force a snap vote, catching the Liberals by surprise.
Liberals and the opposition parties accuse one another of "pulling the fire alarm" by causing unexpected and unnecessary voting.
The final weeks before summer recess often feature frayed nerves and procedural warfare.
It was against this backdrop that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed the floor on Wednesday evening to grab Conservative Whip Gord Brown – and accidentally elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau – in an effort to speed up a vote. (Traditionally, the House starts a vote when the party whips are in place.) A wall of New Democrat MPs was preventing Mr. Brown from getting past, causing a delay. Mr. Trudeau apologized on Wednesday and again on Thursday in the House, where the day's agenda focused on the fallout from his actions.
Canadians who tuned in to CPAC, the Parliamentary affairs channel, would have seen that the House was debating "The physical molestation of the member from Berthier-Maskinongé," in reference to Ms. Brosseau. The issue was sent to a House of Commons committee for further review.
In his apology on Thursday morning, Mr. Trudeau dismissed any suggestion his behaviour was due to an "escalation" of disputes in the House of Commons.
"I refuse to allow anyone to think that there was any justification for my behaviour yesterday evening. It was on me. It was my mistake. It was unbecoming of any member of the House. I expect better from myself, and my colleagues on all sides of the aisle certainly expect better from me," he said.
Opposition parties called on the Prime Minister to back off his government's most recent procedural move – known as Motion No. 6 – that would allow all-night sittings and remove the opposition's powers to create delay until the House rises for the summer. By Thursday afternoon, the government agreed to withdraw the motion.
Important policy differences are behind all of the procedural wrangling. Opposition parties want more time to debate C-14, the legislation on assisted dying. The government said it must meet a June 6 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court. It also wants to pass its first budget bill before the House rises in June.
The government's May 10 announcement that a Liberal-dominated committee would lead consultations on electoral reform was sharply criticized, especially by the Conservative Party, which wants any reform put to a referendum.
The NDP strongly opposes Bill C-10, which gives Air Canada more flexibility on where its maintenance work is done. The NDP triggered the snap vote on the bill on Monday that the government nearly lost. The Speaker broke a tie, allowing the bill to proceed.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said Monday's vote embarrassed the government and led to an excessive response: the proposed motion to limit opposition powers.
"In one fell swoop, all of that promise to do politics differently, to respect Parliament, to respect individual MPs and the work of committees, that's all out the window because he had his ego bruised on Monday," he said.
Opposition MPs called the Liberal motion unprecedented. It would have allowed the House of Commons to sit 24 hours a day and would have given only the cabinet the power to trigger votes.
However, the motion is not that unusual, according to Thomas Hall, a former clerk of the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee. The Conservative government passed what Mr. Hall describes as a "very similar" motion in 2014 with the same language in terms of temporarily restricting the powers of opposition MPs. However, the Conservative motion allowed sittings only until midnight.
Opposition parties have been reminding the Liberals that the party platform promised "real change" in the way the government interacts with Parliament. Specifically, the party promised not to use legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny.