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Liberals’ new parliamentary reform plan angers Tories, NDP

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday.


The Liberal government is proposing major changes to the way Parliament functions, including limiting the delay powers of opposition MPs, allowing electronic voting and ending Friday sittings.

Government House leader Bardish Chagger released the proposals in a discussion paper Friday afternoon as MPs headed home for a break week, arguing that it is time to recalibrate the balance of power between the government's duty to pass legislation and the opposition's right to be heard.

"We really need to bring the House of Commons into the 21st century," said Ms. Chagger in an interview. The minister said the changes are aimed at making Parliament more predictable and productive.

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Opposition MPs immediately slammed the proposals, warning that it would curb their ability to challenge the government.

The proposals echo some of the Parliamentary reform promises made by the Liberals during the election campaign. They include changes to the daily Question Period by having one day a week where the Prime Minister answers all of the questions, as is the case in Britain. Ms. Chagger said the committee should debate whether the Prime Minister should also attend Question Period on other days.

However, the Liberals have already made two failed attempts since the election to change the House of Commons rules. Last May, the government withdrew a controversial motion that would have given it new powers to limit debate. Also last year, a study by the Procedure and House Affairs committee aimed at making Parliament more "family friendly" held hearings on the idea of eliminating Friday sittings but found no consensus for a change. That same committee is being asked to consider the government's latest proposals. A Liberal motion has circulated that proposed that the committee complete its review by June 2.

Ms. Chagger suggests in her letter that in lieu of Friday sittings, the House of Commons could add more sitting days in January, June and September.

Concern from the opposition Friday focused on changes that would limit the ability of opposition MPs to delay legislation in the House or in committee with long speeches known as filibusters. One section of Ms. Chagger's letter recommends limiting speeches in committee to 10 minutes.

"Committees can, at times, become dysfunctional," she wrote. "The principle of deliberations in the House and in committees should be to engage in substantive debate on the merit of an issue, not to engage in tactics which seek only to undermine and devalue the important work of Parliament."

Conservative deputy house leader MP Chris Warkentin said his party will strongly oppose changes that limit the ability of MPs to challenge the government.

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"The idea that they would suggest that MPs bringing the concerns of their constituents forward is somehow an unacceptable use of time for the House of Commons is absolutely reprehensible," he said. "To remove those opportunities is really an abuse of power and something that we will definitely oppose."

Mr. Warkentin said his party will not support the elimination of Friday sittings. He said the government appears to be using calls for improved work-life balance as an excuse for limiting accountability.

"We believe MPs should work five days a week, and frankly it's the experience of most of us that we work seven days a week," he said. "I know that there's a lot of Canadians that would suggest that if the Liberals wanted to do less work or if they don't like the job that they've been elected to do, that there might be somebody else who would replace these members of Parliament."

NDP MP Murray Rankin said the Liberal proposals would be a setback for Canadian democracy that would limit the opposition's powers to hold the government to account.

"We do look forward to a healthy debate on this discussion paper, even if it appears healthy debate may be severely restricted around here in the future," he said in a statement.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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