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NDP demands longer Question Period if Parliament’s hours extended

New Democratic Party House leader Nathan Cullen speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 5, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The NDP is pushing for longer daily Question Periods and the Liberals want a special debate on Senate expenses as the opposition and the government battle over how the final weeks of the Parliamentary session will play out.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan moved a motion Tuesday that would see MPs sit for extended hours – meaning as late as midnight each day. The move appears to support speculation in Ottawa that the government wants to quickly pass a few key bills and then shut down Parliament early as it faces a swirling controversy over ethics at the Prime Minister's Office and the Senate.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen is countering the government's move with a proposal to allow longer sittings, provided that the time for Question Period is also extended, from 45 minutes to 90 minutes.

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The NDP argues the government's motion goes well beyond asking for longer hours and takes away various opposition powers like the ability to trigger debates on committee reports.

"We believe this motion is fundamentally flawed in its abuse of this place," said Mr. Cullen.

The House of Commons is currently scheduled to sit until June 21.

The tone in the House has clearly become tense and personal during the first sitting since a week that saw two Conservative Senators resign from caucus and the resignation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright.

"Their base hates this," said Mr. Cullen as he chided heckling Conservative MPs across the aisle.

A spokesperson for Mr. Van Loan said the government will oppose the NDP amendment.

"The opposition is clearly against working overtime for Canadians," said Fraser Malcolm in a statement.

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Meanwhile, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux is asking the Speaker to allow an emergency debate on Senate expenses and the role of the PMO.

While the government does not need unanimous support to move its motion and could easily vote down the NDP amendment, the Liberal proposal for a special debate could be done without government support as the decision is up to the Speaker.

Mr. Harper has yet to answer questions from the opposition or the media on his chief of staff's resignation after giving Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 to refund inappropriate expenses. The move effectively scuttled an independent audit of Mr. Duffy's expenses. The Senate is expected to debate this evening whether or not to refer Mr. Duffy's expenses back to auditors.

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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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