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john ibbitson

NDP MP Pat Martin holds a Parliament HIll news conference on Oct. 18, 2011.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Pat Martin's foul-fingered tweets over the Harper government's repeated invocation of closure were certainly in poor taste. But he makes an important point.

The NDP MP has the Twitterverse aflutter over rants he sent out Wednesday complaining about the Conservative government's move to end debate on a budget bill.

Mr. Martin's use of numerous four-letter words to express his displeasure raised eyebrows – though if you think about it, referring to Conservative "jackboot" tactics, as he did, is probably a more serious slur – but the NDP rightly points out that no government has ever imposed closure so often on so many bills over such a short period of time.

Since winning their majority, the Conservatives have limited debate on the bills to end the gun registry and to scrap the wheat board's monopoly; on omnibus crime legislation; on the bill to add more seats to the House of Commons; and on two budget bills.

Mr. Martin's profane tweets "are a clear reflection of the frustration we're all feeling," Opposition House Leader Joe Comartin said. "Pat just expressed it more vigorously than the rest of us have."

Thursday morning, the Conservatives moved to shut off debate on Bill C-10, the crime legislation, in committee. Debate must end by midnight on a bill that has 290 different sections.

The Conservatives reply that these are all bills that have been debated in previous minority Parliaments; they were part of the Conservative election platform and the government has a clear mandate to implement them.

"Canadians have asked us to deliver on these, and we are delivering on them," Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said in an interview.

He added that other bills, such as the copyright and human smuggling legislation, are proceeding without time limits.

Fair enough. But the fact remains that we've come a long way from the Pipeline Debate, that epic confrontation in 1956 over constructing a natural gas pipeline from Western to Eastern Canada.

The Liberals' determination to end debate by imposing closure led to a near riot in the House of Commons and helped defeat the St. Laurent government in the next election.

Since then, governments of all political stripes have shut down legislative debate on an increasingly routine basis. The Conservatives have simply taken things to a new pitch.

All parties share blame for the decline in the ability of Parliament to examine and amend proposed legislation. But Parliament declines nonetheless.