Amid calls for democratic reform from his own caucus, the Conservative government's House Leader is instead celebrating his party's legislative accomplishments - saying Canada's Parliament is working better than ever.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan held a press conference Thursday outlining the passing of 40 new laws during the 2013 calendar year. Only three came this fall, each signed into law Thursday - two budget-related bills, and one new law renaming the Canadian Museum of Civilization as the Canadian Museum of History.
The 40 laws in one year, including several private member's bills, was the most since the Conservatives took power in 2006, Mr. Van Loan said. "That's something we can all be proud of. It shows how Parliament is working better than ever right now," he said.
That drew scoffs from the official opposition, which said some of the bills are minor and others were rammed through the House by government limiting debate.
"They've lost their focus. They're tired. I've not seen a government more desperate to get out of the session than this one was," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said. All parties, including his, agreed this week to adjourn early. He said it was because there were no major bills set to be pushed through, and "a lot of the oxygen had left the room" with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial. "And maybe wanting to save the Canadian people any more time listening to Mr. Calandra, I don't know," Mr. Cullen added, referring to Mr. Harper's parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, who frequently responds to questions on behalf of Mr. Harper.
Mr. Van Loan's celebratory tone is at odds with some of the year's developments within his caucus. Those include the tabling of the Reform Act, a democratic reform bill by Conservative backbencher Michael Chong aiming to claw back the power of party leaders and empower individual MPs. Mr. Chong and other conservative backbenchers are backing the bill, on which formal debate will begin next year. This year also saw MP Brent Rathgeber quit the Conservative caucus over the level of control the Prime Minister's Office has. Mr. Rathgeber then made a series of speeches as part of what he dubbed his "Broken Democracy '13 Tour."
Mr. Chong's bill, however, was not one Mr. Van Loan is keen to discuss. Asked repeatedly by reporters on Thursday for his assessment of the bill, Mr. Van Loan remained silent and walked away.
He was also asked why just three bills were passed in the fall, during which the sitting was delayed by proroguation and then adjourned early, for a total of 34 sitting days. He outlined the lengthy process bills must go through, and said it takes time, but didn't address the effect of the delayed start or early adjournment.
"We're very, very pleased with the progress that was made in this fall session, as well as a number of the bills that were introduced, bills that made it off to committee, bills we got over to the Senate for their consideration," he said, calling it "overall, a very, very productive year."
Mr. Cullen rejected that, saying the government never regained its footing after proroguing the house, and said Mr. Van Loan's speech Thursday amounted to spin. "Congratulations. You prorogue parliament, try to reset the clock, reset the conversation and completely fail on that front," the critic said.
The three latest bills received royal assent Thursday evening. Of the 40 bills, several dealt with First Nations issues, including extending matrimonial property rights to people living on-reserve and another on delivering safe drinking water. One new law fast-tracks extradition of criminals in Canada, and another forces judges to apply higher fines in criminal cases to support a victim surcharge fund – a law judges are already pushing back against. Another bill amended the law to allow for people married in Canada, but not living here, to get divorces, a loophole that had left some same-sex couples abroad unable to legally separate. One bill created Sable Island national park, and another gave Canada's blessing to a change in royal protocol that ensures girls and boys will be treated equally in the Royal line of succession.
With MPs now on their holiday break, parliament is scheduled to return on Jan. 27.