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Liberals drop motion designed to limit opposition power after tussle in House

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from opposition MPs as he addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberals have backed down from a controversial motion that would have given the majority government even more parliamentary power. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized yet again for a tussle in the House of Commons.

Under increasing pressure from the opposition, the Liberals withdrew Motion No. 6, which would have stripped opposition MPs of their procedural tools to delay government bills and allowed cabinet to impose round-the-clock sittings to pass legislation such as Bill C-14, the law on doctor-assisted dying.

Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement during Question Period, while Mr. Trudeau was in "private meetings" for the rest of the day.

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"Our objective remains to work with everyone to find the proper mechanism to extend the sitting hours to allow for a more respectful debate on government legislation," Mr. LeBlanc said.

"I look forward to working with all members of the House to achieve that objective."

The government now seems highly unlikely to be able to pass Bill C-14 before the Supreme Court of Canada's June 6 deadline. Parliament is about to go on a week-long break, and after that, the bill would have only a week to pass in the House and the Red Chamber, where senators have already signalled plans to amend it and return it to the Commons for another vote.

Opposition MPs welcomed withdrawal of Motion No. 6, but called on the government to give all members their say when the debate on Bill C-14 resumes in little more than a week.

"We know the Prime Minister has shut down debates time and time again and continues to treat democracy as an inconvenience, but he has two choices here," Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said during Question Period. "One is that he can side with us and Canadians and give them a voice. Will he show members of the House and Canadians that he respects them?"

NDP House Leader Peter Julian said he is glad the Liberals backed down on what he called "the most draconian power grab that any government has ever attempted in Canadian history."

"Will the government finally start working with opposition parties in this Parliament?" he asked.

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Earlier in the day, Mr. Trudeau stood in the Commons and apologized for the third time in less than 24 hours for the incident in which he grabbed Conservative Whip Gordon Brown on Wednesday night to move him past NDP MPs who were standing in Mr. Brown's way before a vote to cut off debate on Bill C-14 was about to take place.

Mr. Trudeau then came into what he described as "physical contact" with NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, whom he accidentally elbowed.

"Members rightfully expect better behaviour from anyone in this House. I expect better behaviour of myself," said Mr. Trudeau, speaking softly and looking solemn.

"I made a mistake, I regret it, and I am looking to make amends."

MPs continued to debate the incident for three hours in the Commons. Conservative MP Todd Doherty called the Prime Minister's actions "appalling, unacceptable and shocking."

"To see anyone angrily striding across the floor like that, elbowing another colleague, is deplorable," he said.

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House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan also concluded there was a prima facie case that Ms. Brosseau's privileges as an MP had been breached, which means the encounter will be examined by an all-party committee, which could write a report with recommendations for preventing similar incidents. Mr. Trudeau said he is willing to see that happen.

The actions of the opposition were also under scrutiny on Thursday.

When asked by reporters if Mr. Brown was letting himself be blocked by the NDP before the vote on Wednesday, Ms. Ambrose said: "That's completely irrelevant to the behaviour that the Prime Minister displayed."

Likewise, Mr. Julian told reporters he believed Mr. Brown was merely talking to other members. But "the fact that Mr. Brown wasn't standing opposite [Liberal Whip Andrew Leslie] is absolutely irrelevant," Mr. Julian said, noting that Mr. Leslie could have initiated the vote without his Conservative counterpart.

With a report from Gloria Galloway

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