Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre used a parliamentary technicality to talk on and on and on in the House about the SNC-Lavalin affair on Monday, frustrating the government’s efforts to debate the budget introduced two weeks ago by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
He started at 12:17 p.m. ET. As this column’s deadline arrived, he was still at it. (There were breaks for Question Period and points-of-order and such in between.)
The Conservatives are vowing to do everything in their power to block the Liberal government’s agenda, unless Justin Trudeau grants Jody Wilson-Raybould freedom to speak at the House justice committee about the shuffle that ultimately led to her resignation from cabinet.
But the Liberals are equally determined to get the remainder of their legislative agenda through the House. And although Mr. Poilievre has vowed the Conservatives will “use every parliamentary tool in the tool kit to end the cover-up and let her speak,” the governing party always has bigger and better tools.
Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger said in an interview that her goal is "to ensure meaningful debate, but that we’re also advancing the mandate that Canadians have given this government. "
Opposition politicians can delay the passage of legislation by dragging out debate, introducing amendments and forcing repeated votes and adjournments.
But these stalling tactics can only go so far. Governing parties can always force an end to debate on legislation, by imposing closure, and they can extend the sitting hours until every MP has exhausted his or her opportunity to speak. One way or another, the Liberals will get their most important remaining legislation passed before the House rises for the last time in the life of this Parliament in June.
“We don’t have a lot of parliamentary tools, but I think we’ve been pretty effective at using the ones that we have,” said Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen. Every minute that Mr. Poilievre was on his feet was a minute of House time devoted to the SNC-Lavalin scandal rather than the budget.
The most important remaining piece of legislation is the bill that implements the 2019-20 budget. It is likely to be an omnibus bill that contains measures only tangentially related to government finances. Passing this bill will be the government’s highest priority.
But there are other high-priority bills that Ms. Chagger identified. They include Bill C-92, which overhauls the Indigenous child-welfare system to ensure that children at risk remain within their communities, rather than being placed in foster care.
Another high priority is C-87, legislation that offers new tools to measure and then reduce poverty.
Bill C-93, which would provide pardons for people convicted in the past of marijuana possession, is also top of the list.
If things go well, C-84, which toughens penalties for animal cruelty, and C-88, which increases Indigenous participation in land and water management in the Mackenzie Valley, will also make it through the House.
But the Commons also needs to make time for more than a dozen bills that have been not yet been passed by the Senate. Since Mr. Trudeau adopted the practice of appointing senators not affiliated with a political party, the Senate has tended to scrutinize bills more carefully, sometimes sending them back to the House with suggested amendments.
Such legislation as C-59, which revamps that country’s national-security regime, and C-58, which makes changes to access-to-information legislation, may be on their way back to the House, which will need time to consider amendments and then pass the bills again.
Experience suggests that one of the great solvents of clogged legislative pipelines is spring weather. The opposition may vow to use every available means to frustrate the government’s agenda, and the government may threaten to keep the House sitting all summer if need be, but longer days, warmer weather and the tedium of late-night sittings invariably prompt some last-minute compromises that allow Parliament to adjourn.
That’s likely to happen this time, as well. We’ll keep you posted on what makes it through and what ends up on the parliamentary equivalent of the cutting-room floor.