By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
In the latest issue of Canadian Parliamentary Review, Francois Plante compiles a thorough review of how time allocation, closure and other measures to limit debate in the House have been used over the last century.
These tools, which work in different ways and with varying degrees of effectiveness, were often created in response to deliberate opposition obstructionism. This was the case for the closure rule, for example. In the late 1960s, under pressure and accused of governing undemocratically, the government instituted the time allocation rule. The goal was to provide a way of managing debate more acceptable to the opposition. Yet three trends in the government’s use of time management tools have again today given the opposition good reason to criticize. First, since the mid1970s, the number of time allocation motions adopted and the proportion of bills affected by the curtailment of debate have exploded. Second, the government’s patience has rapidly diminished; it now decides to impose time allocation on its bills with little delay. Third, the 1999 revolution in the use of the closure rule (through a motion dictating how a bill will pass through every stage) has made its use even more debatable.
Of course, the government is not solely to blame. A study of the opposition’s behaviour, more specifically its use of dilatory motions, could show that the government is to a certain extent only reacting to efforts to hold up debate. David Docherty is quite right to point out that debate curtailment measures are after all very legitimate tools that can prevent legislative impasses. However, Docherty also argues that suspicion of the government is healthy. It cannot be allowed to simply duck the opposition’s questions.
Time allocation has become something of a regular occurrence in the 41st Parliament—with the Conservatives currently on pace to far exceed any known record.
Plante notes that one such tool that has been in place since 1867—moving that “the question now be put”—was rarely ever used.
The reasons the previous question was little used in the first Parliaments are intriguing. O’Brien and Bosc suggest the following: For the first 45 years following Confederation, the only tool at the government’s disposal was the previous question…. Not only was there no other way of putting an end to a specific debate within a reasonable time, but there were no formal time limits of any kind on debates. The length of speeches was unlimited. The conduct and duration of proceedings in the House were based largely upon a spirit of mutual fair play where informal arrangements, or “closure by consent,” governed the debate.
In short, the early Parliament of Canada was likely characterized by a greater spirit of cooperation among the parties.
Is it possible then that a frequent use of time allocation is symptomatic of political actors and parties who aren’t able to (or interested in) working collaboratively?
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 6:02 PM - 0 Comments
On the anniversary of the government’s Senate reform legislation last being debated in the House, an exchange this afternoon between Thomas Mulcair and the Prime Minister. (emphasis mine)
Thomas Mulcair: Sixteen Conservative senators are still refusing to provide evidence that they actually live in the provinces they are supposed to represent. Fifteen of those were appointed by the Prime Minister. In their eighth year of broken promises, this is the Conservative record on Senate reform. Will the Prime Minister demand that his senators, members of his caucus, come clean with Canadians or is he going to keep covering up for them?
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, all senators conform to the residency requirements. That is the basis on which they are appointed to the Senate and those requirements have been clear for 150 years. We recognize there have to be reforms to the Senate, including limiting senators’ mandates and encouraging an elected Senate. Unfortunately, it is the NDP that consistently opposes reforming the Senate and opposes an elected Senate, hoping in the future to appoint its own senators. I would encourage the NDP to join with us and allow the bill to pass so that we can have an elected Senate.
Why, in this case, does the Prime Minister believe it is necessary for the opposition to “allow” the bill to pass? The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons. They could use that majority to pass a motion of time allocation to bring C-7 to a vote and they could use that majority to pass the bill at second reading. They have already used time allocation to end debate in the House on 28 occasions in this Parliament.
Government House leader Peter Van Loan might be reluctant to do so, but he also seems to believe in the necessity of time allocation if it is about fulfilling a commitment the government has made.
Mr. Speaker, nobody would be more delighted than I if we could actually not have to use time allocation, but so far we have not seen an indication from the opposition parties that they are prepared to deal with bills on an expeditious basis. We feel the need to actually get things done here and deliver on our commitments.
In fact, in each of these cases since we started in September, each one of those bills continues to be debated in the process in the House of Commons. At committee, they have not even returned here for report stage yet, let alone third reading. Extensive debate is taking place.
The fact is that the parliamentary process is a lengthy one with many stages. We want to ensure that bills have an opportunity to get through those stages so they can become law, so we can keep the commitments that we made to Canadians.
As Mr. Van Loan said yesterday, Canadians have “elected a government committed to delivering Senate reform.” Surely then this moment cries out for time allocation.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Punctuating a back-and-forth with the NDP over the Senate yesterday, Peter Van Loan offered a stirring call to move forward with the government’s Senate reform legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the question was put to Canadians in 2006 when we proposed an elected Senate, in 2008 when we proposed an elected Senate and in 2011 when we proposed an elected Senate.
None of those times did the NDP support it, but Canadians did. They elected a government committed to delivering Senate reform. We brought forward legislation on Senate reform and the NDP has blocked it every step of the way.
What is the real agenda of the NDP? Appointing its own senators, that is the agenda of the NDP.
The first part was a response to Charlie Angus’ suggestion that a referendum be held on the future of the Senate. The third part was apparently a reference to the coalition agreement signed by the Liberals and NDP in 2008 that would’ve allowed for Senate appointments (as well as all other appointments).
The trouble here is the second part. The Conservatives are fond of the idea that the New Democrats have held up the legislation—Bill C-7—by standing to speak to the bill each time it is brought before the House. Technically, C-7 can’t be brought to a vote until debate collapses. Thing is, if the Conservatives wanted to have a vote on it, they could do so almost immediately. They’d just have to use their majority in the House to pass a motion of time allocation. Just like they have done 28 times already in this Parliament.
So why not use time allocation to compel a vote? I asked Tim Uppal’s office that question last month and the only words I received in response were, “We are committed to moving reform forward.”
The Globe’s John Ibbitson suggested last August that to use time allocation to move along legislation related to reforming Parliament would be “unconscionable.” Maybe the Conservatives feel likewise. But then, if they admitted as much publicly, it might raise questions about those 28 times they’ve already used time allocation.
As Ibbitson wrote in August, the Conservatives could just keep bringing the bill before the House for as many hours as it took for each New Democrat to have his or her turn to speak. But, according to Ibbitson, the Prime Minister doesn’t want to do that because some Conservative senators don’t agree with the bill’s term limits.
Meanwhile, of course, the Conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to provide a reference on Senate reform. And it’s now been exactly one year since C-7 was brought to the House for debate.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservatives approved a motion of time allocation yesterday, this time on debate of Bill C-43.
By the NDP’s math, that was the 28th time the Conservatives have used time allocation to limit debate in the House during this Parliament. According to the New Democrats, the Conservatives have used closure another two times.
A full historical perspective would probably require determining how much debate was allowed on each bill and what sorts of bills were subject to time allocation and closure in the past—it can’t be said that time allocation and closure are inherently bad measures, in many ways they could be defended as necessary.
But the annotated standing orders do provide for a quick and dirty mathematical comparison. If you dig through the notes on time allocation (page 286) and closure (page 214), you get the following numbers for previous Parliaments with a majority government.
2001-2004. 14 uses of time allocation, 4 uses of closure.
1997-2000. “At least” 30 uses of time allocation, 2 uses of closure
1993-1997. “At least” 30 uses of time allocation, 5 uses of closure
1988-1993. “At least” 30 uses of time allocation, 15 uses of closure
1984-1988. “More than” 20 uses of time allocation, 2 uses of closure
1980-1984. “More than” 20 uses of time allocation, 2 uses of closure
1974-1979. 15 uses of time allocation, 0 uses of closure
1969-1974. 3 uses of time allocation, 1 use of closure
(Note: Closure numbers are based on what is cited in the annotated standing orders. We might allow for the possibility that some uses of closure are not mentioned there.)
If the Conservatives are presently at 28 uses of time allocation, that would seemingly put them on pace to smash the acknowledged record. Is that because they are particularly disrespectful of parliamentary debate? Is it because this collection of opposition MPs is particularly obstinate in their desire to fight government legislation on the floor of the House? Is this an efficient and useful approach to parliamentary democracy? Or a worrying trend?
I suspect you will receive differing opinions on all of those questions. Regardless, it’s another issue to throw on the pile of questions we’re building about how the House operates and how the House should operate.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservatives have just moved a motion of time allocation for both report stage and third reading of C-38. Once that motion passes the House—sometime in the next hour—debate on C-38 will be restricted to 10 hours at report stage and eight hours at third reading. The New Democrats say this is the 26th time the Conservatives have limited debate since forming a majority government last year.
On that schedule, the House should start voting on the opposition’s amendments in the late afternoon or early evening tomorrow. It should take something like 24 hours for the House to get through those votes.
Debate at third reading will then begin at noon on Monday, with a final vote on C-38 coming either late Monday or early Tuesday.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM - 0 Comments
Twice today—this morning in regards to C-31, this afternoon in regards to back-to-work legislation for CP Rail—the government passed motions to limit debate.
The New Democrats say this is the 23rd time that the government side has used time allocation or closure to limit debate since the House returned last June.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 3:07 PM - 0 Comments
From QP this morning, Marc Garneau challenges the government backbench.
Marc Garneau: Madam Speaker, yesterday the Conservatives forced time allocation for the 18th time on a massive omnibus budget implementation plan. What a legacy, 18 time allocations in their first year as a majority. This is an incredible standard they are setting for this House of Commons. They are trying to prevent members from debating a 420 page document that amends or kills 70 Acts of Parliament. My question is for the backbenchers on that side of the House who surely campaigned in the last election to fight for democracy, why are they so silent now? Why are they–
Peter Van Loan: Madam Speaker, the priority of this government is job creation and economic growth. That is what economic action plan 2012 delivers. That is why we are proud that we have set aside for the debate on this bill more time than any other budget implementation bill in the last two decades, probably longer, but that is as far back as we went in our research. It is certainly a contrast with the party that the hon. member was part of when it was in government. The Liberals passed one budget implementation bill and they sent it to committee, limiting debate to three hours. We are happy to have this bill debated for the longest time in this House, because for once we want to hear members from that side talk about the economy. That is our priority.
Mr. Garneau continues his taunting online.
See previously: The Liberal standard
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 1:37 PM - 0 Comments
The Liberals have released figures documenting what they believe to be Mr. Harper’s abuse of power.
By their reckoning, 21 government bills have been debated over the first 66 days of this Parliament. Five of those bills (23.8%) have been subject to time allocation motions and time allocation motions have been passed a total of nine times. By comparison, they say, under the last Liberal majority government Parliament sat for 419 days and debated 153 government bills. Eight of those (5.2%) were subject to time allocation motions and a total of ten time allocation motions were passed.
The Liberals report that, per sitting day, the Harper government has used time allocation more than any government since time allocation was added to the standing orders in the mid-1960s. Furthermore, they say time allocation has been invoked after an average of three hours and 53 minutes of debate, while the last Liberal majority did so after an average of eight hours and 22 minutes.
Previous coverage of this issue is compiled here.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 28, 2011 at 7:20 PM - 17 Comments
With all Conservatives present voting nay, the NDP motion on time allocation has been defeated in the House by a count of 153 to 120.
The New Democrats, Liberals, Louis Plamondon of the Bloc and Elizabeth May voted in favour of the motion.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 25, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 5 Comments
That, in the opinion of the House, the thorough examination and debate of proposed legislation on behalf of Canadians is an essential duty of Members of Parliament, and that the curtailment of such debate limits the ability of Members to carry out this duty and constitutes an affront to Canadian democracy; and, therefore,
That the Speaker undertake a study and make recommendations to amend the Standing Orders with respect to closure and time allocation, such that: (i) a Minister would be required to provide justification for the request for such a curtailment of debate; (ii) the Speaker would be required to refuse such a request in the interest of protecting the duty of Members to examine legislation thoroughly, unless the government’s justification sufficiently outweighs the said duty; (iii) criteria would be set out for assessing the government’s justification, which would provide the Speaker with the basis for a decision to allow for the curtailment of debate;
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 61 Comments
The New Democrats sent up backbencher Dan Harris just before Question Period yesterday with the following.
Mr. Speaker, when in opposition the Conservatives were outraged by an arrogant government that hid from the opposition by invoking closure. Now they have done it nine times since the election. The Minister of Public Safety once said: “For the government to bring in closure and time allocation is wrong. It sends out the wrong message to the people of Canada. It tells the people of Canada that the government is afraid.” The Minister of Canadian Heritage decried: “…the arrogance of the government in invoking closure again.” The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration once called it “…yet more unfortunate evidence of the government’s growing arrogance.” One more quote. “The government is simply increasingly embarrassed by the state of the debate and it needs to move on.” That one was from the Prime Minister himself. These out of touch Conservatives came here to change Ottawa. Instead, Ottawa changed them. In six short years they have become everything they used to oppose.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 15 Comments
On the afternoon of May 25, 1998, a young parliamentarian—a member of the opposition, not yet 30 years old and elected for the first time less than a year before—stood to speak on the Liberal government’s latest budget implementation bill.
I begin by expressing my regret that debate on this bill has been limited by the government’s time allocation motion. I understand this is the fourth time in this parliament alone that closure or time allocation has been implemented. It was done on Bill C-2 regarding the Canada pension plan, on Bill C-4 with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board, on Bill C-19, the Canadian Labour Code amendments which we dealt with before parliament broke, and now twice on Bill C-36 … This is parliament. The purpose of this place is to deliberate on legislation brought forward by the government. It is not to rubber stamp legislation brought forward by the bureaucracy or the executive branch. It is to deliberate, to debate, to amend, to consider, to ensure that those who pay the bills for the legislation we pass have their concerns fully and exhaustively expressed with respect to every single piece of legislation.
Two days later, he challenged government MPs to remember their principles. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 18, 2011 at 4:03 PM - 21 Comments
Speaking with reporters after QP this morning, Pat Martin claims a kind of victory.
I think it’s great that Canadians are engaged in a subject like the integrity of their Parliamentary democracy. I’ve never seen so many people talking about the value of Parliament since the Charlottetown Accord … I think it’s great that Canadians are engaged in a subject like the integrity of their Parliamentary democracy. I’ve never seen so many people talking about the value of Parliament since the Charlottetown Accord…
It’s a very fragile balance. The whole institution of Parliament is a very fragile construct. Both players have to stipulate themselves to a set of rules to make it work. The Conservatives have to cooperate and consult and to accommodate the legitimate concerns of Opposition or it’s going to go up like a tinderbox. We have to keep a lid on it because it is worth fighting for. Sometimes civility is sacrificed but today this is a very heated debate. We’re dealing with closure yet again in the Canadian Wheat Board. Emotions are going to rise unless the Conservatives back off and cooperate a little bit.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 1:30 PM - 22 Comments
“What I say to my private universe is an expression of what I am really feeling and I don’t apologize for that. I don’t retract it. It is a f—ing disgrace, what they’re doing. They’re running roughshod over everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy and Canadians should be outraged and their elected representatives on their behalf should be outraged.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 8:59 PM - 78 Comments
Via Twitter, the NDP MP reacts to the government’s latest move to limit debate in the House.
This is a fucking disgrace…closure again. And on the Budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot shit
For gods sake. In these uncertain economic times, don’t you think our parliament should be debating our federal budget? Some due diligence?
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 14, 2011 at 12:45 PM - 8 Comments
Peter Van Loan complains that the opposition parties continue to oppose the Harper government’s agenda and explains his general approach to House debate.
Besides, Mr. Van Loan argues that three or four hours of debate is sufficient for bills. “During an election leaders debate on all the issues … that might go two hours. I hear very few people say it wasn’t long enough – and that’s to decide the whole election.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 2:30 PM - 25 Comments
We return to our periodic series to consider recent efforts to limit the House’s ability to do one of the things for which it fundamentally exists.
In the thread under this post about the government’s recent penchant for limiting the time allowed for debate in the House of Commons, an astute commenter posited the following.
This is step one. Step two is to skip the debate entirely, and just call the MPs together to vote on the foregone conclusion. Step three will be to have the MPs stay home and vote electronically. step four will be to have the PMO’s office submit all the CPC votes directly.
However sarcastic (or at least wry) this comment was meant to be, it begs the question: How far-fetched a scenario is this? Or put another way: How different would this be from the present situation? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM - 38 Comments
Mr. Speaker, from 1913 to 1956, a period of over 40 years, time limits on debates were used 10 times. In the last 40 days, a time limit has been used seven times, making a new historical record. What used to be the exception to the rule appears to now be the rule. Mr. Speaker, my question is for the government House leader. Can we again restore a parliamentary tradition that limits on debates occur when matters are urgent or otherwise justified and do not become routine?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 4:01 PM - 12 Comments
Mr. Van Loan said the issues on the legislative agenda this fall have been discussed in detail over the past five or six years since Mr. Harper’s Conservatives first took office, albeit as a minority government. “These are issues that have been debated at length in elections, and issues on which we made commitments to Canadians in the last election,” he said. “They responded to those commitments by giving us a majority and asking us to deliver on those commitments.”
Mr. Van Loan said his approach has been to move quickly with time allocation so that it is clear to everyone how much time will be available for debate, allowing parties and MPs to plan their discussion. “Most people in their workplace do not debate an issue for four days before they decide what to do,” he said. “They debate it and they make a decision. It is enough time in this case to make a very clear decision on an important question.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 1:34 PM - 9 Comments
The Conservatives have invoked time allocation on C-19, the bill that eliminates the long-gun registry. Of the ten government bills debated in the House since Parliament reconvened in June, the Harper government has now invoked time allocation on five of them: C-3 (budget implementation), C-10 (the omnibus crime bill), C-13 (budget implementation), C-18 (Canadian Wheat Board) and C-19.
The young Stephen Harper would no doubt be concerned.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 3:54 PM - 9 Comments
While the Liberals complain that the budget implementation act received just four days of House debate at second reading—15 seconds per page, the Liberals figure—two former government House leaders defend the practice of “time allocation.”
“If the opposition is entitled to filibuster, then the government is entitled to un-filibuster,” Boudria said. The second-longest serving House leader in Canadian history, Boudria said the government needs to be able to speed up a bill if the opposition has slowed it down.
His counterpart — who was often the target of the measures Boudria used under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien — said parliamentary rules that allow the government to end debate are necessary. “Although we railed against their usage at times by Mr. Chrétien and Don Boudria, we recognized even then that in our system of government, if you’re going to actually get something done, you have to be able to use them,” Hill said.