Van Loan Warrior: How to lose parliamentary agendas and fail to influence opposition parties


If, during this afternoon’s episode of Question Period, the cloud hanging over the head of Peter Van Loan seems even darker than usual, it’s with good reason. This morning, he once again lost control of the House of Commons, which was hijacked by a concurrence motion debate — on the tobacco industry, this time, not that it really matters. As a result, he won’t be able to move his legislative chess pieces forward until this afternoon, at the very earliest.

But as frustrating as it must be for Van Loan to watch those precious end-of-sessions minutes dwindle away, however, it pales in comparison to the defeat that he suffered last night, when he became the first government house leader in Canadian parliamentary history to be lose a vote on whether to extend the sitting hours. In fact, he’s the first house leader in Canadian parliamentary history (which, in this case, admittedly only goes back to 1982, since that’s when the Standing Orders changed) who has been forced to hold a vote on whether to extend the sitting hours.

Under majority and minority governments alike, the request – which can only be made once, on the tenth day before the session is scheduled to adjourn – usually passed on unanimous consent. This time, though, the opposition parties forced the government to defend its desire to hold night sittings, and challenged Van Loan to provide a list of priority legislation that must make it through before the summer break. It was all priority legislation, Van Loan insisted – an argument that, on balance, the opposition parties clearly found uncompelling. They defeated the motion, 139-114.

Predictably, Van Loan came out swinging with a press release that excoriated the united opposition parties for wanting to “work less”:

Today, in an unprecedented move, the federal opposition parties blocked the standard evening sittings of the House of Commons, which its rules contemplate. This routine motion, set out in House standing orders, has never been blocked since it was first introduced in 1982.

“Very few Canadians have the privilege of representing their fellow citizens in Parliament,” said Peter Van Loan, Government House Leader. “If Members of Parliament aren’t willing to do their work before a three month summer break, they should step aside and let someone else do it.”

Since the House calendar was fixed in 1982, the standard motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House of Commons has always been approved.

“The Government understands Canadians expect Members of Parliament to work hard to get things done before the summer break,” continued Minister Van Loan. “The Government has a long list of bills it wants to pass before the end of the spring sitting and this is just another attempt by the Opposition to obstruct and delay that legislative agenda.”

A combative tone, to be sure – but far milder response than anyone who saw the look on his face during yesterday’s debate, as he was forced to listen to opposition members list their various grievances against his style of House management, from sabotaging committees to ignoring the will of the House.

The NDP’s Nathan Cullen deemed Van Loan’s request for extra innings to be a “strange and perverse” flavour of irony, given his party’s behaviour during the sitting:

I went through the pain and suffering of six weeks of his government filibustering the environment committee, six weeks of talking out the clock day in and day out. The Conservatives lack of planning and integrity create a crisis for the rest of Parliament. In mistaking the idea that we come here to work for some sort of political gamesmanship day in and day out at justice, procedure and House affairs and the environment committee, they spent six weeks filibustering, delaying, holding the bill hostage on one clause. Ironically, it was a clause on transparency and accountability.

It seems odd now that the government would come back to the Parliament and say that the clock is running out on the spring session, that it needs more time to debate these important issues. When the Conservatives had the time to move legislation forward, they chose not to. […]Now they suggest, within days of that happening, that this crisis has been created by others, not their own doing, and they need extra time to get through their legislative calendar.

Speaking on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, Pierre Paquette, saw it as a natural consequence of the “haighty attitude” that both Van Loan, and his party, have demonstrated:

As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government’s priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Finally, just to drive the point home, Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale began with a vintage quote from Stephen Harper himself, who, during his pre-prime ministerial days as leader of the opposition, had demanded that the then-Liberal minority “take into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House” – a sharp contrast, he suggested, to his behaviour after the positions were reversed:

Unfortunately, the minority government has demonstrated no commitment to those principles that were described by the Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition. The minority government has no idea what it means to consult the opposition parties, not to mention no idea what it means to take into account their priorities. The modus operandi of the government is one of bitter partisanship all the time, running roughshod over everything and everybody in its path, no matter what.

But rather than attempt to reach a truce, however temporary, in order to secure the votes necessary to pass his motion, Van Loan instead went on the attack. He accused the NDP of being the “masters of exploiting the processes of the House” and deploying “every possible device to delay the government doing its business,” and blamed the Liberals for hamstringing the Justice committee with a motion to hold “another one of their side show legislative committee inquiry Star Chambers.” Conservative MP Ken Epp, who had the unenviable job of responding to the Bloc Quebecois, instead delivered a rambling monologue on separatism and Senate reform.

And so, when it came time to vote on a motion that has sailed through the House on every previous occasion, the opposition parties imposed what Van Loan calls the tyranny of the minority, but what others refer to as democracy, to vote it down.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that somewhere in this story, there is a lesson for someone. We leave it to readers to decide.



Van Loan Warrior: How to lose parliamentary agendas and fail to influence opposition parties

  1. PVL was outstrategized and he’s a crybaby about the whole matter.

    When he wins, he has a Cheshire cat grin and
    when he loses, he cries.

    When was the last time that a government was as petulant and spoiled-brattish as this one is?
    Was there ever another?

  2. Gee – maybe Petey should have gotten his boss to start off the session of Parliament on time, rathering than p’ing away the first three weeks by starting some 16 days late.

  3. Well that’s another delightful skit from one of the lead actors in Stephen Harper’s live mockumentary of parliament.

  4. What does ‘opposition party’ mean?

    If only the smart oil glob could tell me.

  5. What I don’t really understand is why they wanted to extend the sessions in the first place. Forgive me if I’m uninformed, but the impression I’ve been getting is that neither party wants to do any work, and, aside from confidence motions, nothing was passing anyway.

    What kind of confidence motions did the conservatives have lined up that they won’t be able to get to now?

  6. Let me see if I get the premise here : Fiberal I mean Liberal, NDP and BQ (well who cares on this group)MP’s do not extend the hours like they usually do and this translates as a loss for Peter Van Loan and not the Taxpayer … are you serioues? hmmmmmmmmmm … well I guess you could spin it that way but only if you don’t care as to whether or not your MP’s actually do their job then again considering the bang up job the whole lot of them have been doing of late it is probably just as well.

  7. Thats pretty rich Wayne coming from you, about MP’s not doing their job, considering its the Conservatives who delayed the opening of Parliament in the fall of 2007 after proroguing the first session of Parliament. Van Loan and the Conservatives only have themselves to blame.

  8. Actually, the taxpayer wins out here — extending the sittings costs money, since you have to keep the House operating for another three hours a day, which means paying overtime. Plus, there is almost no chance that any of the bills currently before the House will make it through the Senate before the summer break, and if the PM does plan on proroguing Parliament, they’d die on the order paper anyway.

  9. Actually Kady … I stand corrected and you are indeed right my apologies I agree – by the way did you say they would get paid overtime for some of these circuses?

  10. Oh, not the MPs – but the staff, especially House of Commons staff, who are the people who actually keep the place running, regardless of whatever antics are going on in the House.

  11. speaking of taxpayers Kady, I noticed that PVL released that on a Government of Canada website, yet it is very partisan in nature. So taxpayers money is being used to underwrite his partisan attacks.

    Before my fellow posters attack me on this, yes I know we subsidize ALL politicians, parties, websites etc. but this is the GOVERNMENT of CANADA’S site, where it’s supposed to be about governing, and the partisan items left to the relative party’s website.

    Are there not rules governing what is allowed on the Government site?

  12. Oh, oh – does this mean a new “theme” will be Opposition Tyranny Week?

    Do the MP’s get smiley buttons after each “theme” week if they’ve been good boys and girls?

    Kady – since the Harper caucus clap when told, hoot when told, stand up when told and fart when told – wouldn’t it be cheaper for taxpayers to get blow up dolls to fill those seats? Hey, wouldn’t even have to pay pension to blow up dolls. They could have faces painted on them to look like each Conservative MP….let’s go for it.

  13. “This morning, he ONCE AGAIN lost control of the House of Commons, which was HIJACKED by a concurrence motion debate — on the tobacco industry, this time, Not THAT IT REALY MATTERS, he won’t be able to move his legislative chess pieces forward until this afternoon, at the very earliest.” (EMPHASIS ADDED).

    Doesn’t this exactly prove van Loan’s point ?

  14. “the opposition parties imposed what Van Loan calls the tyranny of the minority,”

    To Bad he is not aware that it was the MAJORITY that defeated the motion. He is in the MINORITY and there is no doubt that they behave with Tyranny.

  15. Even the most bitter opponents of this government would have to acknowledge that they have passed more key legislation than anyone would have expected. It is ironic that on the day after the government passed a key immigration reform Bill, the Government House Leader stands accused of somehow losing the Parliamentary agenda. The government may be suffering symbolic rebukes here and there, but on the big ticket items like the budget, the crime legislation, and this immigration bill, they keep racking up win after win. How in the world can that be construed as losing the Parliamentary agenda?

  16. Harper sure likes them skunks, doesn’t he? The smellier and louder, the better. Van Loan. Baird. Polievre. Moore. Kenney. Obnoxious blowhards, the bunch of them.

    It’s a lot like those Buddhist (or were they Hindu?) monks/swamis who had people put pictures of naked men and women outside of their temples so that the masses would not venture inside and leave them in peace to pray.

    Maybe that’s what Harper wants. He wants his mules to kick up so much dust and stink up the place so bad that nobody pays attention to it anymore.

    Clever, clever.

  17. “Even the most bitter opponents of this government would have to acknowledge that they have passed more key legislation than anyone would have expected.”

    I agree that they have passed more legislation than expected, but key? The key legislation that’s been passed is at best misnamed. The Accountability Act ignores all the recommendation

  18. I have to agree with the above posters statement of fact that the Conservatives have had a very productive time in parliament passing almost all of the promised legislation and Harper has continued his habit of out politicking the other parties as they keep trying to focus on pseudo (and one real) scandals but then who can blame them after all the Conservatives are taking care of business doing what the regular joe canuck wants the gov’ to do and in the meantime the opposition is divided and as long as the left is divided Harper can keep his base and slowly but surely reach out – this is a good and long term strategy and one I am in no doubt that will work well unless of course the Liberals actually start behaving like an official opposition and vote against the gov’t in the meantime I fell sorry for all the frustrated left wing nuts out there – what can I say except suck it up and deal with it. One last point has anyone noticed just how angry and full of venom a lot of the Harper haters that’s just sad they need to get a life.

Sign in to comment.