Time management - Macleans.ca

Time management

The government moves to limit debate


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.

As previously noted, Young Stephen Harper and Young Jason Kenney were not fans of such measures.

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.


Time management

  1. “1988-1993. “At least” 30 uses of time allocation, 15 uses of closure”

    Kind of a spike here… any reason why? (And, yes, I am too lazy to do my own research).

    • A new government is seeking to advance its agenda and make changes after a long spell of being in opposition. Same as this government really.

      • Mulroney government was four years old in 1988.

    • Some controversial bills passed during that time thanks in part to the use of time
      allocation included the free trade agreements, family allowance reform and the
      patent regulation act, the privatization of Petro-Canada, the law on the use of
      referendums and the law downsizing the public service, etc. In the case of all
      of these, the Conservative government used time allocation at least twice while
      they were being considered.

  2. My concern with such trends is that lowest denominator of performance becomes a precedent for the conduct of all future governments (of all persuasions). In other words, a licence or excuse to be just as bad or worse.