OTTAWA – The Liberals are going out of their way to prevent any more parliamentary surprises from getting the better of them.
That includes flying cabinet ministers back early from overseas trips in time for an important vote on doctor-assisted dying and pushing for what their political rivals are calling a draconian change in the rules of the parliamentary game.
“This is a sad day for our democracy,” NDP House leader Peter Julian said in the Commons as he argued against a motion to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet more control over the ins and outs of parliamentary business.
Earlier, Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc mounted a strenuous defence Wednesday of a controversial motion that opposition MPs denounced as an unprecedented affront to parliamentary democracy.
“In no other workplace is it acceptable to arrive at work and pull the fire alarm and make all your colleagues cancel their meetings at committees,” LeBlanc fumed during question period, returning fire on the opposition benches.
If the Liberals get their way, a day in the House of Commons would not end – and the summer break would not begin – until a cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary moves to adjourn proceedings.
The motion would also make it harder for the opposition to surprise the government like they did on Monday, when the Liberals had to scramble to their seats for a snap vote on proposed changes to Air Canada legislation.
That is especially important as the government faces a key vote on their doctor-assisted dying bill, C-14.
Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, the chief government whip, endured a stressful half-hour Monday as the government faced a key vote without enough MPs to win, thanks to a procedural trick by the NDP.
The government prevailed by the skin of its teeth, and only when Speaker Geoff Regan voted in order to break a 139-139 tie, as is convention.
On Wednesday, a chastened Leslie confirmed he’s been summoning ministers back to Ottawa early.
“There were a couple who were not scheduled to return, but we’ve pulled them back,” he said.
One was International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who is returning from Paris to be in the House of Commons on Thursday instead of continuing directly on to Istanbul as originally planned.
“The minister changed her schedule to be back to the House of Commons tomorrow for an important vote,” press secretary Bernard Boutin wrote in an email.
The opposition said the Liberals were going too far in their efforts to give themselves greater certainty.
“No government in history has introduced a motion that has had, or will have, such a draconian impact on Parliament,” Conservative Andrew Scheer said in the Commons as he spoke against the motion.
“Liberals should be ashamed of themselves.”
LeBlanc said it was all about making sure they are able to pass important legislation in a timely manner, something he said the opposition has given the Liberals no confidence they would otherwise allow them to do.
“It shouldn’t surprise Canadians that we feel strongly that Parliament should be allowed to vote on government legislation in an orderly and responsible way, at the same time balancing the ability of all members of Parliament to speak _ and that’s why we’ve consistently tried to allow for more debate.”