A new front in procedural wars over the Fair Elections Act - Macleans.ca

A new front in procedural wars over the Fair Elections Act

A committee travel stand-off


So we have ourselves a stand-off over travel for parliamentary committees.

Last week, after the Fair Elections Act was tabled in the House, the NDP’s David Christopherson proposed, via a motion at the Procedure and House Affairs committee, that a study of the bill include travel to various parts of the country to hear witnesses.

The committee met again yesterday, but the Conservatives subsequently reported that they would not be supporting Mr. Christopherson’s motion.

And so it was this afternoon that the NDP responding by refusing unanimous consent to a request, relayed by government whip John Duncan, to approve the travel of various other parliamentary committees. NDP House leader Nathan Cullen then stood to explain.

Mr. Speaker, for those unfortunate enough to have been watching at home during that exhaustive and somewhat not titillating expression by the chief government whip, the point of order I rise on is that this is somewhat unprecedented, in terms of bringing to the House such motions.

Typically parties are able to establish the working conditions for our committees and do the good work of Parliament. What is also unprecedented is that the government has refused, absolutely refused Canada-wide public hearings on its unfair and rigged elections bill, in which the Conservatives are seeking to change the fundamental democratic values in this country. Until the Conservatives have public hearings, we will—

At this point, Mr. Duncan interjected on a point of order to complain.

The point of order, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that these travel motions were arrived at by a joint committee that is all-party and it is ridiculous to be held hostage by such move by the official opposition.

The Speaker expressed his hope that the next meeting of House leaders would “prove fruitful in coming to some type of agreement,” but then, with unanimous consent apparently not possible, moved on.

As set out in the official guide to practice and procedure, a committee seeking to meet outside the parliamentary precinct “must obtain the necessary travel funds and the permission of the House to travel.” At footnote 670, it is explained that “permission to travel is usually given by adopting a motion with unanimous consent.”

In other words, a motion is typically reported to the House and then whoever is around to hear it mumbles or yells in the affirmative and the travel is thus approved.

The same footnote explains that if unanimous consent is not given a separate attempt to authorize the travel can be made through Standing Order 56.2, though the standing order has apparently never actually been used (it was adopted in 2001). Forty-eight hours notice is required to move a motion under Standing Order 56.2, but that motion can also apparently be blocked “if ten or more Members then rise.”

Update 9:23pm. In response to a request for comment, a note from a spokesperson for the government whip.

Today the NDP rejected committee travel focusing on transportation on dangerous goods and management safety systems, opportunities for Aboriginal Persons in the workforce, pre-Budget consultations and Canada’s opportunities regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These travel plans were adopted in Committees with NDP support.

Government members will work to ensure that thorough studies continue to occur by continuing to meet in Ottawa and by using available technology. This will likely result in cost savings, which Conservative members strongly support.

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