The Backbench Spring: Justin Trudeau joins the cause

Liberals will move to change the rules around statements by members

The Liberals will table the following motion on Monday.

That Standing Order 31 be amended by adding the following: (1) The Speaker shall recognize Members in alphabetical order by Party. For the purposes of this Standing Order, all Members who do not belong to a recognized party shall be grouped together. (2) When a Member is unable to present his or her statement on the date required by Standing Order 31(1), he or she may indicate in writing to the Speaker at least one hour prior to the beginning of Statement by Members, the name of the Member with whom he or she will exchange position.

This would attempt to deal directly with what Mark Warawa and other Conservative backbenchers have raised as a concern over the last few weeks. Yesterday, Conservative MP LaVar Payne became the ninth backbencher to speak in the House to the issue of the time reserved for statements by members.

Mr. Trudeau had vowed to “loosen the grip of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament.” He will speak in the House to the Liberal motion at noon on Monday.

Here is the official news release.

I’d asked last night about Mr. Trudeau’s position on Mark Warawa’s question of privilege and the power of party whips to control statements by members and Question Period. I’m told there won’t be a direct intervention on Mr. Warawa’s question of privilege (“We’re not going to get dragged into divisions within the Tory caucus,” says a Liberal spokeswoman). As for Question Period reform, as raised by Conservative MP John Williamson in his intervention, “Liberals have always been open minded on QP reform, but we’re focused on improving SO31s as a starting point.”

Update 1:51pm. The Liberals report that the government side has rescheduled Monday’s opposition day. The government side passes along the following statement made by House leader Peter Van Loan.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a brief statement respecting the business of the House next week. As I said at the start of question period, leadership requires decisive and serious action in response to the serious threats of violent terrorism. In order to give members of this House an opportunity to express their views on the appropriate way to respond to terrorist violence, on Monday and Tuesday the House will debate Bill S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act. This bill is at its final stage in Parliament and I call upon all members of this place to pass this bill, we don’t need further study – we need action. As a result, the government business originally scheduled for those days will be re-scheduled to a later date.

Here is the summary for S-7.

The Liberals are displeased.

PMO is scared of democracy and giving its Members an opportunity to express the views of their constituents freely in the House of Commons. By pulling our opposition day, PMO has shown yet again that they are control freaks who have a disdain for Parliament. Our motion is substantive, constructive and would ensure fairness for all MPs.

Update 2:17pm. The government says the Liberal opposition day will now be Wednesday.

The Liberals, meanwhile, question the timing of all this. Here is the Liberal version of events from Marc Garneau (who the Liberals have put forward to comment).

The House leaders meet on Tuesday and, at that point, the House leader puts forward a kind of preliminary plan for debate for the next two weeks. And Tuesday being, of course, the day after the bombing. And there was nothing about S-7. And then on Thursday, [Peter Van Loan] makes his weekly business statement after Question Period … and again there was absolutely no mention of S-7. But suddenly, S-7 appears roughly less than an hour after we announce what we want to debate in the planned opposition day for the Liberals on Monday. So it does seem rather suspicious. And it is unfortunate. We cannot understand why suddenly S-7, when it was not even mentioned in the days after the Boston bombing, suddenly is invoked as being something that urgently needs to be, I presume, closed off in third reading by Tuesday evening. So that’s our view. And it’s unfortunate. I think Boston is kind of being used as a political football a second time.

I’ve asked Mr. Van Loan’s office to confirm that S-7 was not mentioned at Tuesday’s House leaders meeting.

The Liberals supported S-7 at second reading and continue to support it.