‘Night owl’ Tories methodically thwart attempts to alter budget
“Mr. Hawn, Mr. Alexander, Ms. Rempel, Mr. Rickford, M. Goguen, Ms. Findlay Delta-Richmond East, Mr. Del Mastro...”
The names of members of Parliament reel out like a metronome, hypnotic as MPs are a quarter of the way through what is expected to be at least 24 consecutive hours of voting.
With the smell of breakfast wafting into the Commons bleary-eyed MPs continued to methodically rise and fall from their seats as they voted on 871 opposition motions – grouped into 159 voteable packages – that are designed to thwart, or at least publicize, the Harper government’s sprawling omnibus budget implementation bill.
The legislation, dubbed the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act by the ever-marketing Conservatives, contains a bewildering maze of changes to dozens of statutes, ranging from employment insurance and public pensions to environmental assessments, border security and spy agency oversight.
Critics say such omnibus bills amount to a massive abuse of Parliament – an argument a young Stephen Harper once made with some conviction as a backbench Reform MP.
Now his Conservative government says the 400-page bill is “responsible, necessary and will make Canada’s economy stronger,” in the words of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
And they don’t want a single comma altered by the elected representatives on the opposition benches.
Each new round of voting began with a round of applause from the New Democrat benches and ended with whoops and cheers from the Conservatives whose majority might means they’ve voted down every motion so far.
This morning, a quick burst of song broke through the steady hum of background chatter as MPs serenaded New Democrat MP Hong Mai with “Happy Birthday.”
The Quebec MP turns 39 today – at least in the world off Parliament Hill. Inside the Commons, the calendar continues to read June 13 as the rest of the country woke to Thursday’s dawn.
“So if we continue voting like this in the [House of Commons], there’ll be no b-day for me this year?,” Mr. Mai tweeted.
Wednesday won’t end for MPs until the last vote is counted and the House adjourned sometime this evening or early Friday morning.
By then, clerks in the House of Commons will have recited almost 50,000 names in a repetitive roll call, each as predictable as the last.
“I think everyone’s pretty pumped, at least on the NDP side, about standing up for Canadians and making sure they have a voice here today,” New Democrat John Rafferty said as the House of Commons bells rang to start the marathon.
MPs’ desks were littered with books and papers, laptops and notebooks, pillows and even a couple of stuffed animals. Michel Rempel, the dimpled Tory from Calgary, had a half dozen containers of brightly coloured Play-Doh for amusement, while cabinet member Rona Ambrose was wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket.
The first vote took just over seven minutes to complete, each MP rising and sitting again at their seat, with the Conservatives prevailing 150-133.
The disciplined Tories could have flexed their muscles, but elected to split their caucus into 11 groups and rest out one for each 30-minute block of votes, thus reducing their margin of victory.
It made no difference. The outcome is preordained, if not the timing.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May combined with the NDP and Liberals to propose hundreds of amendments, and they were pared down and grouped by the Speaker to ease things along.
Just sorting out the 871 motions, reading them into the record and a series of theatrical but otherwise meaningless voice votes chewed up four hours Wednesday night before the recorded votes even commenced.
Deputy Speaker Barry Devolin received a round of applause from the couple of dozen MPs on hand when he read Motion 500, but the House fell back into a torpor as the remaining 371 droned out.
In a rare break from the continual voting at about 4 a.m. ET, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae asked Speaker Andrew Scheer why the parliamentary secretary to the Government House Leader was conversing with him during a vote.
“If there are representations being made, the whole House needs to hear them,” Mr. Rae said. Mr. Sheer replied that ”no representations were made – just a question about clarification as to the process of tonight’s vote.”
Liberal MP Denis Codere pressed the issue by suggesting that someone from the government speaking to the Speaker during a vote was ”starting to look like instructions.”
Mr. Sheer replied that was not the case and swiftly called for the next vote.
Zorya Baskier-Pasternak, 22, was in the gallery with friends Sarah Helmer and James Thomson-Kacki, giddily taking in the seemingly endless dirge before the voting ever began.
“It’s great,” said the Winnipeg dancer, in Ottawa for a national dance festival. “I’ve never been to Parliament before, never seen a debate. I think everyone should see how [screwed] up it is. Because this is how we run our country!”
Outside, a half dozen Conservatives stood near the MPs’ entrance smoking cigars, the fragrant clouds hanging in the night air all the way to foot of the Peace Tower.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, his jacket off and tie askew, hurried through a basement corridor for an office pit stop before midnight.
“I’m a night owl,” Mr. Kenney laughed. “I usually leave the office at three or four [a.m.], so I might was well get some work done.”
â€˜Night owlâ€™ Tories methodically thwart attempts to alter budget - The Globe and Mail