Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Majority must not shut down opposition MPs

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OTTAWA -- If House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer were Santa Claus, government House leader Peter Van Loan would likely be on his naughty list.

And it's not just because Van Loan had a hissy fit in the House of Commons recently and marched across the floor to toss an f-sharp and a few finger wags at his compatriot, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen.

On Nov. 28, Van Loan stood up in the Commons and said since the Conservatives have a majority government, a song and dance to let the opposition force a vote on more than 1,600 amendments to the government's omnibus budget bill was simply a waste of everyone's time.

"I am not a betting man, but I am willing to bet anyone in the House that I do not foresee any of them passing," he said.

When the opposition did the same thing in the spring, not as much as a single comma ended up getting changed, he said.

He noted perhaps in a minority Parliament it would be OK to allow the votes. But in a majority, we kind of know what's going to happen, so why bother?

That, said Scheer, does not matter.

"Let me be clear: The Speaker does not make decisions based on who is in control of the House," he said in a ruling Dec. 12.

In his ruling, Scheer quoted a 2010 ruling of previous Speaker Peter Milliken (a Conservative and a Liberal agreeing -- oh my!) in which Milliken noted it is not just a privilege for the House of Commons to hold the government to account, but an obligation.

Scheer also shot down Van Loan's desire to restrict the ability of independent MPs to introduce amendments to bills. Independents -- MPs who do not sit as part of an official party caucus, such as Green party MP Elizabeth May -- don't get to sit on committees. So the only opportunity they have to introduce amendments to bills is in the House of Commons.

Van Loan argued that someone like May can hold the House of Commons hostage with a slew of amendments and that it shouldn't be allowed. He suggested an independent MP be given a chance to introduce one amendment as a test, and if it passed, then the MP could introduce others. If it failed, the MP would be done.

Scheer would not go there and said it is his duty to protect the rights of individual members.

This isn't to say the opposition MPs, including May, weren't playing any games with their amendments. But for the government to simply reject every single suggestion the opposition makes as an abuse of the process proves the government isn't even pretending to listen to other ideas.

The idea that a majority government should be able to do away with votes simply because they know they can win is so contrary to the principles of how a government is supposed to work it would be funny if it weren't so sad. A majority government already has few, if any, checks on its power.

It speaks to a need for far more freedom in Parliament -- freedom for all MPs to give their input and not be forced to act as a giant party unit on most major pieces of legislation. It is nearly impossible to believe a 400-plus-page omnibus budget bill was so absolutely perfect from head to toe that not so much as a comma needed to be changed.

Considering a majority government in Canada is almost always won with less than a majority of votes, it seems somewhat of a fallacy to watch majority governments govern without even a moment's consideration of what other parties think, to the point where now the government suggests opposition parties shouldn't even get a say, since they're going to lose anyway.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2012 A8

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Updated on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 10:44 AM CST: Photo added

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