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The Liberal government is ready to move forward with several reforms to the rules of the House of Commons, with proposed changes covering prorogation and omnibus legislation. But it’s still unclear whether they will have any opposition support.
The changes won’t include new rules to codify a prime minister’s question period, but the Liberals are committing to continue the recent practice of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking all questions each Wednesday.
The Liberals backed away from other proposals in April, after the government’s release of a discussion paper on reform prompted opposition outrage.
When the Liberals refused to agree that they would only proceed with the consensus of all parties, Conservatives and New Democrats filibustered a Liberal MP’s attempt to have the government’s proposals studied by a House of Commons committee.
The motion to implement the changes will be put forward after several days of discussions between the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats, but at least the NDP is nonetheless poised to vote against it.
The Conservatives had been threatening to trigger more than 200 votes to tie up the House of Commons unless the Liberals compromised.
The new Liberal motion could be debated by MPs next week.
Under the changes proposed by the Liberals, a minister would be required to table an explanation after every use of prorogation to explain why the government prorogued Parliament. That explanation would then be referred to a House committee.
For omnibus legislation, the Speaker would also be empowered to allow for separate votes and studies for bills “where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions or where unrelated matters are linked.” Budget bills that implement measures outlined in the federal budget would still be permitted.
In addition to prorogation and omnibus bills — two issues that became points of controversy in recent years — the Liberal motion would change the date on which the government’s financial requests are tabled in Parliament and establish that parliamentary secretaries can be non-voting members of House committees.
The possibility of putting a weekly prime minister’s question period in writing had raised concerns that a prime minister might use that as an excuse to only appear at one session of question period each week, though the Liberals said that was not Trudeau’s intent.
“The prime minister’s question period is here to stay under this government,” said Mark Kennedy, director of communications for government House leader Bardish Chagger. “And just as it became the convention — not something in the standing orders — in the United Kingdom, we are confident it will become the convention here.”
The New Democrats say they won’t support the motion.
“This is a hasty retreat by the Liberals on what has been a complete failure,” NDP House leader Murray Rankin said in a statement.
“It’s clear now that they never needed to force through changes to how Parliament works. It’s transparent that the priority of the Liberals was not to improve democracy but instead to help themselves.”
Rankin argues that the Liberal changes will “reinforce” the use of omnibus bills and reduce the independence of House committees.
While saying it was “disappointing” that the government had not been more collaborative in pursuing reform, Conservative deputy House leader Chris Warkentin said Conservative MPs would “take a look” at the proposals and “make a determination if, in fact, we can live with what they’ve come up with.”