6 things MPs didn't do before taking a 6-week House break
In the interests of full transparency and journalistic disclosure, I'm going to level with you, readers.
Try though I might (and I did, I swear) to put together a definitive list on what your MPs accomplished this fall, I just couldn't come up with much in the way of concrete (or even ephemeral) parliamentary achievements.
Instead, here's my recap of what MPs didn't do on Parliament Hill this fall.
1. Spend a single minute of House time debating the throne speech
Despite weeks of gleefully frantic speculation over a speech that was supposed to serve as a soft reboot for a Senate scandal-wearied government, the Conservatives ended up drowning out their own fanfare; first, by leaking the most crowd-pleasing highlights of their "pro-consumer" agenda, then having the prime minister pre-empt the speech by breaking the news he'd finally secured a tentative trade deal with the European Union.
In any case, amid all the kerfuffle over the new trade deal — and despite concerted efforts to wish away to the political cornfield those still-lingering questions about the $90,000 expenses repayment arrangement between former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy — the government never got around to booking any House time for a quick round of traditional throne speech debate.
Now, it's worth noting there's no requirement for a majority government to test the will of the House to ensure sufficient support for its to-do list, but a date is usually set aside to provide parties with the opportunity to put their responses on the record.
2. Abolish the Board of Internal Economy
Just before the Commons shuttered for summer holidays in June, MPs unanimously adopted an NDP proposal to have the procedure and House affairs committee look into replacing the secretive all-party Board of Internal Economy with a transparent, independent oversight body.
When the chamber reopened for business in the fall, the committee dutifully embarked on that House-mandated study.
Over the course of the fall, several high-profile witnesses gave their enthusiastic endorsements to the notion of mothballing the board in favour of a more open and accountable system, including Auditor General Michael Ferguson, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault and the London-based Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which was formed in the wake of the British MPs' expense scandal in 2009.
Yet somehow, when it came time to report their findings and recommendations back to the House, the Conservatives and the Liberals acted like Team Status Quo, albeit with a proviso to consider disclosing more detailed expenditure breakdowns. (The New Democrats and Independent MPs, to their respective credit, filed dissenting reports lamenting the majority decision.)
3. Reform the current conflict-of-interest regime
On a similar note, although they made a last-ditch effort to wrap up their final report in time for a pre-holiday tabling, the ethics committee's prescription for tightening up (or, alternately, loosening, or possibly leaving entirely alone) the Conflict of Interest Act will remain tantalizingly secret until MPs return in January.
Meanwhile, a parallel review of the MPs' conflict of interest code, which was supposed to be completed by mid-2012, is still languishing in limbo. As of Tuesday's adjournment, it hadn't even been reinstated on the post-prorogation agenda at the procedure and House affairs committee.
To be fair, there has been some suggestion that the committee is waiting to see just exactly what the ethics committee reports before it comes out with its conclusions, which wouldn't be entirely unreasonable — there may, after all, be proposals for rule changes that could be incorporated into both the act and the code.
Still, given the glacial pace at which both reviews have proceeded thus far, it's equally fair to wonder why it is that MPs seem to take such a leisurely approach when it comes to matters related to their own activities.
4. Modernize Canada's election laws
Last spring, the government was forced back to the drawing board after its already past-due bid to bring Canada's election laws into the 21st century hit a big blue brick wall at Conservative caucus.
Since then, rumours that the bill could be back in the pipeline have occasionally hit the Hill gossip circuit, including as recently as last week.
So far, however, those predictions have failed to come to fruition, which suggests one of at least two behind-the-scenes situations in play: either that "last-minute issue" that scotched the initial introduction was a lot more significant than then-minister for democratic reform Tim Uppal was willing to admit, or, that his successor, Pierre Poilievre, is operating under an entirely new set of orders.
5. Hold a marathon vote on an omnibus budget bill
Thanks to a pre-emptive strike by the government to limit previously little known powers of independent MPs to move amendments from the floor of the House of Commons, MPs were spared a reprise of the round-the-clock voting sessions that accompanied omnibudget bills in the past, although it still took more than two hours to get through more than 100 deletion motions that made the Speaker's final cut.
6. See a single bill make it all the way to royal assent (until... now)
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan can take credit for managing mandatory House business so effectively that he was able to get the necessary supply bills through the Commons in time to break for the holidays, a full three days before the scheduled adjournment date.
That may also have had something to do with the remarkably modest legislative agenda the government set for itself, which, at press time, has resulted in precisely zero bills making it to the royal assent finish line so far this session, although that may change before the Senate shuts down for the season.
UPDATE: As predicted, just under 48 hours after the Commons emptied out for the Christmas recess, a grand total of three bills made it through the Upper House in time to be signed into law by Gov. Gen. David Johnston: the aforementioned omnibudget bill, the latest batch of supplementary estimates and, finally, the enabling legislation that will officially create the Museum of Canadian History, which was left over from the previous session.