MPs leave steamy Ottawa behind as Commons hits recess

No more caucus, no more votes ... MPs clear off their Ottawa desks as the House of Commons rises for a three-month summer recess.

House of Commons rises for 3-month summer recess

A tumultuous spring sitting of the House of Commons concluded this afternoon, after MPs met for one final question period before leaving town for a three-month summer recess.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused the Harper government of abandoning "the very principles they claim they came to Ottawa to defend."

Mulcair listed the "ramming through" of the budget bill, "abandoning their own Accountability Act," treating backbench MPs "like a rubber stamp," limiting Commons debate a "record number" of times, "electoral fraud" by Harper's parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro, and wasteful travel expenses by cabinet ministers such as Bev Oda as reasons Harper needed to "get his cabinet under control" over the summer.

In response, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House, "We've just had one of the most legislatively productive periods in the history of this institution." He said the NDP, "by deciding they will oppose everything and filibuster everything, have proven themselves to be the least influential Opposition in terms of the legislative agenda in the history of this Parliament."

"Canadians elected us to focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity," Harper said. "That's what we're doing. That's why the Canadian economy continues to have superior performance."

Earlier Thursday, government House leader Peter Van Loan, Mulcair and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae were all out putting a final spin on the whirl of legislative activity and partisan gamesmanship that defined the first year of Harper's majority government.

Van Loan rattled off a long list of election promises kept with the passage of legislation by the Conservative majority.

Pressed by reporters about criticism of the government's tactics, particularly around limiting debate and refusing the divide the omnibus budget legislation, the House leader noted the urgent need to get a lot of things done.

"The real cost is the cost of not being able to take decisions," Van Loan said. "That's what we see happening in Europe, that's what we see to some extent in the United States with the political gridlock."

"And what is the consequence? The consequence is fiscal crises," he said, noting that after years of minority governments driven by short-term political decision making, the 2012 budget bill was a chance "to focus on what we need to do also for the long term."

Van Loan said there would have been no point to splitting the budget bill.

"We still would have been in the exact same place, with the opposition voting no seven times instead of once," he said. "They got to vote no 159 times at the end. It doesn't matter … the fact is the NDP simply have a different vision."

Opposition sees 'failures,' 'half-truths'

Mulcair said the spring sitting was marked by "numerous ethical and public administration failures," including a failed attempt to "fly under the radar" with the budget bill and "crush the opposition."

The Opposition leader called the controversy over the government's purchase of F-35 fighter jets "probably the greatest procurement fiasco in the history of Canada."

Mulcair also noted the public's concerns about EI changes, cuts to provincial health transfers and changes to the Old Age Security supplement, suggesting that with the latter two, the next election will be a chance to debate the effects of the Conservative measures before they come into place.

The House of Commons rose for the summer break on Thursday afternoon. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"They have become masters of half-truths," Mulcair said, expressing his particular concern for the loss of environmental protections in the budget bill.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen reminded reporters of the "constant battle on the ground and in Commons" the NDP fought against the omnibus legislation — holding its own public hearings as well as proposing more amendments in committee and the Commons than any other party, he said.

"The harder the Conservatives work to tear down Parliament, the harder we work in stopping them," Cullen said.

Mulcair gave his NDP team an "A++" for its performance over a difficult period.

"There has never been a team that's had to deal with a year like the year that we saw for the team that was elected with the orange wave [of the 2011 federal election]," Mulcair said, noting the toll the death of former leader Jack Layton and a seven-month leadership campaign took on a caucus with so many rookie MPs.

Differing views on economy

Rae used his press conference to both discredit the Conservatives' record on the economy and pile on with those criticizing its legislative tactics.

"It's a terrible example of the abuse of power. They have become that which they profess to hate," Rae said, citing several examples of government waste and broken promises about improving transparency and cabinet responsibility, including forcing the parliamentary budget officer to go to court to get information.

Liberal House leader Marc Garneau said he hopes the Commons procedure committee will consider his motion to set "reasonable limits" for omnibus legislation before the government tables its next budget implementation bill in the fall.

Interim leader Rae, who made headlines of his own when he announced last week he won't be seeking the party's permanent job, took issue with Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic performance, noting rising deficits and debts not just federally but provincially as a result of Conservative spending habits.

"Mr. Flaherty was born on third base, thinks he hit a triple, and is the classic example of somebody who complacently now with Mr. Harper is lecturing the rest of the world on what to do," Rae said. "He's living off what he received [from the previous Liberal government] in 2006 and frankly, he's been profligate."

The Liberals also took issue with the "bizarre and completely uncalled-for campaign against charities" in the Conservative-controlled Senate. 

Senate still sitting

The Senate will sit for several days longer than the Commons. Priority government bills — the budget implementation bill, omnibus refugee legislation and the Copyright Act reforms in particular — have not received royal assent, but are expected to become law before Senators too adjourn for the summer recess.

Senator James Cowan, the Liberal opposition leader, suggested Thursday that 60 or 70 per cent of the budget bill's provisions have never been properly reviewed by committees or seen witnesses other than ministers and government officials. Efforts to call even the parliamentary budget officer to testify were rebuffed by the Conservative majority.

He expects time allocation to be used in the Senate in the coming days to ram the rest of the government's agenda through.

"This is really an abuse of their majority power and it prevents parliamentarians from doing the job that they are sent here to do, Cowan said. "It's just wrong, and it's getting worse and worse and worse."

"We've had lots of process," Van Loan said earlier, calling the debate and committee reviews of the budget bill "the most extensive ever."

"It's also important that we actually do make decisions and get things done, and we're very proud that we have done that," the he said.

Parliament's summer recess lasts until Sept. 17.