Trudeau tries something new at question period, but impasse on democratic reform remains
Prime minister stands and takes 38 questions in a rare display in the House
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a high-profile gesture towards democratic reform on Wednesday afternoon, unilaterally adopting a new approach to question period.
But with the Liberal government apparently unwilling to satisfy opposition demands at a parliamentary committee, the larger effort at reforming Parliament remained stalled at a House of Commons committee.
Unannounced in advance, Trudeau took every question posed to the government during question period on Wednesday. All told, the prime minister stood to respond to 38 questions over the course of the 45-minute session, 35 from Conservatives and New Democrats and three posed by Liberals.
Trudeau, like most recent prime ministers, generally only responds to questions posed by opposition leaders, or those standing in for the Conservative and NDP leaders. On a typical day that has Trudeau responding to the first nine questions.
"So today was something new," government House leader Bardish Chagger remarked to reporters afterwards. "And it shows that a prime minister's question period can be done."
But an hour after the prime minister's display concluded, the filibuster that is stymying a committee's study of further reforms was resumed when NDP MP David Christopherson picked up where the opposition parties left off a week and a half ago.
The filibuster was expected to continue late into Wednesday night.
The procedure and House affairs committee, which the Liberals would like to have studying reform, has been at an impasse since March 21. Concerned that some of the changes could erode the opposition's ability to hold the government to account, the Conservatives and New Democrats are demanding that the Liberals agree that no changes will be made without all-party support.
"Look at that, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is able to answer as many questions as he wants without unilaterally ramming changes through the House of Commons, which is exactly what he wants to do," Conservative MP Mark Strahl charged during question period.
"Obviously, he has very strong ideas about how to improve this place, how to make it better, how to make sure we are being accountable and serving Canadians in the right way," Trudeau responded. "I encourage the member to bring forward those concrete suggestions so that we can work together to make sure that the House serves Canadians better to the level that they expect."
Conservative House leader Candice Bergen and NDP House leader Murray Rankin sent a joint letter to Chagger on Wednesday to propose that a special committee on modernization be established, with representatives from each of their parties and operating on all-party consensus.
But, speaking with reporters after question period, Chagger repeated her position that she "will not give the Conservatives a veto over our campaign commitments."