Inside Politics

Is the House heading for another standing vote-a-thon?

As committees scramble to wrap up their respective studies of the relevant sections of the omnibudget bill in time to report their conclusions back to Finance by 5pm tomorrow, Liberal finance critic Scott Brison has already served notice that he intends to move over 3,000 "substantive" amendments when the main committee convenes for full clause-by-clause review later this week.

If Brison was hoping to derail the government's timeline for passing the bill, however, he may be disappointed. 

Regular readers will recall that, earlier this fall, the committee approved a motion that will impose strict limits on the ensuing debate  -- 5 minutes per party per clause.

What's more, no matter how far into the 400+ page bill they've managed to get, when the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday, time runs out -- or, as the motion puts it, "the chair shall put, forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, each and every question necessary to dispose of clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill" in order to have it back in the House "on or before Thursday, November 22, 2012." 

So does this mean the House will be spared a reprise of last spring's standing vote-a-thon?

Not necessarily.

After all, amendments can still be moved at report stage, although the speaker will usually rule out of order those that should have been dealt with at committee, and group others to streamline the process, which can reduce the number of votes that must eventually be held. 

It's also one of the rare times that independent MPs -- specifically, those who, like Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, are not members of recognized caucuses -- have an advantage over their partisan colleagues. 

As independents, they don't have seats on committees, which means that they simply aren't able to propose amendments until the bill is back in the Chamber. As a result, the speaker has traditionally given them more leeway to do so -- which, of course, was exactly what happened on more than one occasion last spring: May teamed up with like-minded Liberal colleagues to demand recorded divisions on her amendments, rather than allowing them to fall by the wayside after losing a voice vote. 

(I've sent a message to May asking what, if any, amendments she or any of her seatmates in Independent Corner may be planning to introduce at report stage -- I'll let you know what I hear back.)

UPDATE: According to the admirably punctual May, she's not sure yet, but expects to table "over 100 at least". 

In any case, we should have a better idea of how the final round of omnibudget debate will unfold when we see what happens at Finance. Stay tuned! 

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