Liberals walk out of confidence vote on crime bill

Liberal MPs walked out of the House of Commons on Tuesday to protest a motion, later passed, that urged the Senate to approve an omnibus crime bill by the beginning of March.

Liberal MPs walked out of the House of Commons on Tuesday in protest of a motion, later passed, that called for the Senate to approve an omnibus crime bill by the beginning of March.

Led by Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale, the caucus streamed out of the chamber as the vote was set to begin. Some Conservatives taunted the MPs as they exited, singing, "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."

Under the motion, if the upper chamber fails to pass the crime bill by March 1, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will ask Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to dissolve Parliament and call an election.

The vote was deemed a matter of confidence by the Conservatives, meaning its defeat would have ousted their minority government and led to an election.

Even without the Liberals, the motion easily passed 172-27, with the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois MPs voting in its favour and New Democrat MPs voting against it.

Outside the chambers, after the mass walkout, Goodale accused the government of perpetuating an "illusion of ongoing parliamentary delay" and said the boycott was intended to expose what he called the government's trickery.

"We have no intention of allowing the government to defeat itself on this vote," he said.

Conservatives have accused the Liberal-dominated Senate of delaying passage of the crime bill.

But Goodale said the Senate has been busy dealing with Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.

"They've moved it through second reading, they've put it in their justice committee and they've now agreed to extend its sitting hours and additional sitting hours," said Goodale. "Clearly, there is no filibuster and no delay."

Government House leader Peter Van Loan has said that the Senate has been considering the bill for 71 days, though he conceded that Christmas break fell during that time. Opposition MPs put the total time closer to 18 days.

The Liberals and New Democrats have dismissed the unusual confidence motion as a political stunt, noting that the Commons has no constitutional say in how the Senate conducts its business.

The bill is aimed at tackling violent crime and was passed by almost all MPs in the House of Commons in November, but still needs Senate approval to become law.

Among other things, the bill calls for mandatory prison terms for serious gun crimes, stiffer penalties for impaired driving, tougher bail laws and increasing the age of sexual consent to 16 in some cases.

Liberal senators have insisted they won't be bullied into rushing the bill into law.