All-party deal on bills, MP oversight lets House out early
Motions to disclose MPs expenses off to committee as Commons calls it quits for summer
One week after defeating Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's attempt to open MPs' expenses to public scrutiny, the NDP has won approval for a proposal of its own.
New Democrat MP Peter Julian won unanimous consent late Tuesday for a motion aimed at creating an independent body to oversee House of Commons spending, including MPs' expenses.
The new oversight body would replace the secretive board of internal economy, a multi-party committee that is currently responsible for the financial administration of the Commons.
Julian said the idea is to enhance transparency and ensure that MPs are no longer in charge of policing themselves.
But whereas Trudeau's proposals — dismissed by the NDP last week as a "stunt" — would have taken effect immediately had he won unanimous consent, Julian's proposals could take almost a year to produce any result.
His motion calls for public hearings — involving the auditor general and the Commons chief financial officer — to examine the creation of a new oversight body.
It anticipates that any resultant changes to the disclosure and reporting of MPs' expenses would not be implemented until April 2014.
The NDP said it has been working on the proposals for over a year.
"It's time to have a serious debate about this issue. We need to move beyond stunts and political games," Julian said in a written statement.
Conservatives said they supported Trudeau's attempt last week to require MPs to publicly post their travel and hospitality and office expenses quarterly, among other things. New Democrat MPs denied unanimous consent so his effort failed.
Trudeau has said Liberal MPs will begin posting their expenses online in the fall, regardless of what other parties choose to do.
Julian said the NDP is deliberately taking its time because the matter is too serious to be dealt with "at a moment's notice," as Trudeau tried to do.
"It gives members of Parliament a chance to think about it over the summer," he said in an interview.
Bills pushed through
Julian's motion passed at the same time as MPs voted unanimously to adjourn the Commons for the summer, ending the most bitter spring sitting of Parliament since Stephen Harper's Conservatives came to power more than seven years ago.
All parties agreed late Tuesday night to pull the plug after passing a handful of bills without further debate, including:
- S-15, a bill to make Nova Scotia's Sable Island a national park.
- C-54, which amends the Criminal Code to create a new category of "high-risk accused" that puts more restrictions on people with mental illnesses who commit offences.
- C-32, which amends the Civil Marriage Act to "make all marriages of non-resident couples performed in Canada valid under Canadian law ... and allow these couples to end their marriages if they cannot get a divorce where they live," intended to close a loophole that affected some same-sex couples.
The House of Commons calendar had MPs remaining at work in Ottawa through the end of this week. However, proceedings in the House had devolved into acrimonious mud-slinging.
The government remains under a potentially criminal cloud over a $90,000 cheque that was provided by the Prime Minister's chief of staff to pay off the improper housing expense claims of Senator Mike Duffy.
The Conservatives responded with a loud counter-attack that involved questioning Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's past moonlighting as a paid public speaker and the driving habits of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Harper has spent the past week in Europe for a G8 summit, avoiding the scrutiny of the daily question period in the Commons, but he returns to Ottawa Wednesday morning and will begin preparing for a Conservative party policy convention in Calgary later this month and an anticipated summer cabinet shuffle to shake up his front bench.
With files from CBC News