Conservatives attempt to dodge vote on NDP bid to boost Speaker's powers
Proposal triggered by fracas between NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative MP Paul Calandra
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan may be setting the stage for the Conservative caucus to foil an NDP bid to crack down on non-answers in question period without having to vote against a proposed motion.
Van Loan threw a procedural curve ball into the debate by proposing "that the question now be put" — a motion which, under House rules, must be voted on before the NDP proposal can be put to the House.
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If the Conservatives use their majority to defeat that question, the NDP motion will be dropped from the Order Paper without further ado — and, perhaps more importantly from the point of view of the government, without a recorded vote.
Both votes are currently slated to take place on Tuesday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Government Whip John Duncan declined to say how the Conservative caucus would vote on Van Loan's move.
So far, the only Conservative MP to speak in favour of the NDP motion is Michael Chong, whose proposal to rebalance the caucus power dynamic passed last week with support — and opposition — from all sides of the House.
During question period, New Democrat MP Megan Leslie challenged the government to "stop their procedural tricks" and back the motion.
"Conservative ministers will still have the right to be wrong," she stressed, "we're just requiring them to be relevant."
In response, Van Loan repeated his assertion that Canada's House of Commons "enjoys the most accountable question period … in the world," pointing out that unlike in the United Kingdom, MPs here are not required to provide the government of notice of questions. He called the NDP motion "simply unfair."
"We believe in two-way debates, and we also believe that question period should be a two-way street," Van Loan said. "The government shouldn't be left with its hands tied while the opposition has a free hand to go after them."
Speaker can shut down questions
But as the NDP's Peter Julian pointed out earlier Monday, the Speaker already has the power to shut down opposition questions that don't address the administrative responsibilities of government.
MPs spent most of Monday debating the pros and cons of the opposition-backed motion, which would give House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer the authority to enforce the rules on relevancy and repetition during the daily back-and-forth between opposition MPs and the government in the House.
Last week, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked Scheer invoke the relevancy rule to compel the prime minister's parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, to reply to his queries on Canada's military deployment to Iraq after Calandra twice responded with non-sequitur attacks on the NDP's position on Israel.
Scheer declined to so, which prompted Mulcair to publicly question his "neutrality," which resulted in Scheer docking him his remaining opening round questions.
The following day, Scheer reminded MPs that he can only exercise those powers that the House has explicitly given him, which does not include policing question period.
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"To date, the House has not seen fit to alter our practices or to give directions to the Chair in that regard," he noted.
He also hinted that MPs taking shots at his conduct in the Chair in future could face contempt charges.
In response, the NDP put forward the motion that would amend the House rules to allow him to intervene during question period.
Calandra delivered a tearful apology Friday in the House.