Dominic LeBlanc asks committee to consider Liberal reforms

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc will appear before the Commons procedure and House affairs committee this morning to promote and seek support for the Liberal vision of how Parliament could work better.

Government House leader to appear at procedure and House affairs committee Thursday

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc, centre right, seen here with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the rest of his cabinet at its retreat in New Brunswick last week, has been asked to lead the charge towards reforming how the House of Commons works. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Dominic LeBlanc will appear before the Commons procedure and House affairs committee this morning to promote the Liberal vision of how Parliament could work better.

The government House leader said in question period Tuesday that he had written to the chair and asked to appear to "share our ideas."

"With the help of our colleagues and the support of members of the House, we will be able to make Parliament more effective and achieve a better work-life balance," he said in French.

LeBlanc is expected to make a short statement and take questions from MPs in an effort to garner support for the priorities outlined in his mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including:

  • Strengthening parliamentary committees' ability to work independently to scrutinize legislation, including providing more resources for research and advice and removing parliamentary secretaries as voting members.
  • Reforming question period, to ensure all ministers and the prime minister are "held to greater account."
  • Making Parliament more "family-friendly."

The Liberal campaign platform proposed a distinct prime minister's question period, perhaps similar to what the British parliament does once a week.

Other question period reforms propose more power for the Speaker to sanction misbehaviour and more time for each question and answer. Liberals also talked about using online technologies to make question period more relevant.

Some legislatures, including Ontario's Queen's Park, have moved their daily question periods to late morning to make it easier for lawmakers to schedule important business and finish their work days at a reasonable hour.

Early skepticism

The Liberals have made good on their commitment to elect Commons committee chairs.

Veteran Liberal MP Larry Bagnell was elected by secret ballot at the House affairs committee's first meeting in December, and other committees are expected to follow suit once they form and begin to meet. 

But it's unclear how many non-Liberal chairs may result from these elections, if Liberal MPs have a majority on each committee. Previously, committees like public accounts and ethics have had an opposition MP as chair.

David Christopherson, the only New Democrat on the House affairs committee, has been very vocal about his skepicism that Liberals are really serious about transparent, "sunny ways" in Parliament. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

New Democrat David Christopherson, whose objections at procedure and House affairs committee meetings slowed things down in December, continued to draw out the pace of committee business Tuesday.

He spoke at length and repeatedly challenged the Liberals — including LeBlanc's parliamentary secretary, who was deliberating but not voting — as MPs worked their way through a list of routine motions to establish how committee business will run.

He also introduced a motion of his own, which, if passed, would significantly limit a committee's ability to meet in camera (in secret).

Under the previous Conservative government, committees were criticized for moving to meet in camera too frequently to conduct business some felt should have been public.

The vote on Christopherson's motion could be held during Thursday's meeting.

Deadline Friday for other committees

Overall, committee work is barely underway, with only two starting to sit.

The procedure and House affairs committee is tasked with reporting back to the Commons within 10 sitting days of a new Parliament to establish the other standing committees. That deadline looms Friday.

The whips from each of the three parties with enough MPs to be recognized in Parliament — the Liberals, the Conservatives and the New Democrats — are now working out which of their MPs will receive what committee assignments, in rough proportion to the number of seats they hold in the Commons.

The vote to engage the whips only passed at the House affairs committee Tuesday, so time is short.

In the meantime, LeBlanc had to seek special permission from the Commons to form other priority committees. 

The special joint House and Senate committee urgently studying the assisted dying issue just started hearing witnesses this week.

Bloc Québécois MPs had blocked its formation, finally giving way on the last day before the holiday break. 

LeBlanc's attempt to establish the Commons finance committee in December was not successful.

It's now unclear whether its members will have enough time to hear witnesses and make recommendations about the federal budget — that depends on how long Finance Minister Bill Morneau waits to set the date.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday she wanted the international trade committee to study Canada's participation in the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. That work too cannot begin until the committee has members and elects a chair.


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