Liberals first in line to stall budget bill

Liberal interns camped out all night to ensure a whopping 503 deletion amendments from the third party will kick off the report-stage debate of the government's budget bill next week.

Party interns camp out for 30 hours to ensure their amendments are first up next week

Liberal interns camped outside the journals branch on Parliament Hill to ensure the third party was first in line to submit 503 deletion amendments for the Commons to consider during report stage debate on the Harper government's omnibus budget implementation bill. (Liberal handout/CBC)

Liberal interns camped out all night to ensure a whopping 503 deletion amendments from the third party will kick off the report-stage debate of the Harper government's budget implementation bill next week.

The other opposition parties are readying hundreds more amendments designed to stall the bill's progress.

Depending on how House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer handles this avalanche, the House of Commons could be tied up for 100 hours or more just to vote on the Liberal amendments, potentially beginning around the middle of next week.

The budget implementation bill, C-38, finished clause-by-clause review at the Commons finance committee late Tuesday evening, and reported back to the House at 10 a.m. ET Thursday morning, without amendments.

Parliamentary procedure requires amendments at the report stage of a bill's passage, which follows the committee review, to be submitted to a parliamentary office known as the journals branch starting immediately after the committee's report is tabled.

Several young Liberals camped outside those offices on Parliament Hill for some 30 hours starting Wednesday morning to ensure the Liberal amendments would be considered first. Other parties' amendments, if or when they are submitted, will follow on the House agenda, on a first-come-first-served basis.

The  Liberals believe their 503 amendments fall within the rules, which do not allow the House to consider any amendments debated previously during the committee's review.

Deletion amendments such as these do not change the bill, but merely drop entire clauses from the bill. The Liberal amendments propose dropping 503 of the bill's 753 clauses, including the entire controversial section that changes rules around environmental reviews.

Although the budget bill would amend some 70 different pieces of legislation, the Liberals don't disagree with all of it. They did not propose amendments for parts of the bill they feel are reasonable.

More amendments coming

This Commons-clogging strategy is separate from another tactic revealed earlier this week, which features the Liberals working together with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on an additional 200 or so substantive amendments that would propose changes to the text of the bill.

Because May did not have a seat on the committee that reviewed the legislation, she is allowed to introduce substantive amendments in the Commons that the Liberals, who did participate in the committee, cannot.

But the Liberals only introduced seven amendments during the committee's review. They saved their other ideas for May to use in her amendments, ensuring her proposals would not duplicate those considered at committee and thus be ruled out of order by the Speaker.

The House can lump together multiple amendments to speed up the voting process if all parties agree.

But the opposition parties all appear intent on forcing a prolonged marathon of continuous voting to make their opposition to the bill clear.

Earlier estimates for May's potential amendments had the Commons tied up for some 50 hours. The new Liberal deletion amendments could add double or triple that much time to the potential vote-a-thon.

And don't forget the NDP, who suggested Tuesday they had 200 deletion amendments of their own. Although the Liberals seem to have beaten them to the punch, the NDP could proceed with their plan, adding yet more amendments to the mix.

The four Bloc Québécois MPs are said to be supportive of May's substantive amendments. Like May, they also did not participate in the committee's review and now have the opportunity to introduce their own changes to the bill.

They are expected to hold a news conference Friday to discuss their own amendments, mostly focused on measures they feel do not serve Quebec's interests or should have been better coordinated with the province of Quebec, including the provisions around climate change and employment insurance.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan announced after question period on Thursday that report stage debate for C-38 would begin on Monday at noon.  The votes will follow this debate, starting as early as Wednesday.