Opposition MPs warn budget votes could take hours

The NDP say they will move to delete 200 provisions in the bill to implement the budget, forcing hours of votes in the House of Commons.

Budget implementation bill so big it could take hours to get through proposed changes

The federal budget bill could face hours of continuous votes in the House of Commons, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said Tuesday, because the NDP and other opposition parties will move hundreds of changes to it. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The NDP say they will move to delete 200 provisions in the bill to implement the budget, forcing hours of votes in the House of Commons, in an attempt to force the government to break up the massive bill into smaller pieces.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said the party can move to amend the bill when it returns to the House from the finance committee. He says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May could have up to 200 changes to propose. May is working with the Liberals on the parliamentary tactic that threatens to tie up proceedings with more than 50 hours of consecutive votes. Cullen estimated the process could take more than 30 hours of voting.

Cullen said the Conservatives have to be careful because they don't have many more MPs than the opposition parties combined.

"We believe these measures to be confidence. If the votes go on for hours and hours, perhaps days, the government has to get every single vote right. They can't screw one up. They can't have members falling asleep, going home and not coming back for votes, missing votes," he said.

"This is why this whole process is wrong. This is why these bills should have been standalone items. Because if a change to the Employment Insurance Act failed, the government obviously doesn't fail. If a Fisheries Act change fails, the government doesn't fail. But making it all into a budget implementation act, the government's put themselves at risk and painted themselves into a corner."

Votes on budget issues are considered confidence matters, which could bring down the government and force an election.

After sometimes twice-daily meetings lasting several hours at a time, the House finance committee approved the bill without changes late Tuesday night and it's expected to be reported back to the House Thursday. Debate at report stage can begin 48 hours later. May and the NDP can put forward their amendments then.

But it's not as easy as putting forward amendments and forcing votes. Speaker Andrew Scheer can group similar amendments into one vote or rule amendments out of order. It's not possible to move the same amendments that were rejected at the finance committee, for example.

Have to fight 'as hard as we can'

A spokesman for Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said C-38 has "already received the longest debate and longest committee stage consideration of any budget bill in over two decades."

The budget implementation bill is more than 400 pages and it seeks to repeal several laws, amend dozens of them and implement a new environmental assessment regime.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he wouldn't go as far as to talk about the government failing on a vote, calling Cullen "ridiculous" for suggesting the government has put itself at risk.

Rae said the amount of time taken for voting will depend on how Scheer groups the amendments.

"But we’re going to have a substantial period for voting. Last night we had about three and a half hours of voting [for about 100 amendments]," he said.

"When you’re left with no other tools in your tool kit, you’ve got to do what you can to show the level of opposition, the level of concern that we have as an opposition.... We have an obligation to fight this thing as hard as we can," Rae said.

with files from CBC News