Inside Politics

House Speaker's hands tied over controversial finance committee vote

As Hill denizens breathe a collective sigh of relief after being spared another multi-day marathon vote when the omnibudget debate wraps up next week, it's worth taking a closer look at the other ruling House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer handed down today. 

For those who missed the midnight madness during clause-by-clause review at the Finance committee last week, the Conservatives and New Democrats joined forces to overturn a crucial ruling by Conservative chair James Rajotte in order to ensure that all of the 3,000+ amendments that Brison had tabled at committee would be called for a vote, thus rendering them ineligible for consideration by the full House during report stage. 

(Under Rajotte's initial -- and almost certainly procedurally correct -- interpretation of the rules, only those amendments that had been tabled when the clock ran out would be put to a vote, which would have allowed the Liberals to recycle the leftovers during the next round of Commons debate.) 

Even after being overruled, Rajotte initially seemed prepared to give Brison the opportunity to withdraw amendments that hadn't yet come up during debate, but backed off when it became clear that doing so would trigger the same reaction from his colleagues. 

Instead, he proceeded to call each and every vote, a process that took just over 48 hours to complete, but was, at least from the perspective of the government, far preferable to the alternative, as it kept the filibuster contained to the committee room rather than allowing it to spread to the Chamber.  

Fast forward to Monday, when Brison lodged his displeasure with the speaker, asking him to consider declaring the entire committee report out of order due to the unorthodox manner with which his amendments were handled. 

This morning, Scheer ruled on Brison's point of order, and though he ultimately declined to apply Brison's proposed remedy, he explicitly acknowledged the "frustration" experienced by some members at committee. With no evidence before the House, however, he concluded that, "in keeping with the long established practices of the House," he was simply "not in a position to delve into the matter further." 

While the ruling likely left Brison disheartened, it's worth noting that, at the very least, the speaker has exposed what would seem to be an inherently irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of the parliamentary process. 

As the committee is controlled by the Conservative majority, it's difficult to see how a lone Liberal -- or, indeed, any opposition member -- would ever be able to meet that requirement for intervention, as no evidence -- which typically takes the form of a report  -- could be delivered to the House without the support of the majority.In this particular instance, that support would be all but impossible to obtain, as that report would make the case that the very same majority abused its power by overturning a ruling of the chair.

All of which does raise the question of whether the speaker should, perhaps, consider revisiting those long established practices of the House if such disputes arise during future committee proceedings. 

Even if he were eventually to determine that no breach of privilege had occurred, at least it would give members the opportunity to make their case on the floor of the House without requiring a majority of committee members to back them up. 

Read Scheer's full ruling, which also addresses NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen's request that a separate vote be held for each amendment, here: 
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