Inside Politics

UPDATED - May vows to fight 'ritual slaughter' of MPs' rights

Scroll down for a full recap of today's meeting.

As previewed in OotD, Procedure and House Affairs is set to resume consideration of a contentious motion put forward by the government at their inaugural meeting earlier this week to permanently prevent independent MPs from introducing amendments to bills from the floor of the House of Commons during report stage debate. 

The heretofore (read: before Green Party Leader Elizabeth May made her way into the House of Commons) little-known perk is granted to members who are not aligned with a recognized party caucus, and, as a result, are unable to do so at committee. 

The ensuing flurry of Speaker-approved report stage amendments that May cheerfully brought froward in response to the first omnibudget bill was a key factor in setting the stage for the subsequent marathon vote -- an experience that the government was keen not to repeat in future. 

When the next omnibudget bill hit the table last spring, they successfully forced through a one-time-only provision to circumvent the tactic by forcing Independent MPs to submit, via letter to the chair, any and all proposed amendments directly to the committees charged with studying the bills, which would subsequently allow them to give a "brief" explanation of the rational behind their suggested changes before putting it to a vote. 

Although the opposition parties united with their independent Commons colleagues to challenge the bid to streamline the amendment process, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ultimately sided with the government,

Now, with a third omnibudget battle looming, the Conservatives are aiming to make the new restrictions permanent. 

Not surprisingly, the move hasn't gone over well in the Independent corner of the Commons -- both Elizabeth May and Brent Rathgeber have expressed their fear that it would dramatically curtail their ability to do their jobs .

The New Democrats have also raised a red flag over the government's bid to create yet another "democratic shortcut," as NDP MP David Christopherson described it during his lengthy intervention on the motion. 

He also highlighted the fact that, at least at Tuesday's meeting, it appeared that neither the chair or the committee clerk knew -- or, at least, were able to explain to the committee -- just what the implications for other MPs -- and the House as a whole -- could be.

In any case, that debate is expected to get underway at noon, and may well be worth watching, if only to see if the New Democrats manage to stave off, at least temporarily, a final vote on the matter.

Here's the full text of the (apparently somewhat carelessly drafted) motion: 

That, in relation to Orders of Reference from the House respective Bills,

(a) the Clerk of the Committee shall, upon the committee receiving such an Order of Reference, write to each Member who is not a member of a caucus represented on the Committee to invite those Members to file, in a letter to the Chair of the Committee, in both official languages, any amendments to the Bill, which is the subject of the [sic] said Order, which they would suggest that the Committee consider;

(b) suggested amendments filed, pursuant to paragraph (1), at least 48 hours prior to the start of clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill to which the amendments relate shall be deemed to be proposed during the said [sic] consideration, provided that the Committee may, by motion, vary this deadline in respect of a given Bill; and

c) during the clause-by clause consideration of a bill, the Chair shall allow a Member who filed suggested amendments, pursuant to paragraph (a), an opportunity to make brief representations in support of them.

UPDATE: Despite an initially feisty show of support for their independent colleagues, both the New Democrats and lone Liberal Kevin Lamoureux ultimately bowed to the inevitable Conservative victory and backed down from the battlefield, albeit after lengthy behind-the-table negotiations with government lead Tom Lukiwski.

The deciding factor, as it turned out, was the December 2 deadline for the committee's much-anticipated report on reforming the existing MP expense regime by replacing the secretive board of internal economy with an independent oversight body.

As committee chair Joe Preston reminded his colleagues, every hour spent debating the motion to change the amendment process meant would be subtracted from the time available to study the proposal to make MP expenses more transparent - which, it's fair to say, would  likely not go over well with the general public.

For her part, May -- who, along with Bloc Quebecois MP Andre Bellavance, sat at the table as an observer, but not full member, during today's proceedings -- has vowed to fight back if the move results in the "ritual slaughter" of her parliamentary rights.

She also hasn't ruled out returning to the speaker if she finds the new process to be unworkable -- if, say, she finds herself forced to choose which of two simultaneous committee meetings to forgo, thus forfeiting her ability to put forward her amendments. 

Meanwhile, a similar motion has apparently been put forward at Finance -- once again, emanating from the Conservative side of the table, a coincidence that confirmed May's belief that it represents a "coordinated campaign" to curtail her rights.

In any case, the committee agreed to defer the debate on the motion until next Tuesday, with the government-proposed proviso that all necessary votes will be put at the conclusion of that meeting.

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