Inside Politics

Tory bid to tie reform of MP expense regime to bill revival has New Democrats fuming

The Commons Chamber hasn't even officially re-opened for business, but the New Democrats are already raising a procedural red flag over the government's just-released short-term parliamentary to-do list.

According to the special pre-session Notice Paper published earlier today, the Conservatives intend to introduce an omnibus housekeeping motion that will tie the fate of several measures keenly supported by the opposition - specifically, making the MP expense regime more transparent and independent; and recreating the special committee on missing and murdered indigenous women -- to the automatic, on-demand resurrection of an unknown number of unspecified government bills that died on the Order Paper at prorogation.

It would also make several minor but still necessary tweaks to the Commons calendar, including provisions to rise a day early for the upcoming Conservative convention.

Now, just to be clear, the post-prorogation reinstatement of bills is not, in itself, particularly unusual or controversial. 

It's pretty standard, in fact.

Under normal circumstances, however, a motion to do so is either adopted unanimously, or put forward as a stand-alone item, which can then be brought forward for debate, and, if necessary, a vote. 

(That debate can also be hastened along through the use of time allocation and closure, so it isn't as though there's any risk of hitting the 30 day deadline beyond which no further bills can be recovered.) 

Instead, it appears that the government wants to put opposition MPs in the awkward position of having to choose between giving cabinet what amounts to a blank check to override the usual effect of prorogation, or forcing a full debate on the omnibus motion  -- at which point, of course, the Conservatives will almost certainly accuse them of trying to back out of the pro-parliamentary accountability measures that were unanimously endorsed by the House in June, and again at a special extra-sessional meeting of the procedure and house affairs committee last month. 

So far, though, it sounds as though the New Democrats are willing to risk it.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told CBC News he finds it "odious" for the government "to use a solemn non-partisan study on missing and murdered aboriginal women as a playing card in their narrow-minded game to force the opposition to grant them the power to reinstate their legislative agenda."

His party would "happily" give its unanimous consent to 90 percent of the motion, according to Cullen. "The Government House Leader simply won't take yes for an answer," he notes. 

As it stands, Cullen says, the New Democrats "will be fighting this cynical tactic with every tool available to us."

I've asked the Government House Leader's office to explain why they have decided to proceed in this fashion. As soon as I hear back, I'll post an update.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Government House Leader Peter Van Loan assured me that they are "taking a balanced, principle-based approach [by] reinstating government and opposition motions, bills and committee mandates as they were in June."  

Stay tuned!

The full text of the omnibus housekeeping motion:

No. 2 -- October 14, 2013 (1:35 p.m.) -- The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons -- That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, for the purposes of facilitating and organizing the business of the House and its committees in the autumn of 2013,

(a) during the thirty sitting days following the adoption of this Order, whenever a Minister of the Crown, when proposing a motion for first reading of a public bill, states that the said bill is in the same form as a bill introduced by a Minister of the Crown in the previous Session, or that it is in the same form as a bill which had originated in the Senate and stood in the name of a Minister of the Crown in this House in the previous Session, if the Speaker is satisfied that the said bill is in the same form as at prorogation, notwithstanding Standing Order 71, the said bill shall be deemed in the current Session to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation of the previous Session;

(b) in order to bring full transparency and accountability to House of Commons spending, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to: (i) conduct open and public hearings with a view to replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body, (ii) invite the Auditor General, the Clerk and the Chief Financial Officer of the House of Commons to participate fully in these hearings, (iii) study the practices of provincial and territorial legislatures, as well as other jurisdictions and Westminster-style Parliaments in order to compare and contrast their administrative oversight, (iv) propose modifications to the Parliament of Canada Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Auditor General Act and any other acts as deemed necessary, (v) propose any necessary modifications to the administrative policies and practices of the House of Commons, (vi) examine the subject-matter of the motions, which had stood in the name of the Member for Papineau, placed on the Order Paperfor the previous Session on June 10, 2013, and (vii) report its findings to the House no later than Monday, December 2, 2013, in order to have any proposed changes to expense disclosure and reporting in place for the beginning of the next fiscal year;

(c) when the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meets pursuant to the order of reference set out in paragraph (b) of this Order, one Member who is not a member of a recognized party be allowed to participate in the hearings as a temporary, non-voting member of that Committee;

(d) the Clerk be authorized, if necessary, to convene a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs within 24 hours of the adoption of this Order;

(e) the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to study the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its committees, including the proceedings on the debate held on Friday, February 17, 2012, pursuant to Standing Order 51;

(f) the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee designated for the purposes of section 533.1 of the Criminal Code;

(g) the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be the committee designated for the purposes of section 67 of the Conflict of Interest Act;

(h) the order of reference to the Standing Committee on Finance, adopted in the previous Session as Private Member's Motion M-315, shall be renewed, provided that the Committee shall report its findings to the House no later than Wednesday, December 11, 2013;

(i) a special committee be appointed, with the mandate to conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women across the country, and that, with respect to the committee, (i) it consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, (ii) the Chair and the Vice-Chairs shall be the same Chair and Vice-Chairs elected by the previous Session's Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women, (iii) the routine motions respecting committee business adopted on March 26 and April 18, 2013, by the previous Session's Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women shall be deemed adopted, provided that it may, by motion, vary or rescind their provisions at a later date, (iv) it have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House, (v) the members serving on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the committee within ten sitting days of the adoption of this Order, (vi) the quorum be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present, (vii) membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2), and (viii) it report its recommendations to the House no later than February 14, 2014;

(j) with respect to any order of reference created as a consequence of this Order, any evidence adduced by a committee in the previous Session shall be deemed to have been laid upon the Table in the present Session and referred to the appropriate committee;

(k) the reference to "September 30" in Standing Order 28(2)(b) shall be deemed, for the calendar year 2013, to read "November 8";

(l) the reference to "the tenth sitting day before the last normal sitting day in December" in Standing Order 83.1 shall be deemed, for the calendar year 2013, to read "Wednesday, December 11, 2013"; and

(m) on Thursday, October 31, 2013, the hours of sitting and order of business of the House shall be that of a Friday, provided that (i) the time for filing of any notice be no later than 6:00 p.m., (ii) when the House adjourns it shall stand adjourned until Monday, November 4, 2013, and (iii) any recorded division in respect of a debatable motion requested on, or deferred to, October 31, 2013, shall be deemed to be deferred or further deferred, as the case may be, to the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on November 4, 2013.

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