Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave the Prime Minister’s office holding copies of the federal budget in Ottawa, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justin Trudeau is not in Ottawa to defend his day-old budget, fuelling opposition concerns that the Prime Minister wants to change the rules of the House to limit his appearances in Question Period.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said in an interview that the Prime Minister is being arrogant by failing to defend his government’s second budget in Parliament. She was particularly angry that Mr. Trudeau will instead be attending partisan events in the Greater Toronto Area later on Thursday.
“He doesn’t seem to know where to draw the line,” she said. “It’s arrogance. The Prime Minister doesn’t want to answer questions in the House.”
Mr. Trudeau attended a photo opportunity and held a news conference at George Brown College in Toronto on Thursday. He is scheduled to head to the riding of Markham-Thornhill to campaign later in the day with Liberal candidate Mary Ng ahead of the April 3 by-election.
Given Mr. Trudeau typically does not attend Question Period on Fridays, and that the House is on a break next week, he will not have to answer any opposition questions on the budget until the week of April 3.
Before the budget was tabled on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau faced repeated attacks over a proposal that would see him appear only once a week for a longer period of questioning.
The Conservatives and the New Democrats are up in arms over plans to revamp the rules of the House, including possible limits on the capability of opposition MPs to conduct filibusters in the House and in committee.
“What the Prime Minister is proposing is to change the world so he can actually silence the opposition,” Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose said on Wednesday. “His plan is to restrict debate, shorten the work week, and limit his attendance to Question Period to one day a week. No one has ever attempted gutting accountability like this.”
Mr. Trudeau responded that his government was simply consulting with the opposition on plans to make the House a more family-friendly place of work for MPs. Faced with angry heckling from the opposition benches, Mr. Trudeau said the current atmosphere was becoming an embarrassment.
“I wonder about the schoolchildren in the gallery who are wondering how effective this Parliament actually is right now. We are proposing a way to discuss how to improve the quality of debate and allow the government to be held to account in a thoughtful, responsible way, and this kind of shouting is what they get. That is not worthy of this Parliament. It is not worthy of the people they serve,” Mr. Trudeau said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was not impressed by Mr. Trudeau’s defence of the plans to limit his appearances in Question Period.
“With answers like that we really could replace him with a cardboard cut-out. His peanut gallery would never notice the difference,” Mr. Mulcair said.
On Thursday, Conservative and NDP MPs on the committee on Procedure and House Affairs of the House continued to filibuster a meeting over the dispute. The opposition MPs are trying to convince the Liberal majority on the committee to only adopt changes that are supported by all parties.
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger unveiled the proposed changes in early March, arguing it was time to recalibrate the balance of power between the government’s duty to pass legislation and the opposition’s right to be heard.
The proposals include changes to the daily Question Period by having one day a week where the Prime Minister answers all of the questions, as is the case in Britain, and ending all sittings on Fridays.
Ms. Chagger suggested that in lieu of Friday sittings, the House of Commons could add more sitting days in January, June and September.
Concern from the opposition focused on changes that would limit the ability of opposition MPs to delay legislation in the House or in committee with long speeches known as filibusters. One Liberal proposal would limit speeches in committee to 10 minutes.
“Committees can, at times, become dysfunctional,” Ms. Chagger wrote. “The principle of deliberations in the House and in committees should be to engage in substantive debate on the merit of an issue, not to engage in tactics which seek only to undermine and devalue the important work of Parliament.”
The Liberals have already made two failed attempts since the election to change the House of Commons rules. Last May, the government withdrew a controversial motion that would have given it new powers to limit debate. Also last year, a study by the Procedure and House Affairs committee aimed at making Parliament more “family friendly” held hearings on the idea of eliminating Friday sittings but found no consensus for a change.
That same committee is being asked to consider the government’s latest proposals. A Liberal motion has circulated that proposed that the committee complete its review by June 2.
With files from reporter Bill Curry