Ottawa has once again been a busy week as a number of debates have been occurring while Bills progress through the House and in some cases assisted by the Liberal Government through invoking time allocation to limit debate and force votes. In addition to time allocation Bills such as the Medical Assistance in Dying legislation, is being fast tracked through committee stage review where a Government dominated committee is consistently refusing the vast majority of amendments from opposition parties in order to force this legislation through onto third reading before it will hit the Senate. In other words our new Liberal Government is using precisely the same tactics as the previous Conservative Government used in order to advance Government legislation through the House. The primary difference I have noticed is that in the past when these tactics were used pundits often applied terms such as “anti-democratic” or “dictatorship” whereas the same tactics used today by a different Government are referred to as legitimate tools of democracy.
Why do I raise this point? In reality Parliamentary tools such as time allocation, prorogation and closure were created so that majority governments can ultimately implement the mandate they were given by voters. Few Governments could implement policy effectively if the legislative agenda could always be derailed or otherwise usurped by the opposition. In the last Parliament when I sat on the Government side of the House I always found it deeply disappointing and at times troubling how often pundits and some media would refer to the legitimate use of parliamentary tools as somehow being anti-democratic. While I feel it is fair game in opposition to point out that Liberals promised not to use similar tactics, it must also be pointed out that the tactics themselves are fair game and are part of decades old Parliamentary procedure.
What is time allocation and why is it used? Time allocation is sometimes confused with closure which is a different Parliamentary procedure. Time allocation sets a fixed period of time that is available in the House of Commons to debate a specific stage of debate during a Bill. Closure is different in that it ends the debate on a Bill or motion anf then calls for a vote. Why does a Government use time allocation?
There are a variety of different reasons that time allocation is invoked by government however the most common reason is that Government will have a number of bills to move through the House and into the Senate. If too much time is spent debating a particular bill it will bog down the House and delay the passage of other legislation. Typically government and the official opposition house leaders will try to work together to agree on time limits for each debate on a specific bill however when there is disagreement more often than not time allocation may be used.
In some cases there might also be bills that may be embarrassing or otherwise politically award for the government so the government may use time allocation to advance a bill very quickly through the house. A good example of this was Bill C-10 that essentially removed a restriction on Air Canada that would allow it to eliminate maintenance jobs here in Canada and potentially move those jobs into other countries with lower wages. Obviously the Government in this case did not desire to spend a considerable amount of time debating a Government bill that potentially eliminates Canadian jobs- thus time allocation was used. As I have now reached the 550 word allocation of my weekly report I must also conclude with an invitation for citizens to contact me directly with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.