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More sprint than marathon: MPs spend hours voting on second budget bill

Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Treasury Board President Tony Clement rise to vote against an opposition motion on the budget bill in the House of Commons, Dec. 4, 2012 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

As the bells rang ahead of 47 consecutive votes on opposition amendments to the government's budget bill, Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge plunked a plastic grocery bag on his House of Commons desk filled with samosas and unsigned Christmas cards.

In the back row up against the curtains, his colleague, Terence Young, fired up his Netflix account on his tablet, plugged in his earphones and settled in to watch Inside Job and a movie about Winston Churchill. Another Tory MP, Michael Chong, leafed through back issues of Better Farming magazine.

Three votes in, MPs were already taking bathroom breaks. Surviving a filibuster isn't what it used to be. The modern comforts of technology – coupled with a lenient interpretation of the rule forbidding MPs from leaving during a vote – undercut the heated rhetoric from the opposition.

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"We want to inflict, frankly, as much damage [as possible] and make the government realize this is just a crazy way to do public business," Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae said before the votes.

Efforts by opposition parties to amend the Conservative government's latest omnibus budget bill culminated with around six hours of voting Tuesday.

As the final group of amendments proposed by the opposition went to a vote late Tuesday night, the NDP began to chant "2015," a reference to the next federal election, which is when they say the Harper government will be held accountable for the bill.

"Conservatives may have destroyed much tonight but Canadians will ultimately win!," tweeted NDP MP Peter Julian.

The Conservative majority government allowed none of the amendments to pass.

"And the winner is — the economy, jobs and long-term prosperity. Some will feel free to disagree, that's okay," tweeted Tory MP Laurie Hawn seconds after the vote concluded.

The long night of voting was an effort to punish the Conservatives for introducing a second omnibus budget bill, even after the opposition had organized a much longer voting marathon in June to protest an earlier budget bill.

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Accusing the Conservatives of an abuse of process, the opposition says these types of bills prevent proper scrutiny of measures that would have traditionally been studied as standalone bills, such as public sector pension reforms and changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

"We continue to demonstrate the arrogance of this government," said NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen, noting the Conservatives have refused to accept a single amendment to either budget bill. "They must think that when they write legislation down the first time, it's always perfect. We know that not to be true because they're fixing mistakes from the first omnibus bill in the second one."

Bill C-45, known as the second budget bill, is 414 pages (430 if you include the index and cover pages). It was longer when first introduced, but the sections dealing with reducing the retirement allowances for MPs and Senators was previously hived off and received Royal Assent on Nov. 1.

Earlier this year, the government passed Bill C-38, the first 2012 budget bill, which was also over 400 pages.

Mr. Cullen said he believes the opposition's June protest led the government to scale back its tactics with its second budget bill.

"The government seems to have toned down their draconian ambitions," he said. "We feel the fight is important, because when a government goes after the lakes and rivers of Canada and opens them up to more threats of pollution, we think it's the role of the Official Opposition to stand up to them."

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Treasury Board President Tony Clement insists the measures in the bill – including those aimed at removing construction hurdles over navigable waters – are all connected to the budget's economic plan.

Mr. Clement said Canada's government compares favourably with the current "paralysis" in the United States and Europe over economic policy.

"We have a Parliamentary process which we respect, but at the same time, Canadians require us to come to conclusions and make decisions," he said. "That is our mandate and we will continue with that."

During the votes, the desks of virtually every opposition MP were lit up with a smart phone, tablet or both to help them pass away the hours. Several MPs provided running commentary to their Twitter followers.

A rare clean desk stood out in the last row of the opposition benches. It belongs to NDP MP Peter Stoffer, a proud Luddite who refuses to carry a cellphone.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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