Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

House of Commons

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

House of Commons

Article excerpt

The first session of the new Parliament has thus far seen the Conservative Government, notwithstanding its slim plurality in the House, effectively expediting the introduction, debate and passage of legislation aimed at fulfilling its main election promises.

The re-election of Peter Milliken as Speaker of the House of Commons on April 3, 2006 marked the debut of the 39th Parliament. Speaker Milliken was one of three candidates, all of them Liberals. Twenty years have now passed since Members first elected Speaker John Fraser by secret ballot on September 30, 1986.

The Speech from the Throne (April 4, 2006), roughly half the usual length, signaled the commitment of the Government to a focused approach to the fulfillment of five primary election promises: cutting the GST, child-care money for parents, tougher sentences for violent crimes, new rules on government accountability and an apology for those who paid the Chinese head tax.

In the debate on the motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, criticisms from opposition Members focused on the speech's paucity of detail. The amendment and subamendment to the motion did not, however, directly challenge the Government's declared agenda. On the sixth and final day appointed for debate on the motion, the latter was adopted, as amended, without the need for a recorded division.

On May 1, 2006, the Prime Minister announced the appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice John Major to preside over a Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. Established under Part 1 of the Inquiries Act, the Commission will investigate certain aspects of the 1985 Air India bombing, including key issues raised in the November 2005 report by Bob Rae.

On May 2, 2006, the Minister of Finance, Joe Flaherty, presented the Conservative Government's first Budget in the House. The Budget highlighted various tax cuts, in particular a one-point reduction in the GST, effective July 1, 2006. It also included funding for a "Universal Child Care Program", a key election promise.

The Budget was strongly opposed by both the Liberal and New Democratic parties, and supported by the Bloc Quebecois, which effectively guaranteed passage of the necessary motion. The Government acted swiftly to introduce the usual enabling legislation (Bill C-13), which was read the third time and passed summarily on June 6, 2006, because of procedural uncertainty on all sides. To compensate for this, a motion "That, notwithstanding the adoption at third reading of Bill C-13, the House take note of the bill" was moved, debated and deemed withdrawn at the end of Government Orders. The Bill received Royal Assent on June 22, 2006.

On May 17, 2006, following a six-hour debate on a Government motion to extend the deployment of Canadian troops in Afghanistan for two years beyond the current term, which ends in February of 2007, the motion carried narrowly (149 to 145), largely thanks to a decision by the Liberal Party to permit its Members to vote according to their convictions.

The Prime Minister announced, in a statement to the House on Thursday, June 15, 2006, that Canada would provide $15 million to the Asian Development Bank to assist Afghanistan in the rebuilding of its rural irrigation systems.

On June 22, 2006, the final sitting day before the summer adjournment, the Prime Minister rose in the House to offer apologies and promises of financial redress in respect of the "Chinese Head Tax" imposed upon immigrants to Canada from that country between 1885 and 1923. Statements in support of the apology followed from the Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP leaders.

Legislation

The first session of the 39th Parliament saw a number of significant legislative initiatives:

* Bill C-2 (An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability), the "Accountability Act", was introduced in the House on April 11, 2006. …

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