Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

House of Commons

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

House of Commons

Article excerpt

With the summer adjournment at an end, the House reconvened on September 18, 2006, under the shadow of mounting casualties in Afghanistan and of the terrible events at Dawson College in Montreal. Members were also informed that a vacancy had arisen for the electoral district of Repentigny as the result of the tragic traffic-related death of Bloc Quebecois MP Benoit Sauvageau, to whose memory leaders from of all sides rose to offer tributes. Members observed moments of silence for Mr. Sauvageau, for the victims of the Dawson College shootings and for the four Canadian soldiers most recently to have lost their lives in Afghanistan.

As it has done since the inception of the 39th Parliament, the government pressed forward with the introduction of major legislative initiatives such as Bill C-24, ratifying the softwood lumber agreement with the United States, and Bill C-27, amending the dangerous offender and long-term offender provisions of the Criminal Code. However, the small handful of bills that have been passed by the House thus far have included no such items, with the possible exception of Bill C-2, the Accountability Act, which is currently before the Senate.

The opposition experimented on a number of occasions with strategic requests for unanimous consent to motions as a means of limiting the government's freedom of movement on sensitive issues. The adoption, for example, on September 20, 2006, of a motion calling for the presentation of apologies to Maher Arar was a case in point. It was followed rapidly by demands for direct apologies to Mr. Arar from the government and the Prime Minister, and to the response from the latter that such apologies were premature since they might prejudice ongoing negotiations in respect of compensation and redress in the matter.

Later the same day, the House contributed to a rapidly-growing chorus of denunciation by unanimously adopting a motion from the opposition calling for apologies to the people of Quebec in connection with remarks about racism, discrimination and the marginalization of minorities in that province which had appeared in a Globe and Mail article reflecting upon the Dawson College tragedy. Members on all sides expressed "outrage", and the Prime Minister, on his own initiative, sent a letter of protest to the editor of the Globe & Mail.

On October 5, 2006, having delivered a ruling on a question of privilege, Speaker Peter Milliken chose to address the House on "broader issues of decorum". Noting that some of the disorder in the House in recent weeks had at times been "triggered by questionable language or provocative statements", he declared that "much of it also appears to be generated by interruptions, interjections or other demonstrations, including applause and standing ovations, actions that seem to be designed to drown out or plainly disrupt those asking questions or those answering them." He appealed to all Members for their assistance in ensuring that those among them who were recognized to speak in the House could be heard. This entreaty was well received on all sides although the Question Periods immediately following it saw little improvement in decorum.

Quarrels like that generated by allegations that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had referred, on October 19, 2006, to a prominent Liberal Member as a "dog" further fuelled the growing rancour in the House.

Legislation

Bill C-2, the federal Accountability Act, passed by the House on June 21, 2006 and sent to the Senate, has remained under consideration there since that time. This has led to negative comment from the government benches, together with renewed calls for Senate reform, the latter underscored by the fact that Bill S-4 (An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate Tenure)) has been before the Senate since its introduction in May, and was vigorously defended by the Prime Minister before a Senate committee.

With the support of the Bloc Quebecois, the government succeeded in securing the adoption, on September 19, 2006, of a Ways and Means motion for the introduction in the name of David Emerson (Minister of International Trade) of a bill ratifying the Canada-United States Agreement on softwood lumber. …

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