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Opposition accuses PMO of using "rough house" tactics

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:30 p.m. June 14, 2007]

OTTAWA  — It appears the Conservatives and the opposition parties will fight each other to the bitter end as the spring sitting of the House of Commons draws to a close. 
  

With just six sitting days left on the House of Commons calendar, Thursday saw the government accuse Liberals in the Senate of obstructing passage of a budget bill and the government chair of the environment committee walked out in the middle of a meeting bring its work to a halt.

The opposition parties said Environment committee chair Bob Mills walked out of the meeting after the opposition parties used their majority to pass a motion asking that he apologize for changing the committee's meeting agenda. The NDP and Liberals said Mills resigned, while the government later contended that Mills had only left the meeting in frustration. 

Liberal MP David McGuinty blamed the Prime Minister's Office for disrupting the work of the committee. 

"It's not about Bob Mills," he told reporters. "It's about whether committees are going to take their instructions from PMO or not. It's about whether committees and parliamentarians have to tolerate the kind of brutal tactics being shoved down our throats by (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper and in this case (Environment Minister) John Baird."

"This is not about June fatigue or session fatigue, which the government is going to try and claim. This is about whether or not we're going to allow this government to rough house their way through committee structures."

"This is a page right out of (Government Whip) Jay Hill's manual," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen in reference to a 200-page manual leaked to the media last month providing Tory committee chairs with instructions on how to control and disrupt committees. 

"Because the Conservatives won't put another chair in we don't have an environment committee, which is ridiculous," said Cullen. "We have a lot of pressing issues and a huge agenda to get through and we just lost another committee."

Meanwhile, the most important piece of business left on the agenda is passage of the budget implementation bill which is now in the Senate. 

Liberal senators are threatening to delay, amend or defeat the budget bill because of changes it makes to equalization payments and the Atlantic Accord with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

Those changes are controversial with three premiers and a Senate committee is expected to give them an opportunity to testify next week. 

The government put pressure on the Liberal senators Thursday afternoon when Government House Leader Peter Van Loan and the Government Leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton held a press conference calling on them to pass the budget before the end of the month. 

"Let us be clear," said Van Loan. "The Senate much pass the budget. This is not a time for political games." 

Van Loan said if the budget isn't passed before the end of the month then up $4 billion in spending could be jeopardized. 

"If the Senate chose to amend the budget implementation bill after June 22 we are no longer sitting and I don't have the power to call back the House," he said. 

At his press conference, however, Van Loan admitted that the actual deadline before the government books closes is later this summer, not the end of the month. He also never mentioned the possibility of the House extending sitting days into the summer, like the Liberals did two years ago to pass the gay marriage bill. 

All this comes as rumours are circulating around Ottawa that MPs from all parties may agree on adjourning the House earlier than scheduled. 

Some believe the House could break for summer as early as this evening after an emergency debate. Hill insiders tell PoliticsWatch they expect an adjournment early next week. 

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