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Things heat up on the Hill 

[PoliticsWatch posted 3:30 p.m. June 21, 2006]

OTTAWA  — The summer break on Parliament Hill can't come soon enough.  

With less than 48 hours left to go before MPs break until mid-September, the spring sitting of the House appears to be going out with a bang, not a whimper.  

Opposition parties are aiming their sights in committees on Conservative cabinet ministers and committee chairs and have given notice of motions of non-confidence. 

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is expected to survive a vote of non-confidence to be held later Wednesday at the environment committee. 

The NDP put forward the motion citing Ambrose's performance as environment minister. 

But the Liberal environment critic, John Godfrey, told reporters that the Liberals will abstain on that vote, guaranteeing Ambrose will survive and avoid embarrassment. 

Meanwhile a similar showdown is under way at the international trade committee, where all three opposition parties spoke out on Wednesday against committee chair Leon Benoit, who they accuse of preventing the committee from tabling a report in the House of Commons on the softwood lumber deal. 

The opposition parties are accusing Benoit of cutting short debate on the report, which is based on testimony the committee heard over the past three weeks from representatives from Canada's lumber industry. 

While the government and Trade Minister David Emerson say the deal has broad support from the industry, most witnesses who appeared before the committee expressed concern about some aspects of the deal, including not enough time to examine the legal text, and language in the new framework that they argue would negate Canada's past legal victories in the dispute.

The Bloc, Liberals and NDP accuse Benoit of cutting short debate and cancelling a meeting this week where the MPs were supposed to focus on the report. 

NDP MP Peter Julian has also given notice of a motion of no-confidence in Benoit. 

However, because such motions require 48 hours notice, the committee would have to come back during the summer break if they want to vote no-confidence. 

Earlier this year, the Conservatives lost another committee chair, MP Maurice Vellacott, who chaired the aboriginal affairs committee, after the MP made comments about Supreme Court judges. 

Vellacott resigned hours before the committee, which is controlled by the opposition parties, voted no-confidence. 

Meanwhile, the Liberals and the NDP continued bickering with each other on Wednesday, a day after the Liberals attacked the NDP in the preamble to all their questions in question period. 

The Liberals spent much of Tuesday accusing the NDP of sleeping with the government, primarily based on NDP MP Pat Martin voting with the Tories on a number of motions at the committee reviewing the Federal Accountability Act. 

The NDP fought back on Wednesday when NDP MPs Nathan Cullen and Brian Masse held a press conference on Parliament Hill to unveil a report card on the performance of the Liberals in this Parliament. 

The NDP's report card was highly critical of the absenteeism of the Liberals in the House of Commons on a number of votes, and blamed the Liberals for allowing the government motion to extend the mission in Afghanistan to pass by four votes in the House. 

"In this session of Parliament, the Liberals have had the worst record of attendance of any caucus," said Masse, noting the Liberals have had an absentee rate of 18 per cent in the 24 votes held so far in this session, including 11 Liberals who were absent for the Afghanistan vote.

"You can't stand up to a full-time Conservative government, with a part-time Liberal Official Opposition . . . We are in a minority Parliament and every single vote counts in the House of Commons and affects people's lives on a daily basis."

While the NDP MPs were holding their press conference, Liberal MPs Judy Sgro, David McGuinty and Ruby Dhalla were watching on a television monitor in the Centre Block. 

The three MPs were so outraged by the press conference that they walked into the room where the press conference was held to immediately respond to the allegations being levelled by the NDP. 

The Liberals suggested it was unfair to target their party for absenteeism when eight caucus members are running leadership campaign and many other MPs are involved as campaign managers or organizers. 

Six of the nine MPs the NDP singled out as having the highest absentee rate were leadership candidates. And another -- Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis -- is campaign chair for Liberal candidate Joe Volpe. 

"This was cheap politics and I wonder if (NDP Leader) Jack Layton supported this press conference today," said Dhalla. 

McGuinty said the press conference was a sign that Layton was concerned about the recent Liberal attacks on the NDP.

"He sent a tag-team duo down here this afternoon to obviously deflect what is obviously a sucking chest wound for the NDP," McGuinty said. 

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