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
The NDP put forward the motion citing Ambrose's performance as
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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,"
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