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Tories losing control of Parliament  

[PoliticsWatch updated 6:00 p.m. May 17, 2007]

OTTAWA  — With at least 10 sitting days to go before the summer recess, opposition MPs said Thursday that the minority Parliament had run out of steam amidst Tory filibusters and partisan bickering at committee meetings. 
  
Over the past two days, work came to a standstill at four Commons committees due in large part to a test of wills between government and opposition MPs. 

The opposition parties accused the Tories of filibustering two committee meetings on Thursday and one committee did not meet because of a boycott by government MPs. 

Opinions are mixed on Parliament Hill as to whether MPs are in a bad mood after being in Ottawa for weeks or whether the government is deliberating provoking the opposition in an effort to create an atmosphere of disarray to allow Prime Minister Stephen Harper political cover to prorogue Parliament earlier than scheduled. 

"This Parliament is in trouble and it's not just because it has gone on for five weeks and the humidity is going up and we're getting into the silly season," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said in an interview with PoliticsWatch.

"This is deliberate. This is not accidental. This is a strategy because they have felt themselves losing control of the public policy and communications agenda."

On Thursday, three committees came to a halt due to Conservative boycotts and filibusters. 

The meeting of the official languages committee was effectively cancelled as Tory MPs are refusing to submit the name of a replacement chair after the opposition voted no-confidence in Tory chair Guy Lauzon earlier this week. 

At the procedure and House affairs committee the opposition says Tory MPs staged a filibuster of an NDP motion to change standing orders to allow the official languages committee to function without a government MP as chair. 

The most heated exchanges, however, came at the Commons access to information and ethics committee where opposition MPs made allegations of a government cover-up after Tory MPs attempted to block a human rights lawyer and a freelance journalist from testifying about whether the department of foreign affairs withheld and improperly redacted a document that said human rights abuses and torture were common in Afghanistan.

After spending the morning debating Conservative MPs' motions, the witnesses finally began their testimony shortly after 2 p.m.

Another witness, an official who heads up the access to information wing of the department of foreign affairs, cancelled her appearance before the committee. The opposition parties allege that the PMO advise her not to appear. 

"This Parliament is out of gas," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "That's all there is to it."

"There's a terrible motif playing itself out all over Parliament Hill. In committee after committee after committee democracy is being denied. "

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan downplayed allegations of Tory obstruction to reporters after question period and said they were nothing when compared to how long the Liberals in the Senate and in committee are taking passing government bills. 

"We are trying to get the business of government done," he said. "I think that there is an imbalance -- if anybody in the media would suggest a one-hour debate or a two-hour debate is a filibuster yet no comment is made about a 252-day filibuster of a bill in the House of Commons, the fact is that's what's been going."

If the government does want to end Parliament as soon as possible, then it will need to get key financial legislation passed. 

There is pressure at the Commons finance committee, which is dealing with the budget implementation bill. The bill contains key items the government wants to deal with before the end of June for fiscal timing reasons. 

On Wednesday, the work of the finance committee came to a halt when the Liberal acting chair of the committee suddenly adjourned proceedings on the important budget implementation bill. The Liberals and Tories on the committee could not agree on whether to hear witnesses before the clause-by-clause stage of the bill. The Liberals alleged the Tory MPs were filibustering. 

The committee met again on Thursday where a compromise was reached on how to proceed. 

The prime minister also weighed in on the trouble in committees speaking to reporters in Kitchener on Thursday. 

"The government has its own positions to defend," he said. 

The prime minister blamed the opposition parties for the problems and specifically noted the now dormant official languages committee's handling of the Shane Doan controversy. 

"We recently had the goofiness with the Shane Doan incident and I think our members at that point said this was an embarrassment to Canada, attacking the national hockey team," Harper said without mentioning that all five Tory MPs on the committee supported the Bloc motion to call in Hockey Canada officials. 

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> Government MPs kill languages committee

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