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Tories deny they're losing control of 
the House 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:30 p.m. October 25, 2006]

OTTAWA  —  The government House leader is denying the minority Conservative government is losing its control of the House of Commons.  
  
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's Tory caucus meeting, Government House Leader Rob Nicholson said despite recent setbacks the government is still "moving ahead" with its agenda. 

On Tuesday, the government suffered two blows from opposition parties who may be emboldened by at least one recent poll showing the government  losing support. 

A Senate committee examining the Federal Accountability Act announced it planned to make a number of amendments to the landmark bill, including one increasing campaign donations to $2,000 from $1,000. 

In the House, opposition MPs on the Commons justice committee made substantial amendments to a government bill that aimed at reducing the number of inmates who are eligible for house arrest. 

In a minority Parliament, the government is outnumbered by opposition parties on committees. 

The two bills touched on two of the Conservative government's five priorities -- ethics and getting tough on crime. 

The Conservatives have also suffered other defeats in committee. 

On Tuesday, the opposition MPs on the Commons natural resources committee passed a motion calling on the government to reinstate two programs it cancelled earlier this year, including the EnerGuide program. And last week the opposition MPs on the fisheries committee passed a motion to eliminate marine fees for Canada's North. 

In addition, the environment and aboriginal affairs committees plan to hold up government business to deal with private members' bills on Kyoto and the Kelowna Accord respectively. 

"I'm very disappointed," Nicholson told reporters. "We had all the other parties during the election saying they want to be tough on crime and then they gut the bill on house arrest."

Nicholson said he was optimistic that the government would move ahead with its agenda, but then issued a warning to the opposition parties: "If they want to put their money where their mouth is then it's up to them to defeat us," he said. 

The House is currently debating a budget implementation bill which is a confidence matter and its defeat would prompted an election. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper later echoed Nicholson's threat on his way out of question period, telling reporters if the opposition won't pass the crime bills, "they'll have to answer to the Canadian people."

But senior opposition MPs said they are not obstructing the government's agenda, but simply fulfilling their roles in a minority Parliament. 

When asked if the Conservatives are governing like they have a majority government, Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said the government was governing "in a manner that says to other members of Parliament who aren't in the government caucus, 'You can just go to hell.'

"Well that's not the way a Parliament functions -- period. And it's certainly not the way a minority Parliament functions," Goodale said after question period. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the prime minister has been breaking his election night promise to cooperate with the opposition parties. 
 
"We've seen none of that," Layton said in response to questions from PoliticsWatch after question period. "We've seen a very arrogant attitude and by trying to be too controlling it seems like he's losing control of the House."

"There's such an arrogant and controlling attitude coming from the prime minister towards the House, the media, community groups and so on, I think this is why you're seeing a form of paralysis setting in here. He just has a rather contemptuous attitude towards the democratic process."

The prime minister also continues to come under criticism for his controlling nature on his caucus and now public servants, the Liberals say. 

On Monday, three public servants who were supposed to testify this week about the federal government's recent $1 billion spending cuts suddenly informed the committee they could not appear. 

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, who is a member of the committee, 
said the incident involving the public servants shows the clear pattern of control by the government.

"There's a significant amount of evidence that's clear to all of us that there's severe control on message, on discussion, on debate to avoid any kind of challenge to the policy of the PMO," he told PoliticsWatch. 

Alghabra said it is naive to assume that a PMO does not get involved in committee and caucus practices, but he said the level coming from the current government is "unprecedented."

"It's wrong because the PMO should be able to debate the issue and allow for a debate to take place on policy. If his office is so confident of the policies they want to implement, let the debate take place on merit and then defend the policy."

Alghabra said Harper is risking having his legacy becoming that of divisiveness and failure to build consensus in Parliament. 

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