Following up on my previous post about Government House Leader Peter van Loan trying to strip Green Party leader Elizabeth May of the right to propose budget bill amendments, the verdict is now in. And as far as dry, procedural Speaker’s rulings go, it is an absolute smackdown.
van Loan argued May’s amendments should undergo a test vote to prove they had no support form the House. This would have saved government MPs from the trouble of actually having to vote down her amendments. After all, with a majority government the Speaker can easily “predict the intentions of the majority of Members” so why go through all the fuss?
Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer wasn’t having any of it. “Report stage motions are not, and never have been, selected for debate and grouped for voting on the basis of who the Chair thinks might win the vote on them,” wrote Scheer in a decision released today.
Scheer delves into the balance between the opposition’s responsibility to debate legislation and the government’s need to carry its business through the House in a reasonable amount of time. van Loan’s proposal would essentially destroy this balance, said Scheer. Here’s the key quote:
“The Government House Leader seemed to argue that the existence of a Government majority meant that the outcome of proceedings on the Bill was known in advance, that somehow this justified taking a new approach to decision-making by the House and that anything short of that would constitute a waste of the House’s time. This line of reasoning, taken to its logical end, might lead to conclusions that trespass on important foundational principles of our institution.”
Scheer also quotes former Speaker Peter Milliken, who said “…neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of the numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.”
He then dropped the mic and strutted out of the House.
Scheer has been quietly controversial in his first year or so as Speaker of the House. Famously the youngest Speaker ever, his rulings have caused grumblings from some opposition MPs. Scheer has ruled he has no authority to tell government they have to provide substantive answers when it comes to question period (that fight was long-since lost before Scheer took the job) or order paper questions (this ruling I personally find both baffling and a dangerous precedent).
In fact, in Scheer’s ruling today he also dismissed a call from NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen to allow all budget amendments to be voted on individually (in 2001 the Liberals, wanting to avoid massive voting marathons, enacted “grouping” of amendments so that one vote could strike down, say, 20 amendments in one swoop). Scheer’s ruling was no surprise: he has consistently rejected attempts by Cullen and May disallow or delay a government’s ability to pass omnibus bills.
On the bright side for the opposition, he’s also mostly left them free to ask whatever they want of the government, except for a few short-lived attempts to limit them to government business.
So what kind of Speaker is Scheer? He’s, well, conservative. Like Milliken before him he takes a very narrow view of his powers and will mostly let MPs do as they like. But that conservatism cuts both ways, and we now see that he’s able to kick back against attempts to override the system, even when they come from his own party.
Scheer’s entire ruling can be read here.