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Liberals aim to burn midnight oil

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OTTAWA—Members of Parliament will be burning the midnight oil next month as the Trudeau government rushes to pass a sheaf of bills before the summer break.

Government House leader Bardish Chagger served notice yesterday of a motion to extend daily sitting hours for the House of Commons until midnight, starting the week of May 29 (when Parliament resumes after a one-week break) and continuing until June 23.

The move comes amid criticism that, as of yesterday, the Liberals have passed only 19 government bills since taking power in November, 2015—a skimpy legislative record compared to the 42 bills passed into law during the first 19 months of Stephen Harper's majority Conservative regime.

Of the 53 bills Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals have introduced, 15 of them have languished for months—up to a year or more in a couple of cases—without proceeding beyond the formality of first reading.

That includes a vaunted bill to repeal controversial provisions of the Conservatives' Fair Elections Act and another bill to end the discriminatory impact of the Criminal Code on same-sex sexual activity, both of which were introduced six months ago but have gone nowhere since.

Liberals blame the glacial pace on a number of factors, including procedural machinations employed by the Conservatives to thwart the government's legislative agenda and a more independent, activist Senate that has amended five bills and returned them to the Commons for reconsideration.

By Liberal calculations, procedural tricks have eaten up 36 hours of precious Commons' sitting time since January, which amounts to a full week out of the 11 weeks the chamber has sat so far this year.

Most of the current week has been lost to reconsideration of Senate-amended bills.

But Conservatives and New Democrats say the government only has itself to blame, having poisoned relations in the Commons by proposing in March to unilaterally change the way the House and its committees operate, without consensus among opposition parties.

Combined with Trudeau's “non-answers" in question period and what the Opposition sees as his lack of respect for Parliament, "all of that together creates a toxic atmosphere,” Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said in an interview.

“It's very typical of the Liberals to blame others for their problems instead of taking responsibility,” she charged.

NDP House leader Murray Rankin agreed the Liberals “just haven't figured out how to work with opposition parties.”

“They've poisoned the well with this procedural so-called discussion paper a while back," he noted. ”Now when it comes to bringing in legislation, there's not a lot of goodwill left.

“That's the problem.”

As for the Senate, Rankin noted Trudeau was the one who reformed the appointment process to encourage a more independent upper house.

“It's not our fault the Senate is giving them heartburn,” he said.

For her part, Chagger said she has no problem with the Senate doing its job to provide sober second thought to government legislation and recommending improvements.

“To me, it's really quality [of legislation] over quantity,” she said in an interview.

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