News / Canada

Liberals may use time allocation to push priorities through Parliament

Parliament Hill in Ottawa is shown on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. The House of Commons resumes on Monday following the summer break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Parliament Hill in Ottawa is shown on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. The House of Commons resumes on Monday following the summer break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is heading into the second half of its mandate with a number of big legislative priorities they are eager to move through Parliament.

And they are ready to curtail debate if they think the opposition parties are dragging their feet — especially since the will of the increasingly independent Senate is becoming harder to predict.

"We know that there's going to be vigorous debate and there is going to be partisanship and politics on many ideas," said Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "It's how our system works, but at the same time I don't think it's necessary for every single issue to be framed around partisanship."

This spring, the Liberal government backed down on part of its plan to alter the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure, abandoning some of the more controversial reforms that the Conservatives and New Democrats had been battling for weeks.

Still, House leader Bardish Chagger warned at the time this would come with a cost, telling her political rivals that since they could not agree on other ways to speed things along, the Liberals would be ready to impose time allocation — a heavy-handed tactic that limits debate.

That remains the case as MPs return to Ottawa this week, especially since the Liberals want to act quickly on priorities such as the legalization of marijuana, a tougher law on impaired driving and the new National Security Act.

Other big goals for the fall include political financing reforms and an air passengers bill of rights.

"We're looking forward to debating everybody, but if it comes to a point where we're seeing obstructionism as we saw on certain occasions in the last session, time allocation is a tool that could be used," said Ahmad, who stressed they have not made up their minds to use it.

"It's a case-by-case analysis."

NDP House Leader Murray Rankin said he was disappointed with the approach, especially since the Liberals had joined the NDP in criticizing the previous Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper for imposing time allocation so often.

"The real reason they are doing it is because their legislative output, as compared to just about any recent Canadian government, has been limited," he said. "So it's not a surprise they feel they're compelled to use the strong-armed, anti-democratic techniques that both the Liberals and the NDP opposed when Harper was in power."

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are planning to focus a lot of their energy on stirring up more opposition to the Liberal government's proposed tax changes for small businesses, a topic that is expected to dominate question period in the House of Commons this week.

"The Conservative caucus will begin deploying every parliamentary tool possible to fight this," said Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, who is framing it as a tax increase on small businesses and family farmers.

Poilievre said he is planning to introduce a motion at the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday, asking that all other work be set aside so the MPs can study the Liberal government's plan to end tax provisions used by a growing number of small businesses.

The proposed changes have sparked a revolt by doctors, lawyers, farmers, financial planners, home builders, shop owners and other incorporated small business owners — as well as Liberal backbenchers, who have been getting an earful from constituents throughout the summer.

Finance Bill Morneau released the controversial, three-pronged plan in mid-July, which includes restricting the ability of business owners to lower their tax rate by sprinkling income to family members in lower tax brackets, even if those family members do no work for the business.

He also proposed limiting tech use of private corporations to make passive investments in things like stocks or real estate and limiting the ability to convert the regular income of a corporation into capital gains, which are typically taxed at a lower rate.

Poilievre said he wants the committee to study the changes before the consultation period ends Oct. 2.

Ahmad noted the Morneau said he wants to gather a variety of opinions on the changes, but does not plan to alter his overall approach.

"We fundamentally believe that the system needs to be made more fair and one way to do that is to ensure that certain people don't get advantages that others don't, just because of their income," he said.

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