It’s late Friday afternoon and after sitting for a couple of weeks, the House of Commons is taking a weeklong break. That means that we’ve now see proximately six sitting weeks of the 43rd Parliament, give or take a day or two, which gives us a decent sample size to check in to see how this minority Parliament is working.
They’ve been a stressful and high pressure six weeks for sure, but this break offers a chance to see how the parties are working together, what the dynamics between them are and how everyone is going about their business. With that in mind something played out over the last 24 hours that gives us a good glimpse into how things are going, and it all started with the Order Paper for today’s sitting of the House, and something that appeared there:
Today we saw an Opposition Day put on the agenda at the last minute by the Liberals. In every cycle, there are eight “supply days”, more commonly known as Opposition Days, where an opposition party gets to control the agenda for the day and debate a motion of their choosing. Those days are given out by the government and they choose when they happen. But normally there are some unspoken rules or guidelines around them, that I’ll leave to this Tweet to explain:
That is from Ian Brodie, a former Harper staffer brought back to help Andrew Scheer in this interim leadership period. He’s been around the block and knows this stuff quite well and as he points out, typically you see Opposition Days given between Tuesdays and Thursdays. The odd time you’ll see one on a Monday, but you almost never see them on a Friday, because it’s the shortest sitting day of the week and most ministers and MPs leave town that day. In this case, it would result in only two Conservative MPs getting to speak to their own Opposition Day motion, which is not really a cool way to run a Parliament.
Typically when a government does this, putting an Opposition Day on a Friday, it’s a way of trying to punish the opposition party in question, to try to silence the entire opposition in general or simply try to ensure that Opposition Day gets as little attention as possible. And that’s when it’s done with plenty of notice. In this case though, the Liberal government did this at the last moment with next to no notice. So again, it’s not a good look and might make some wonder what the Liberals were up to.
If a government in a majority Parliament pulled a stunt like that, it would be called petty, vindictive or any other word you’d like but there wouldn’t be a parliamentary consequence to pay for it, because they would hold a majority of the seats. But folks we know that’s not the case now, as we have a minority Parliament and along with that comes a new list of potential consequences for taking such a move. If the Liberals didn’t think about that beforehand, they were quickly shown that with the motion that came up for debate:
Ahhh, procedural gamesmanship begets more procedural gamesmanship. In response to the Liberals apparent attempt to mess with the Conservatives Opposition Day, they bring forward a motion to give each of the opposition parties one more Opposition Day. So as a result, today we saw an Opposition Day motion moving that each Opposition Party gets another Opposition Day beyond the ones they already get. For the Conservatives, seeing this passed would mean they would get their day back and for the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, both who only get one Opposition Day as it is, would each get a second. On top of that, the motion clearly states that no Opposition Days in this cycle can be called for a Wednesday or Friday, the shortest days in the Parliamentary week.
So yeah, there’s no way that’s not going to pass the House of Commons. Given that almost all Opposition Days have passed so far, this one getting all the votes it needs is a guarantee. This will mean that because of this attempted stunt by the Liberals, they will have three fewer days to control the House of Commons agenda. That’s three fewer days to do government bills of importance, three more chances for the Opposition parties to bring forward motions to create more havoc for them.
And all of that for what exactly? Why did the Liberals do this, raise the hackles of the Opposition and guarantee some retribution when they didn’t have the votes to stop it? At best, this was a mix up on the governments part that created this situation. At worst, they thought they could continue to act like they had a majority and didn’t even think once about the consequences that were sure to come from that. Either way, this looks bad on this government and doesn’t speak well to how they are trying to govern in this minority environment. For them, it’s a complete unforced error and also manages to erode trust or good will from the Opposition parties that they will need later.
So while we aren’t at risk of this government falling anytime soon, I am fascinated by this whole episode because of what it says about how the Liberals are treating this minority Parliament so far. In a minority, you need to know your procedure and be on guard about potentially exposing your caucus to needless risk. These are times when your “t’s” need to be crossed and your “i’s” need to be dotted. You need to know the rules and procedures of Parliament inside and out because if you slip up, you open yourself up to real risks. This episode shows that those details are not front of mind for this government at the moment because if they were, you wouldn’t pull a stunt like this that risked this much with no real gain to speak of. It also shows they maybe don’t have a full appreciation for the need to build good will with the Opposition, because if you are you don’t create ill will over petty stuff like this. You know that someday you’ll need to have that fight, but you save it for the time that it absolutely must come. That is the opposite of what happened here, and I’m left wondering why. All this is to say this is not a good sign for the long-term health of this minority government, especially if it is repeated again. We’ll see how that goes when the House comes back in a week or so but in the meantime, this was not be best note to go home on.