Marathon budget vote leaves MPs bleary-eyed
MPs were recovering Friday after a marathon budget vote that lasted more than 24 hours.
While many news stories of the vote focused on the quirky aspects, such as one NDP MPs decision to go shoe-free for comfort's sake, and Conservatives bringing blankets and toys to help the time pass, Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart said there was much at stake in the "unprecedented" budget bill.
The vote was over an omnibus bill that included not only numerous significant budget changes and funding cuts, but other changes such as later eligibility for Old Age Security and reducing environmental assessment requirements for pipeline projects.
The debate started last Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. with about five hours of reading the bill into the public record. That was followed by 22 hours of just voting on the 159 amendments proposed by the Opposition.
Each one had to be read into the record and each MP in the House of Commons had to stand up to vote, which took about 10 minutes for each amendment, Stewart said Friday afternoon.
The Conservatives had it worst since they were never allowed to leave the room at the risk of missing a vote, he explained.
"Every single vote was a confidence vote because it's related to the budget. If we had won one vote ... their government would have fallen and we'd be in an election. That's why it was pretty tense there the last couple of days."
Other changes in the bill include removing medical services for refugees to Canada and ending participation in the Kyoto Accord's commitment to emissions caps.
"They've bundled, essentially, bills they didn't want debated into this one big bill and curtailed debate on it."
An NDP motion to split the bill into smaller, more manageable bills was rejected by the Conservatives.
"I think there were over 800 different clauses in the budget. It was hard for us to digest what the impact of this giant bill is going to be. It just went through so fast."
The lengthy list of Opposition amendments was in response to the lack of time to debate the massive bill, which the Conservatives want passed by June 22, the last day before Parliament breaks for the summer.
"It is going to change Canada," Stewart said. "So many little things that will become apparent over the coming months, we can tie them all back to this bill and the historic vote."
Stewart said MPs have been told to expect another similar omnibus bill in the fall.
"They just don't want the debate. To be fair, they're playing within the rules of the House of Commons but I don't think they're abiding by the spirit of how the House of Commons is supposed to work."