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April 19, 2005
Liberals Panic, Cancel Opposition Days

Two parallel investigations into political corruption got close enough to the current Liberal Prime Minister to scare Canada's ruling party to the point that their parliamentarians canceled a previously-scheduled Opposition Day -- an action seen as an attempt to deny the Conservatives a chance at tabling a no-confidence vote and toppling the government:

The Liberals choked off an opposition attempt to control the timetable for possibly bringing down the government. They postponed a so-called parliamentary opposition day on Wednesday in a move foes called a desperate attempt to retain power.

The Conservatives hinted they would no longer help the Liberal government remain afloat.

"When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern," said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. ...

The Tories were preparing to use one of their allotted opposition days on Wednesday to arm themselves with a potent political tool.

They tabled a motion which would have allowed opposition parties to set the timing of future opposition days - and by extension the timing of a confidence vote that could bring down the government.

But just moments before a six o'clock deadline Monday, Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri rose in the Commons to cancel Wednesday's opposition day.

"It was an attempt to hijack the House and the operation of the House," Valeri said of the opposition motion.

"I could not risk this motion going forward."

Valeri was in such a hurry that he leaped up to interrupt a Tory who was speaking in mid-sentence.

The government has to provide for a certain number of Opposition Days in every session, but can usually schedule them themselves. Stable governments spread them out on a regular basis, but those which have significant trouble staying afloat could reschedule them for later to avoid no-confidence motions and to get a chance to gain more support later. Harper and the other opposition leaders wanted to strip the Liberals of that power in order for the opposition to control the schedule of these days.

This move allows the Liberals to push all remaining eight days to the end of June, the last month of this session. They then can prorogue Parliament -- in effect, adjourn prior to any Opposition Day, cutting off the ability of the Tories to bring down the government by a no-confidence vote. It's a legal but desperate move. The Liberals have bet that that Harper can't get a majority to defeat the Liberals on the budget or another issue that would cause the government to collapse and trigger elections, except on a no-confidence vote based on the Gomery Inquiry and the Commons investigation into Earnscliffe. Harper cannot schedule such a vote without control of Parliament, which he only has on Opposition Days. It would mean that elections would be unlikely until late summer at the earliest, and more likely autumn.

This move will probably backfire on the Liberals. The NDP, which had wavered on joining the Tories in recent days, now may join with BQ and the Conservatives in forcing an election on any issue as early as next month. Even worse, it portrays the Liberals in a grasping, desperate light that only underscores the testimony in the Gomery Inquiry. It shows the Liberals as a party willing to do anything to hold onto power, no matter how backhanded or arcane, rather than face the voters and be held accountable for its actions.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 19, 2005 5:35 AM

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