Commons collaboration. How long will it last?

2 minute read

The 44th Parliament functioned last week as if the “work together” message Canadians sent to the parties and their leaders on Election Day had sunk in, if only temporarily.

MPs adopted two substantive unanimous consent (UC) motions, including one tabled by Conservative MP Rob Moore that fast-tracked the legislation to ban conversion therapy through all all stages in the House, sending it immediately to the Senate. Then, on Thursday, Government House Leader Mark Holland moved a motion to establish the Standing Committee on Finance immediately, to be followed shortly by all other standing committees. The motion, which also changed certain standing orders to amend the size and make up of committees and their rules for quorum, also passed without dissent.

The quick set up of committees is good news for stakeholders who want to meaningfully engage on the priorities highlighted in the throne speech and upcoming mandate letters. Standing committees allow for stakeholder input and, with opposition MPs in the majority, they have the ability to control committee agendas and amend legislation.

It remains to be seen whether the recent collaboration in the House will translate into a policy-focussed committee approach. In the immediate term, however, there will be considerable pressure on all parties not to hold things up – especially the new COVID support programs.

With organizational meetings for all committees within the next couple weeks, stakeholders should keep watch and in some cases consider direct engagement, as the early agendas for key committees take shape.

Organizational meetings are meant to be pro forma, but from the moment a committee is established, they become the master of their own domain. In practice, this means we may well see opposition parties get an immediate start at steering things down paths that the Liberal government will not like. This week will also see the first two allotted days of the new parliament, giving the opposition an opportunity to control the debate in the House for the day.

The swift passage of the re-introduced bill to ban conversion therapy was a very proud moment of collaboration for new House of Commons. Over the next couple weeks, as the government faces down two opposition days and the spectre of opposition controlled committees, we’ll see how fleeting a moment it may have been.

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