OTTAWA –Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to his feet Wednesday to answer questions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the bombing mission in Iraq, executive compensation at Bombardier and money to help support families with autism.
Then he kept going.
Trudeau rose every time someone in the opposition benches posed a query during the daily question period, clearly catching his rivals off-guard, whose carefully crafted missives were clearly intended for Liberal cabinet ministers.
The Liberal government is trying to convince the opposition of the merits of its proposed changes to parliamentary procedure, which include devoting one question period a week to grilling only the prime minister, such as is done in Britain.
It was one of the promises in the Liberal campaign platform, and Trudeau appeared to enjoy his surprise stunt to show off how it would work.
“I am pleased to be able to personally answer this question,” he said at one point.
The spectacle prompted some snark, particularly from Conservative MP Tony Clement, who wondered aloud whether one could change the rules to also guarantee a corresponding increase in the quality of Trudeau’s answers.
In a way, however, it backfired: both Conservative MP Mark Strahl and NDP counterpart David Christopherson noted the stunt proved there is no need to change the rules without a broader Commons consensus
That goes right to the heart of the ongoing showdown between the Liberals and the opposition parties.
“No need to unilaterally use the power to ram through the changes,” Christopherson said.
Conservative and New Democrats began a filibuster at the procedures committee last month, speaking for hours over the course of four days in hopes of thwarting Liberal efforts to expedite a review of the changes.
That filibuster resumed again Wednesday and, with the chair promising food would be provided, was expected to continue late into the night.
The proposals also include letting MPs vote electronically, doing away with sparsely attended Friday sittings and scheduling a set amount of time to move government bills through the legislative process.
The Conservatives and New Democrats have joined forces to demand the Liberals guarantee they won’t force the changes through without all-party consensus, which is usually how such changes have been made in the past.
On Wednesday, opposition House leader Candice Bergen and NDP House leader Murray Rankin wrote a letter to government House leader Bardish Chagger proposing a compromise: a special committee to study the issue.
“We believe that a consensus-based approach to modernizing the House of Commons … would respect the time honoured tradition of this Parliament, and be more fruitful and productive,” said the letter.
The Liberals are prepared to stand their ground on the parts of the discussion paper that stem from their campaign promises. That includes the weekly Trudeau-only question period, forcing governments to justify why they are proroguing Parliament and giving the Speaker the authority to divide omnibus bills.
“I will not give the Conservatives a veto over our campaign commitments,” Chagger said Wednesday.
Still, when pressed on whether there might be some room to consider changing the way they are going about things now, Chagger said she would continue reaching out to Bergen and Rankin.
“I am open to all ideas.”