OTTAWA – The two sleep-deprived sides of the House of Commons kept vigilant watch on each other Thursday as bleary-eyed MPs stood up and sat down, over and over again, their 24-hour marathon voting session pushing past the halfway mark.
And after 12 hours of voting, what they had on their feet — if anything — when they got on them didn’t seem to matter much to anyone.
“I’ve got to get myself comfy, off come the shoes,” said New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault, describing one of the many ways MPs sought comfort heading through the 12th hour of voting on more than 800 amendments to Bill C-38.
“It’s the only thing I could take off without being out of order.”
Members of Parliament methodically bobbed from their seats through the night and into the afternoon as they voted on 871 opposition motions — grouped into 159 voteable packages — that are designed to thwart, or at least publicize, the Harper government’s sprawling omnibus budget implementation bill.
Liberal House leader Marc Garneau’s best guess for when the voting would finally be over? Likely 1 a.m. Friday morning, he said — 24 hours after it began.
The long haul seemed to have taken a toll on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The normally jocular Flaherty was waspish in his comments about the opposition’s efforts to delay passage of his budget bill.
“This is not a time for gamesmanship,” Flaherty said.
“This is a serious time in which we need to protect Canada and advance our economic agenda … and we’ll do whatever we have to do today and tonight and in the early hours of tomorrow morning to get the job done.”
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen had tried to win unanimous consent to hold question period at the regular time, only to be shouted down from the government benches.
Flaherty was scornful of Cullen’s gambit, saying the NDP wasted several hours before voting even began and were deliberately taking their time getting to their feet during each individual vote.
“You waste all that time in the House of Commons last night, and then do this waste of time on the rolling voting, which accomplishes nothing except wasting taxpayers money in the House of Commons — because it’s expensive to run the House of Commons — and then have the nerve to say we want to have question period,” he complained.
“This is, like, chutzpah, right?”
Cullen, meanwhile, wasn’t surprised his motion for question period was shouted down.
“The government doesn’t really like question period all that much,” he said. “Something about being held to account.”
Cullen said the NDP has been getting online support from across the country.
“The messages coming in have been beautiful, actually,” he said.
“They sort of steel your resolve a bit to know that people appreciate that when the country is being bullied, our Parliament is being bullied, that there’s someone who’s going to push back and that’s essentially what’s been happening the last number of hours.”
Despite the ungodly hours, the mood has been good in the Liberal caucus, said Garneau — thanks in large measure to Twitter. And although the Conservatives had won every single vote by mid-afternoon, Garneau said he still hopes to claim a couple.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It will depend on the vigilance of the Conservative party members.”
The legislation, dubbed the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act by the ever-marketing Conservatives, contains a bewildering maze of changes to dozens of statutes, ranging from employment insurance and public pensions to environmental assessments, border security and spy agency oversight.
Critics say such omnibus bills amount to a massive abuse of Parliament — an argument a young Stephen Harper once made with some conviction as a backbench Reform MP.
Now his Conservative government says the 400-page bill is “responsible, necessary and will make Canada’s economy stronger,” in the words of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
And they don’t want a single comma altered by the elected representatives on the opposition benches.
Conservatives too were turning to social media to pass the time, posting live updates to their personal websites in an effort to reach beyond the limestone walls of the Commons and into their constituencies.
“For the first time, I was able to watch the sun rise through the magnificent stained glass windows in the House of Commons chamber,” Susan Truppe, an MP from London, Ont., wrote on her blog.
Each new round of voting began with a round of applause from the New Democrat benches and ended with whoops and cheers from the Conservatives whose majority might means they’ve voted down every motion so far.
This morning, a quick burst of song broke through the steady hum of background chatter as MPs serenaded New Democrat MP Hong Mai with “Happy Birthday.”
The Quebec MP turns 39 today — at least in the world off Parliament Hill. Inside the Commons, the calendar continues to read June 13 as the rest of the country woke to Thursday’s dawn.
“So if we continue voting like this in the (House of Commons), there’ll be no b-day for me this year?,” Mai tweeted.
Wednesday won’t end for MPs until the last vote is counted and the House adjourned sometime this evening or early Friday morning.
By then, clerks in the House of Commons will have recited almost 50,000 names in a repetitive roll call, each as predictable as the last.
The votes on the amendments themselves officially started at 12:59 a.m. ET, an almost eight hour delay to the expected start time after the Liberals forced a series of votes on other parliamentary matters.
“I think everyone’s pretty pumped, at least on the NDP side, about standing up for Canadians and making sure they have a voice here today,” New Democrat John Rafferty said as the House of Commons bells rang to start the marathon.
MPs’ desks are littered with books and papers, laptops and notebooks, pillows and even a couple of stuffed animals. Michel Rempel, the dimpled Tory from Calgary, had a half dozen containers of brightly coloured Play-Doh for amusement, while cabinet member Rona Ambrose was wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket.