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Liberal government wants voting health breaks for MPs after Opposition 'obstruction'

The Liberal government says they want to bring in health breaks that would eliminate overnight voting in the House of Commons for this parliamentary session. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Steve MacKinnon makes his way to the podium to speak with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The Liberal government wants to impose "health breaks" to eliminate overnight voting in the House of Commons and to combat what they say is Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre's personal agenda to "obstruct and create chaos."

Government House leader Steve MacKinnon introduced the motion Monday, with the New Democrats voicing their immediate support for it. 

It would address the "obstruction" of the Opposition Conservatives for the remainder of the current parliamentary session, and discourage such tactics in the future, MacKinnon said. 

He billed the motion's main objective as allowing the House to do its work, provide extensive time to debate bills and ultimately to turn the House of Commons into a healthy work space. 

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer promptly dismissed the motion as an effort to cover up "failures" by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Bloc Québécois MPs also described it as an "admission of failure." 

But MacKinnon insisted it's a workplace health and safety issue, saying no one's job should require them to stay awake for 30 straight hours. 

That's how long a Conservative-led voting marathon on spending measures lasted in December. Many MPs stayed awake by reading books, eating fast food, streaming shows on their tablets or scrolling on Instagram and YouTube. 

"It's not healthy for anyone. No nurse, no doctor, no concierge, no anyone in this country should be subjected to that kind of thing," MacKinnon said.

"No workplace would ever tolerate that kind of behaviour, least of all one that is voting for billions of dollars of supports for Canadians."

The motion, if it passes, would make it so that under similar circumstances, the House would sit until midnight and resume the following morning to allow for some rest time. 

Poilievre has also acknowledged the health impacts the December voting marathon had on the health of MPs.

During the vote, Poilievre tried to rally his caucus after making a show of fuelling their morale — and their bellies — with McChicken sandwiches from McDonald's.

"I know this is not easy," he said at the time. "It's extra time away from family, it's hard on your health, but we have to make a point. We said we would fight to axe the tax."

Scheer repeated that argument Monday, saying that all the government needs do to prevent such marathons would be to remove federal carbon pricing from all home heating, farmers and First Nations. 

In the meantime, he said, his party is focused on addressing crime, housing and cost-of-living solutions, while the government is more concerned about the rules in the House of Commons.

"If you went door-knocking in your constituency ... how many Canadians do you think would say, 'I'm really concerned about how the House of Commons manages its time, please go back to Ottawa and sort that out,'" Scheer said. 

"They are wasting the valuable time of this House and of members of Parliament because they can't admit their failures."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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