During a chaotic, eight-hour-long natural resources committee meeting, the sustainable jobs act was amended and sent back to the House of Commons for debate.
Wednesday night's meeting was marked by shouting and tense exchanges between Conservative MPs and those from other parties as the mandated end to the Conservative filibuster drew near.
The deafening chorus of “Points of order, chair!” and “Follow the rules, chair!” drowned out the proceedings as Conservative MPs objected to committee chair George Chahal pressing on with the vote ordered last week by an unusual government motion. Near the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Liberal MP Yvonne Jones (appearing via Zoom) and NDP MP Charlie Angus accidentally cast their votes the wrong way because they couldn’t hear what they were voting on over the cacophony of objections.
The Conservatives fought efforts to end the committee meeting every step of the way and submitted a staggering 19,600 amendments, according to Chahal. Conservative MP Garnett Genuis called the motion forcing the committee to vote on all proposed amendments and conclude its study of the bill as an “unprecedented, draconian programming motion.”
At 2:35 a.m., after eight hours and votes on over a hundred amendments, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources wrapped up and referred the bill back to the House with some changes.
During more than 20 hours of committee meetings over the last month, not a single witness was heard and not a single amendment was debated due to the onslaught of Conservative monologues and incessant points of order.
Labour leaders want to see the sustainable jobs act become law because it requires the federal government to regularly report on the creation of sustainable jobs and gives workers a permanent advisory role to the government.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and the federal Conservatives opposed Bill C-50 from the get-go. The sustainable jobs act is an "anti-energy," "anti-development" just transition bill that imposes "Soviet-style, top-down central planning that will hurt Canada,” said Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs, the shadow minister for natural resources. The Conservatives are also currently threatening to block a budget bill and force the House to extend its sitting over the holidays unless the Liberals cancel future increases to the carbon tax and present “a plan to balance the budget.”
Extra Conservative and NDP MPs trickled in during the committee debate, taking a seat around the U-shaped table and heckling one another. At some points, the meeting room in the Wellington Building held upwards of 60 people, about 20 of them MPs.
“The committee became [a] circus [Wednesday],” said @mariosimardbq. It’s one thing for the Conservatives to delay the committee's work on legislation including Bill C-50, “but what we saw [Wednesday], it's below every standard that we have,” he said.
When it came time to start voting on amendments, more than 10 Conservative MPs erupted into shouts.
Despite the chaos, some notable changes were made. An NDP amendment specifies the 13-person sustainable jobs partnership council must include three trade union representatives, three members representing Indigenous Peoples, three industry representatives, one member from a non-governmental environmental organization and one representative from “another key stakeholder group.”
It also requires the minister to recommend trade or industry representatives to serve as the two co-chairs. Another NDP amendment requires data included in jobs plans published every five years be expanded to include data on equity and diversity in the labour force and used to identify and address gaps. The bill as presented will also require the government to take Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan into account.
Angus told Canada’s National Observer his party “sat down with the Liberals in advance and fought out all the amendments.” Under normal circumstances, these discussions would occur in committee, among all parties.
The translation “was a total mess,” Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard told Canada’s National Observer in an interview the next day. As a francophone, Simard always uses the French interpretation but translation cannot be done when multiple people are shouting into their microphones, he said. During the sustained bouts of shouting, he and BQ whip Claude DeBellefeuille could not receive the translation all MPs are entitled to.
One booming voice was always audible above the rest. Conservative MP Larry Brock was among the loudest of his Conservative colleagues yelling at Chahal and having many heated exchanges with other MPs. Things quickly devolved to where some Conservative and NDP MPs were telling each other to shut up.
At one point, DeBellefeuille yelled at Brock to “shut up” and Brock, furious, leaned toward the Bloc whip: “No one tells me to shut up!” he yelled. “You shut up!”
Simard, who had stepped away briefly, quickly approached Brock and was overheard telling him it was “unacceptable to talk to my whip like that.”
Brock declined a request for comment from Canada’s National Observer.
“He clearly intimidated Claude,” said Simard in an interview. For a few minutes, “I was very afraid for the safety of my whip” because he would not stop yelling and “had this very aggressive face,” said Simard, calling Brock’s behaviour “disgusting.”
When all was said and done, all Liberal and NDP amendments were passed. None of the BQ amendments made it through.
“If the Conservatives had come with reasonable attempts, we probably would have had a bill that reflected some of everyone's concerns, but it was their constant interference that made it really difficult to sort of come to compromises on the floor,” said Angus.
The Bloc will likely vote against the jobs act because Simard’s amendment on respecting Canada and Quebec’s existing agreements on workforce development was defeated.
“We vote on every single paragraph in chaos … you can't work that way,” said Simard. He says the “méthode Poilievre” — a term Simard and some of his Bloc colleagues use to refer to “the use of intimidation [and] misinformation” — has permeated the committee.
“The committee became [a] circus [Wednesday],” said Simard. It’s one thing for the Conservatives to slow down and delay the committee’s work, “but what we saw [Wednesday], it's below every standard that we have,” he said.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative Canada’s National Observer