Carol Hughes, Deputy Speaker

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes sat in as acting Speaker last week.

Presided over much of Conservatives’ marathon  budget filibuster in the House of Commons last week

OTTAWA—Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes had a front and centre seat for the recent filibuster drama that accompanied the latest federal budget, quite literally, as she was fulfilling her duties as an assistant Speaker of the House of Parliament during a good portion of the time.

“My first shift, a regular shift, was from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm on Wednesday, then I was slated for 9:30 pm to 11:30 that night,” she said. “On Thursday, I had the morning from 5:30 am to 7:30 am, from 1:30 that afternoon until 3:30 pm and then 9:30 pm until the voting was done.”

Normally, Ms. Hughes would have been spelled off around 11:30 pm, but as the voting was anticipated to be completed by midnight, they called off the next shift.

“As it was it went to 1:30 am,” she recalled. “I had some work that I had to finish up so there was no bed for me that night, I had a 4:45 am taxi to the airport for a 6 am flight to go to Elliot Lake.”

Now that was a red-eye special. “I did get four hours of sleep on Wednesday,” she laughed. “I sort of crashed out on the couch in my office. The staff like to ask questions and get answers during the day, however, as they work in the daytime.”

An experienced Member of Parliament, this isn’t Ms. Hughes first all-night rodeo. “Oh no,” she laughed. “I have been up more than 24 hours for voting in the House before.”

There were three votes that started off the voting in the House of Commons before the voting on the budget motions began. The Opposition had given notice of 268 motions that were dealing with items in the budget. Because each of those motions dealt with a “money bill,” they are considered matters of confidence in the government. Should the Liberals have lost any one of those votes, the government would have fallen.

The issue in question wasn’t actually the budget, however; the Conservatives were challenging the government over the shutting down of the House Justice Committee review of the SNC-Lavalin dispute between former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over whether Quebec’s largest corporation should be able to negotiate a plea deal in which they could avoid criminal prosecution over bribery that took place in Libya. The Liberal members of the Justice Committee voted to consider the matter closed, while the Opposition demanded that Ms. Wilson-Raybould be recalled before the committee to answer further questions.

“There are a number of tools available in Parliament to enable the Opposition to hold the government to account, to try and push them into taking a different route,” explained Ms. Hughes. “The government has to have the most MPs in the House, they sit in shifts, so the Conservatives would have 40 MPs and the Liberals would have to have 80 of their members there at a time in order to ensure that they had the numbers to make sure they would win the votes.”

The balancing act almost went a cropper for the Liberals, however. There was some question as to whether all of the MPs that voted had been in the House when the bill was being read.

“You don’t have to be in your seat, but you have to be in the House,” said Ms. Hughes. The Speaker in the chair during that vote was Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota.

Ms. Hughes explained that there is often a lot of chaos around when a bill is being voted on. “You are looking down at the paper you are reading, so you can’t always see who is coming and going during that time and not necessarily looking at who is actually in the House,” she said. “You depend a lot on the clerks.”

Adding to the turmoil was an interview that was being given at the same time by former cabinet minister Jane Philpott, who resigned in support of Ms. Wilson-Raybould.

The marathon session lasted around 30 hours with a number of points of order being lodged and demands by a number of MPs that the tapes of the House be examined to try and determine who was, or was not, in the House as the bill was being read.

With the budget passed and the House somewhat settled for the time being, the SNC-Lavalin matter has now been moved to the consideration of the House Ethics Committee. 

“It is going to be around for quite a while,” suggested Ms. Hughes. “No doubt there will be more coming out.”