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Giant Slumber Party In The House Of Commons

The Canadian House of Commons
The Canadian House of Commons. Image by Sam

The government of Canada had a sleepover, and all of the MPs were invited. In fact, attendance was mandatory.

What’s really happened is that the Members of Parliament stayed up all night working. They were voting on a bill, but the way they did it was very unusual—and very interesting.

It all started when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduced Bill C-38. Bill C-38 was an enormous 425-page bill covering all kinds of things including budget items.

Governments sometimes lump many items into one bill when they want to make sure they will be passed into law. In this case, the government included items such as environmental assessments, public pension items and immigration procedures into Bill C-38.

The opposition party (the NDP) wanted to protest the fact that the government bundled all of those extra items into the bill. They say that when too many items are bundled that way, none of the items can be looked over and properly discussed.

So to protest Bill C-38 and bring public attention to it, the opposition parties made 871 changes to the bill. Each of those changes (packaged down into 159) required a vote—yes or no—from all the Members of Parliament.

For every change or “amendment” each MP’s name had to be read out—twice—and the MP then had to say whether they agreed or disagreed with it. That’s 50,000 names altogether, according to The Toronto Star newspaper.

But wouldn’t that take a long time? Yes. And that’s the point.

The 159 votes took a very long time.

In fact, the voting started on Wednesday night and (at the time this article was published on TKN) was set to go until the wee hours of Friday morning.

The Star reported that the MPs were doing some pretty interesting things to pass the time while all of the voting was going on in the House of Commons.

For instance, MP Michel Rempel was playing with Play-Doh; Rona Ambrose was wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket; Prime Minister Stephen Harper read a book; Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was eating chocolate and other MPs played solitaire or watched TV shows on their iPads.

And what happened with the 159 amendments? The Conservative government, which has a majority (in other words more votes than the other parties put together), voted each one down.

So none of the amendments even passed (or was likely to, at the time this article was published on TKN).

But the public, at least, sat up and took notice of the MPs’ marathon work session and the gigantic bill called C-38. Whether anything will come of it is yet to be seen.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
TKN has reported on protests happening around the world – in Egypt, Greece, Montreal etc. – however, TKN has never covered a story about protests in Canada’s parliament.

How does the protest in the House of Commons compare to other protests TKN has reported on? (To help you with your comparison, you may want to do a key word search on TKN to read about other protests that have happened around the world). In your opinion, are protests effective? Why or why not? If so, which type of protests are the most effective? Why?

Reading Prompt: Analysing Texts
News articles are often written in three parts: introduction, body, conclusion. Is this article written in this way?

How does the way the report is organized help you to understand the content?

Analyse texts and explain how various elements in them contribute to meaning (OME, Reading: 1.7).

Analyse a variety of texts, both simple and complex, and explain how the different elements in them contribute to meaning and influence the reader’s reaction (OME, Reading: 1.7).

Grammar Feature: Questions
Two questions are posed in this article. Read each question and explain why the journalist chose to write two questions rather than two statements.