For three days it seemed as if the New Democrats were filibustering the Liberals to prevent them from responding to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget.
In fact, NDP officials say they were merely blocking members of the Conservative government from running through talking points about how the budget they tabled last week will serve Canadians.
In the end, the tactic prevented both Liberals and Conservatives from speaking – a demonstration of both the style of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and the large divide that remains between New Democrats and Liberals.
The NDP, as Official Opposition, were permitted to use an unlimited amount of the four days allotted in the Commons to budget response. But they were expected to allow the third-party Liberals to also have a chance to speak.
For the longest time, it seemed the NDP was determined not to let that happen.
Peter Julian, the Opposition finance critic, was on his feet last week, then again Monday and Tuesday, telling Parliament what his party thinks of the government’s latest fiscal plan. By the final day, he was reduced to reading the e-mails and Twitter messages from Canadians who agree with New Democrats that the budget is wrong-headed.
By his own estimation. Mr. Julian talked non-stop for the better part of 14 hours over the course of four days. His voice had started to wear thin and he was forced to drink repeated sips of water just to keep going.
And the Liberals were not happy about it.
“At the moment the NDP is a little bit drunk with power,” Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau said Tuesday after Question Period. “They are being childish and maybe taking on some of the bad habits of the Conservatives. We’ll wait and see how it works out.”
In fact, Mr. Julian had forecast earlier in the day that the Liberals would get to have their moment.
“Conservative ministers have been going all across the country on taxpayer dollars, on the taxpayer’s dime, making all kinds of announcements and saying what I believe are, to a great extent, untruths about the budget,” he told the Commons. “Therefore, I would just like to make it clear today that I will not be sitting down to permit Conservative MPs to then raise what I would call their budgetary poison in the House of Commons.”
Mr. Julian promised that he would sit down at about 4:30 pm “to allow a couple of Liberals to speak to the budget.” And, at about that time, he moved a motion that would negate all of the budget as proposed by the Conservatives, took a standing ovation from his caucus for his marathon performance, and sat down.
But the Liberals remained unimpressed by the NDP strategy.
Kevin Lamoureaux, the MP for Winnipeg North, said the budget motion is one of the most important items that is debated in the House.
“We all have concerns that we would like to be able to express in regard to the budget,” the Liberal said. “There are literally hundreds of issues across this great nation of ours. We would hope that, in recognition of how important this debate it, that we would allow members to contribute to that debate.”
This week, Parliament has witnessed a demonstration of the different type of leadership that the NDP have, Mr. Lamoureaux said. “Is it the New Democrats’ intentions [on every bill they oppose]to use as much time on the clock in order to prevent other members of Parliament from being able to contribute in representing their constituents?”
Mr. Julian replied that, when the Liberals were in opposition they “paid lip service to what the Conservatives were doing as they vandalized the economy and the country.”
The Liberals voted to support the Conservative minority government 114 consecutive times, he said – something that was done to prevent the government from falling and the country from being plunged into an election. “The NDP is saying when we think the direction is wrong, we’re going to stand up to this government.”