Clock ticks down on Liberals’ chances of passing policies

It’s crunch time in Ottawa.

With a maximum of seven weeks left in the official parliamentary calendar, the Liberals still have a long legislative to-do list; one that could easily be complicated by disgruntled senators and opposition MPs.

Technically, the House of Commons could adjourn for summer recess as early as June 9.

However, the parliamentary calendar allows for two extra sitting weeks, with extended hours to wrap up the spring agenda.

The Senate typically sits until the end of June.

A glance at the Liberal priority list suggests it’s unlikely MPs will head home for the summer on June 9.

First on the parliamentary agenda is dealing with the budget, which has barely been debated. The legislation, which must be passed before Parliament adjourns for summer, hasn’t yet been referred to committee.

As of press time May 1, MPs were still debating a privilege motion that dates back to an incident on March 22. The House was supposed to start three days of debate on the budget May 1.

In addition to the budget, Canada’s ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe continues to meander through Parliament. The legislation is being scrutinized by the Senate trade committee.

Ottawa said it hopes that trade deal will be in force by summer, a deadline that depends almost entirely on the Senate, which has adopted an independent streak in recent months.

Trudeau booted Liberal senators from caucus in 2014. Since then, the Senate has stalled several pieces of legislation, which the Liberals have no official way of redressing.

Then there’s the missing action on the grain transportation file, which still hasn’t made Parliament’s official notice paper or been presented to cabinet.

The current legislation expires July 31.

The official line in Ottawa is the new replacement legislation will be presented to the House this spring.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has refused to give a more specific date.

But Garneau has repeatedly said the legislation will be in place by the time the current legislation expires. For his part, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has said Ottawa will ensure grain continues to move to port.

How they plan to achieve that remains unclear because the legislation has yet to be cleared by cabinet, sources say, and parliamentary rules stipulate that the House requires several days notice before the bill can be tabled in the House.

Yet so far, grain transportation hasn’t even been mentioned when the government outlines its plan for the following week. Even once it’s tabled, an ongoing spat between government and the official opposition, which has brought votes at odd hours and lengthy debates on various motions and points of order, has delayed legislative debate.

Garneau’s suggested timeline for the end of this parliamentary session would require committees to sit for extended hours — meetings that are almost guaranteed to be disrupted.

Meanwhile, MacAulay has said it’s possible that government may extend the current grain transportation legislation for one more year, but he gave no firm commitment.

Canada’s agriculture ministers will gather in Ottawa May 10 for their spring meeting where the delay on the grain transport file is expected to be raised.

The last thing prairie agriculture ministers want is a repeat of the $5 billion grain logistics crisis from three years ago.

The federal government line that “it’s coming in spring 2017” likely won’t cut it.

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