'What's the rush?' Tory asks as panel OKs another 22 witnesses
Tim Naumetz
The Ottawa Citizen

May 31, 2005

The controversial same-sex marriage bill is guaranteed to remain stalled in Parliament until next fall under a deal reached between Conservatives and the other three parties yesterday.

Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs agreed during an unusual five-minute suspension of a committee hearing into the bill to allow 22 additional witnesses proposed by Conservative MP Vic Toews, with a guarantee the committee will conclude its hearings June 16 and report the bill back to the House the next day.

With the Commons scheduled to adjourn the following week, on June 23, for its three-month summer recess, Mr. Toews said there is little chance the House will have enough time to pass the bill through third and final reading before the adjournment. It would then have to pass through the Senate before becoming law.

"It's going to be a tight squeeze," Mr. Toews said, adding he intends to propose amendments following the committee work that will add yet more time to final debate in the Commons.

The Conservative MP said the government made it clear through a closure motion tabled by Liberal MP Don Boudria, as well as warnings the House might use a rare order to close down committee debate, that the other parties wanted the bill to pass as quickly as possible.

"What's the rush?" Mr. Toews said, adding some Conservatives believe Prime Minister Paul Martin wants the bill passed through Parliament before the next federal election because of the widespread opposition it has generated.

"He does not want this to be an election issue," said Mr. Toews.

Other Tories said they believe the Liberals do not want the bill passed before an election.

Mr. Martin has promised to call a vote within one month after Justice John Gomery releases his final report on the sponsorship scandal.

The report is scheduled to be complete by mid-December, but Mr. Toews pointed out Judge Gomery first submits the report to the government, which then reviews it before making it public.

The Manitoba MP predicted the government will not release the report until well into 2006, meaning an election may be held off until April or May.

Conservative House leader Jay Hill signalled last weekend that the Conservatives will likely renew efforts to topple the minority government following the summer recess. He told several newspapers the Opposition has placed a confidence motion at the top of the order paper to show the government its narrow win on the budget vote isn't a "free ride until September."

Mr. Toews acknowledged the possibility of a government confidence defeat in September, possibly before the marriage bill is passed.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

Same-sex marriage