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interesting article today. pretty (a)pathetic.

Absent Liberals under fire for giving Tories de facto majority

Official Opposition skips votes to avoid toppling government

Glen McGregor, with files from Elizabeth Thompson, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2008

Liberal MPs are casting votes in Parliament at a rate lower than the turnout of Canadian voters who made it to the ballot box in the last federal election.

By choosing to sit out confidence motions that could topple the minority government, Liberal MPs on average participated in only 64 per cent of recorded votes in the House this parliamentary session --just below the 64.7 per cent of eligible voters who cast valid ballots in the 2006 general election, a Citizen analysis shows.

When they did show up for votes, more often than not the Liberals voted in line with the Harper government. More than 60 per cent of votes by Liberals on bills, amendments and motions before the House were in step with the Conservatives. The official Opposition supported the government on extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, motions on its centrepiece crime bill, and on other parliamentary arcana, such as a bill regarding the settlement of international investment disputes.

On average, Liberal MPs participated in only 49 of the possible 76 recorded votes in the House this parliamentary session, and when they did vote, more than 60 per cent of their votes supported the Conservatives. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion only voted 33 times.

By contrast, Bloc Québécois MPs cast 41 per cent of their votes in line with the Tories, while the New Democrats voted with the government only 26 per cent of the time.

The voting records support the growing contention that the Liberals are not truly functioning as an official Opposition as they seek to avoid running an election behind struggling leader Stéphane Dion.

"Such a massive truancy is really something that should cause a lot of voters to wonder what's going on," said NDP leader Jack Layton yesterday.

While opposition parties often vote in step with the government on procedural motions, Mr. Layton says the Liberals show a degree of support that effectively offers the Tories a de facto majority.

"They are giving Mr. Harper the capacity to take the country down the wrong path, not just on high-profile items like Afghanistan, but just in general, they are there to support the government," he said.

"They are misrepresenting their role. They're supposed to be the official Opposition, but the job is not being done by them. They're not showing up for work."

But Liberal whip Karen Redman, who is responsible for corralling her party's MPs for votes, said the numbers are skewed by the minority Parliament situation.

"We participated for quite a while in strategic voting," she said. "People's voting records don't reflect whether or not they're in the House."

Only a handful of Liberal MPs may vote against the government on certain issues, but their votes are symbolic, she says. "However that vote was cast, we're speaking for the entire caucus when we do that."

On the budget, for instance, only a handful of Liberal MPs turned out to vote against the government, showing the Liberal opposition to it, but not toppling the government.

Ms. Redman said the party voted along with the Tories on Afghanistan because the government side came to adopt the Liberal position, not the other way around. She notes that on private member's bills, the party does not whip votes -- require voting along party lines -- accounting for a wider variety in Liberal voting patterns.

Unless the Liberals decide they want to go the polls this spring, their spotty voting pattern will likely continue when MPs return to Ottawa this week. The party appears unready to bring down the government, as Mr. Dion's leadership has drawn some of its heaviest criticism this week from Quebec party officials who publicly questioned preparation for an election and even called on him to resign.

Quebec wing vice-president Steven Pinkus repeated on Tuesday his wakeup call to Mr. Dion, urging his leader to call a meeting of top Quebec brass when he is in Montreal later this week.

"It's a dysfunctional family," he said. "I am calling on Dion to come here, sit the people down ... get them all at a meeting and read them the riot act."

Those who aren't willing to do what is needed should be replaced, he added.

Insiders complain that the party's organization is in disarray in Quebec, that key governing bodies haven't been meeting, that the party is strapped for cash, and that it is losing out on good candidates because it is leaving them twisting in the wind waiting for answers.

Liberal sources say Mr. Dion is expected to take action as early as today and strike back against critics within the party.

Every MP could have stood to record his or her vote as many as 76 times since the session began in October. But with the Liberals dodging confidence motions, the average Liberal MP cast only 49 votes -- the worst rate of the four major parties.

Across the floor, Conservative MPs exercised their right to vote in the House an average of 73 times. Bloc Québécois ranked second, with each voting an average 71 times, followed by NDP MPs each averaging 68 votes.

Mr. Dion has cast 33 votes since October, using less than half his opportunities. By contrast, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been counted in 49 recorded votes, despite a travel schedule that often takes him out of Ottawa when the House is sitting. Mr. Layton and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe each stood to vote 73 times.

Independent MP Bill Casey was ranked third to last in voting record, appearing in 13 recorded votes, but he had a good excuse: he has been undergoing treatments for prostate cancer.

Ontario Liberal MP Brenda Chamberlain, who retires next month, has made it to only 10 votes since the session began in October. Toronto-area Liberal Joe Volpe voted just 18 times.

Former prime minister Paul Martin, who remains a Liberal MP, has the worst voting record of all. He has not voted once this session. Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, who is leaving politics, cast only four votes, but, like Mr. Casey, has often been away for cancer treatment.

Of those MPs with perfect voting records, all were either Bloc Québécois or Conservative MPs.

The Citizen analysis counted as a vote any time an MP "paired," a process by which two MPs who intend to vote against each other agree to abstain to allow one or both to be absent.

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Ontario Liberal MP Brenda Chamberlain, who retires next month, has made it to only 10 votes since the session began in October.

Yay Guelph!!!!!!!

Let's just say that she was shamed into "retiring". When you are publicly mocked by editorials, opponents and regular voters as the example of a lazy MP for more than 10 years, it eventually wears on ya, I guess.

The saddest thing is that we were stupid enough to keep re-electing her!!

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Sometimes i think people vote liberal not because of policy, but because that's the thing to do. I've had too many conversations with people who asked how they'll vote respond with "I don't know... liberal."

The Liberals are a bloody joke right now. How long does it take to get their shit together? I've said it before, but if i was in the slightest a liberal supporter, I'd be pissed at all this continued 'strategizing'.

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Sometimes i think people vote liberal not because of policy, but because that's the thing to do. I've had too many conversations with people who asked how they'll vote respond with "I don't know... liberal."

totally agree, Birdy. the liberals are the "default" vote for so many people, i think.

nice new avatar, btw :)

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'Natural Governing Party' and all of that.

I'm still hoping that these years in the dog house lead to some genuine renewal. There's a soft spot somewhere here for that party, but it is a spot covered in no shortage of callouses.

Pragmatism so easily turns to soullessness. And power makes children of us all.

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It's just a big staged dog and pony show. The Liberals and Conservatives are identical. The opposing party doesn't show up to vote so that their voting record doesn't look absolutely identical to the party in power. An abstentia on the part of the opposing party is equal to a vote in favour. Period. They are the same party.

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i dont think they are the same party at all. there are clear differences on a number of issues. at the federal level, the conservatives support a parallel finance (two-tier) health care system, the liberals dont. the liberals support a national child-care system, the conservatives dont. the liberals support stewardship of the environment, the conservatives dont. the liberals have women and minority candidates, the conservatives dont. the liberals support same sex marriage, the conservatives dont. the conservative support increased military spending, the liberals dont.

obviously ive painted things quite black and white and numerous counter-examples exist, but the basic, general distinctions between the two parties hold, i think.

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Well the Liberals do support increased Liberal spending. Their voting record makes this abundantly clear. They just occasionally like to pretend to the media they don't. Just like we didn't get involved in Iraq which was a complete lie.

And the Conservatives do have women and minority candidates. I haven't looked at the exact numbers, they may be lower, but it is false to say they have none. But the child care system, (and to a minor extent the environment) are differences for sure. It just seems that in issues that are important to me, such as keeping Canada out of the SPP and further trade agreements that erode national sovereignty, immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, the return of currency creation to the Bank of Canada, the end of the income tax, and many other issues, they are exactly the same.

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