Near-miss on Air Canada vote a ‘close call’, says Liberal whip

Liberal government’s proposed Air Canada legislation was nearly scuttled by a snap vote arranged by opposition parties

Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

OTTAWA – The man in charge of organizing Liberal votes in the House of Commons was breathing a sigh of relief Monday after narrowly averting disaster on the government’s proposed Air Canada legislation.

“My blood pressure was a little higher than usual,” said Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, the chief government whip, after the opposition pulled a procedural trick to bring about a snap vote on Bill C-10, which proposes changes to the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

Speaker Geoff Regan ended up having to break a 139-to-139 tie, voting with the government, as Liberal MPs raced back to Parliament Hill from around the city, many of them stuck in traffic.

Several cabinet ministers were attending the inaugural meeting of the government’s economic advisory council north of Ottawa in Chelsea, Que., while others were away for family funerals.

“They all dropped whatever they were doing and scampered here just as fast as they possibly could,” Leslie said.

“But yes, it was a very close call. Too close, actually.”

Both the Conservatives and the New Democrats, who had supported each other in a collective opposition bid to outwit the Liberals, laid the blame for the near miss squarely on the shoulders of the government.

“We’re already seeing debate being shut down and committee time being abbreviated. Now they’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the House, (which) I think is another troubling sign,” said Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair chalked it up to arrogance.

“They just figure that they’re always going to win because they do have a large majority,” Mulcair said as he described watching Liberal MP Judy Foote sprint down the hallway in order to get to the chamber in time for the vote.

“I think she was beating Ben Johnson’s record from the Olympics. They obviously were panicking.”

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc said his political rivals were the ones showing a lack of respect.

“If they want to do that, fine, that’s entirely their privilege, but it shows a level of immaturity and irresponsibility and we’re going to then have to take precautions, including accepting their word as, frankly, not worth very much,” he said.

The Liberals were expecting to hear from NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice on an amendment to the bill, which proposes lifting a long-standing requirement that Air Canada keep its maintenance operations in Winnipeg, Montreal and Mississauga, Ont.

The new legislation would instead allow the airline to locate those operations anywhere in the provinces of Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario.

But when his time came, Boulerice hid out in the lobby, which forced a vote with a 30-minute warning bell.

Even Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson, who had voted against the government at second reading last month, supported the government this time.

“I didn’t want to be part of a procedural stunt that was undertaken by the opposition today,” said Eyolfson, telling reporters he required no convincing from Leslie and that he would likely vote against it the next time.

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