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Government and opposition both look forward as marathon budget votes wrap up

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is applauded as he is recognized at the end of voting for Bill C38 in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,Thursday June 14, 2012. Members of Parliament completed a marathon voting session Thursday night on the Conservative government's budget bill, voting on hundreds of amendments in an exercise that lasted nearly 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - "Deux mille quinze! Deux mille quinze!"

The French chant "2015" started in the upper reaches of the NDP backbench and soon cascaded into a common, desk-thumping chorus just before midnight Thursday in the House of Commons.

The tone from the official Opposition was oddly celebratory, given that they'd just faced 22-plus hours of consecutive spankings by a Conservative majority government voting to protect its omnibus budget bill from hundreds of amendments.

Bill C-38, the sprawling Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, survived the ordeal untouched and now goes to third and final reading in the Commons on Monday.

The bill — and the literally dozens of significant statutes it comprises on everything from environmental assessments to old age security, employment insurance rules, government contracting and cross-border policing — should clear the Conservative-dominated Senate by the end of next week.

The government was clearly unamused by the proceedings.

"The New Democratic Party is quite radical and has a very different view of the economic future of our country," a haggard-looking Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said as he emerged from the chamber with his budget bill intact.

"We have our view and our view is supported by the mandate we got from the people of Canada last year, so we're carrying out the mandate that we have — which is about jobs and growth and economic prosperity."

But NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said his party is looking to the next mandate, the one Canadian voters will be awarding in 2015.

Cullen called his party's vote-ending chant "a confirmation of purpose." He insisted it was spontaneous.

"While we fight these guys day by day, we are also looking to the future. Canadians will have a say in this and that say will come at the ballot box in a few years. That's 2015."

The opposition believes the marathon voting session and procedural battle, the first of its kind in the Commons in at least a decade, will prove a watershed moment in the life of the Harper government.

The budget implementation bill contains measures not even hinted at in the Conservatives' 2011 election platform, such as gradually raising the age of eligibility for OAS to 67 from 65, remodelling EI, and reducing oversight at the domestic spy agency.

Liberal interim Leader Bob Rae groused that the legislation "had everything in it but the kitchen sink."

The 425-page bill is an extended version of the kinds of Liberal omnibus bills Stephen Harper once railed against as a young Reform party MP, but his government now says the shotgun approach is needed to recalibrate the Canadian economy.

Harper was front and centre through the home stretch Thursday evening as the last of 157 votes were recorded. His caucus gave him a roaring cheer each time he stood, and the prime minister repeatedly turned to acknowledge the salute.

"We have potential and strengths in resources, in human capital, in research and development, we have a very strong fiscal position," Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, told reporters very early Friday morning.

"How do we ensure that those things remain strong for both the near term and in the long term? That was the focus of this bill and this budget."

As for legitimacy, Van Loan observed that the elected House of Commons "quite resoundingly, about 157 times" had just endorsed the Conservative blueprint.

The exercise, like so many in the last few parliaments, will leave lasting partisan scars.

But there were moments of humanity during the marathon.

Government cabinet ministers fought without success to remain awake in their seats, their struggles left unheckled by MPs across the floor who were equally sleep deprived.

Some MPs left stuffed animal placeholders in their seats when they took a short break.

At one point Dr. Kellie Leitch, an orthopedic surgeon, had to re-locate and splint the dislocated finger of fellow Conservative MP Patricia Davidson.

Conservative Darryl Kramp and New Democrat Hong Mai both celebrated birthdays Thursday, even though by a quirk of parliamentary procedure the House calendar continued to show Wednesday June 13 until the last vote was recorded just 35 minutes before Friday June 15 began.

Bleary-eyed Hill security joked with MPs and looked the other way when male reporters in press row breached parliamentary protocol by appearing without neck ties.

Green party leader Elizabeth May was the author of hundreds of the substantive amendments shot down Thursday and one of about a half dozen MPs who didn't miss a single vote. She said it was far more than "theatrics or ... a waste of time."

"This was democracy," said May, still feisty and coherent after 22 hours of voting.

"This was parliamentarians stepping up to our obligation and our duty to Canada, to parliament, to the people who sent us here from our constituencies, to behave like parliamentarians."

"It was a sign that democracy in Canada has a spark of life," said May. "We found the pulse."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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