Seconds delayed is no reason to complain

Columnist Claudette Sandecki wags her finger at Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen for wasting parliamentary time

Flipping across news channels April 30 I heard fleeting mention of a little green bus on Parliament Hill. May 4, as I ate lunch watching the parliamentary channel, there stood Peter Van Loan, government house leader, speed reading a sheaf of papers about a little green bus that had been delayed 74 seconds April 30 forenoon.

Skeena’s MP Nathan Cullen, who had been a passenger on that bus, was seeking a ruling to declare the 74 second delay had kept him from his work as an MP. As VanLoan droned on (for almost a half hour, according to Hansard) Cullen’s complaint seemed a feeble attempt to delay the workings of parliament. VanLoan’s use of the word filibuster convinced me this was much ado about nothing. (Review of Hansard proved my hunch correct.)

Parliament Hill RCMP had reviewed the surveillance footage of the trip and agreed the little green bus in question had indeed been delayed 74 seconds by traffic Thursday morning as it waited in the left lane. VanLoan noted the bus had to allow pedestrian tourists and other traffic to vacate its path before it could complete its turn.

Cullen and other MPs had been summoned to the house for a vote by ringing bells at 11:17 a.m.; half an hour before the vote, Cullen had been chairing a finance committee meeting. But  with unanimous consent of the committee members in attendance,  the meeting proceeded until 11:34 a.m. before adjourning. That left only 13 minutes for Cullen and three other MPs to skedaddle from the Valour Building to the Centre Block, which they did by bus.

Reading at top speed VanLoan’s monologue lasted well past my lunch. He argued that 74 seconds was too small a time to amount to anything, did not rate a ruling, and bolstered his position quoting decisions on this topic by parliaments in  Australia as well as the United Kingdom, and reminded everyone (though all the seats behind him were empty) of many occasions in Ottawa’s Parliament when MPs had been delayed by visiting dignitaries.

Googling “green buses on Parliament Hill” I learned  11 little green 16-seater buses travel four routes around Parliament Hill transporting free of charge not only all MPs but Hill staffers who need only show their government-issued passes. The buses make a total of 17 stops between them. They don’t pick up or drop off between stops even if that might be more convenient for some passengers. Using a series of security card swipes the little green buses navigate through retractable security barricades called bollards that have been operating since 2013.

How many drivers are employed and what the bus service costs taxpayers is not known; the drivers work on both buses and delivery vehicles on the Hill, under orders from House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.

Hansard makes it clear despite the 74 second bus delay, Cullen did not miss the vote, which took place shortly after 11:45. VanLoan suggests the NDP were mainly looking to obstruct the working of the House.

In turn, NDP MP Peter Julian (in attendance out of camera range) accused VanLoan of deliberate longwindedness to reduce time available for debating Bill C-51, a bill that has proved unpopular among Canadians.

While MPs fritter away parliamentary time debating the merits of Cullen’s 74-second complaint, members of the Shoal Lake Reserve have been without an all-weather road for a century since they were cut off from the mainland to build an aqueduct which supplies the city of Winnipeg with fresh water. The reserve has been under a boil water advisory for 17 years. Seventeen years! Puts a 74-second delay in perspective, doesn’t it?

Last week the reserve’s ferry broke down stranding them from health services and bottled water.