Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Liberals accuse Conservatives of using AI for amendments to jobs bill as votes loom

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OTTAWA –


Members of Parliament are expected to vote for up to 15 hours in a row Thursday and Friday on more than 200 Conservative amendments to the government’s sustainable jobs bill.


The amendments are what’s left of nearly 20,000 changes the Conservatives proposed to Bill C-50 last fall at a House of Commons committee. 


Liberals now contend the Conservatives came up with the myriad amendments using artificial intelligence, in order to gum up the government’s agenda.


The Tories deny that accusation. 


The Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, as it’s known, outlines how the government must help prepare energy workers for new skills and job requirements that are coming with the global economic transition to clean technology. 


Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the bill ensures government accountability and engagement with the people who will be most affected as the world shifts away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources. 


It requires five-year action plans, regular reporting and the inclusion of labour and Indigenous leaders in discussions.


The Liberals contend their bill isn’t meant to kill energy jobs but rather lay out the way to create more of them in the renewable energy sphere.


Conservative critic Shannon Stubbs, however, calls it a blueprint for what she deems the Liberals’ “wide-scale radical economic restructuring.” 


She argues it will put thousands of energy workers out of their jobs by favouring renewable energy at the expense of oil and gas.


The bill passed second reading in October with the Conservatives voting against it. 


When it moved to the natural resources committee in November for study, the debate descended into a chaotic mess and lengthy filibuster that at one point had MPs screaming at each other to shut up.


The noise was so loud during the final meeting in early December that two MPs voted the wrong way on a motion because they couldn’t hear what was being proposed.


During that committee, the Conservatives proposed 19,600 amendments to the 18-page bill. That number decreased to 200 once the bill left committee and headed back to the House of Commons.


Government House leader Steven MacKinnon said Thursday those amendments were “robo-amendments created by AI.” 


The Liberals haven’t moved to debate the bill again since December, when they pulled it off the order paper to prevent another voting marathon just days after the Conservatives had forced 30 hours of straight voting on government spending plans. 


MacKinnon said the Conservatives were getting a “time out,” but the time has come for the bill to move forward.


“Mr. Poilievre now will have to have his members come here and vote for as long as it takes on a couple of hundred amendments that survived that robo-amendment process that they admitted was undertaken by artificial intelligence, by robot caucus members and robot parliamentarians,” he said. 


“This is not the way to make progress for Canadians, it’s not the way to make progress for climate change and it is not the way to offer economic opportunity for Canadian workers.”


MacKinnon said the amendments didn’t make “one single constructive suggestion” for the bill.


In late March at a committee discussion about an unrelated topic, Stubbs denied the Bill C-50 amendments were computer generated.


“Let me just say for the record … that those were not generated by AI,” Stubbs said.


She said Thursday that the Liberals moved to add the bill to the agenda at the last minute to try to ram it through.


“Because the fact is that the ‘just transition’ is a global, top-down, socialist agenda to central plan a forced economic — not only energy — transition away from the sectors and businesses that underpin all of Canada’s economy: energy, agriculture, construction, transportation and manufacturing,” she said.


Wilkinson called Stubbs’s accusations “so ridiculous that it almost belies belief.”


The votes will not take as long as they would have before, after Speaker Greg Fergus moved Thursday to put the amendments into groups that will all be voted on at the same time. 


He cited rulings by predecessors to back his decision, including decisions Conservative MP Andrew Scheer made when he was the Speaker in 2012. Scheer is currently the Conservative House leader.


Instead of 207 individual votes, it’s expected there will be no more than 64. Still, at about 15 minutes each, it could take more than 15 hours to get through them all.


The first of the votes was called just before 6 p.m. on Thursday.


During the 30-hour marathon in December, votes happened continuously, including overnight with no breaks. But a motion the Liberals passed in February means that can’t happen this time. 


At midnight, a minister can seek to suspend the votes until 9 a.m. the following day, to protect the health and safety of not only MPs but Hill and House of Commons staff.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024.

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