Parliament is back in session soon: a legislative primer
Staff and pages prepare the House of Commons in advance of Thursday's vote for the new Speaker on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, September 6, 2017 5:53PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Parliament resumes in less than two weeks. MPs are filing back in to the House of Commons on Sept. 18, and senators are taking their seats in the upper chamber the following day.
The return to the Hill means parliamentarians will be back to daily debates on legislation, committee meetings, and question period. It also marks the return of weekly cabinet and caucus meetings, and MPs and senators trying to pass private members’ bills.
Nearing the two-year mark of its mandate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has introduced a total of 62 pieces of legislation. It has passed 29 of those bills, leaving 33 others for parliamentarians to turn their attention to, plus any new legislative initiatives the government has coming down the pike this fall.
Before getting back to business in the nation’s capital, the Liberal, Conservative, and New Democrat caucuses are holding retreats to map out their political game plans. Among what the governing Liberals are discussing, is their legislative agenda and priorities, while the opposition parties will spend time mapping out the positions they’ll take on top bills, and deciding what issues they’ll push when they get the chance to debate an opposition day motion.
These are the bills expected to top the agenda and spur debate as they make their way through Parliament.
In the House of Commons:
The Cannabis Act, Bill C-45: This bill will be back on political radars next week as the House Health Committee is reconvening in Ottawa early to get a head start on hearing from witnesses on the proposed changes that once passed, would allow adults in Canada to possess and use small amounts of recreational marijuana legally. It sets out the parameters around the production, possession, safety standards, distribution, and sale of marijuana. It also creates new Criminal Code offences for selling marijuana to minors.
Changes to impaired driving laws, Bill C-46: This bill is the second piece of the government’s marijuana legalization package. It proposes changes to the Criminal Code to give law enforcement new powers to conduct roadside intoxication tests, and would make it illegal to drive within two hours of being over the legal limit. The federal government has been anxious to advance both C-45 and C-46, considering the July 2018 deadline it has set to have the major platform promise implemented. The House Justice and Human Rights Committee is expected to hold concentrated meetings on the bill this fall.
The Transportation Modernization Act, Bill C-49: This bill is also going to be back on the agenda early. Next week the House Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities Committee is meeting on the Hill to study the bill. A long list of witnesses are set to be heard from next week during the advanced hearings. Bill C-49 is an omnibus piece of legislation, in that it makes changes to a number of laws. Among the changes it proposes is to allow the Canada Transportation Agency to create a passenger bill of rights.
Reforms to political financing, Bill C-50: This legislation amends the Canada Elections Act to create new rules around political parties’ fundraising. It builds in a requirement for fundraisers to be advertised publicly in advance if they cost $200 or more per ticket and feature the prime minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, or party leadership candidates. It also requires these events be reported on in some detail to Elections Canada.
Some other bills to keep an eye on are:
• Bill C-24, which amends the Salaries Act to create the space for eight ministerial positions with full minister salaries. Five of those were filled when Trudeau appointed his first cabinet and transferred five portfolios that used to be minister of state roles to full ministers. The House Government Operations and Estimates Committee is studying it;
• Bill C-51, which cleans up the Criminal Code and makes changes to sexual assault laws. The House Justice and Human Rights Committee is studying it;
• Bill C-58, the government’s tweaks to the access to information system, including new powers for the Information Commissioner, which is at second reading in the House; and
• Bill C-59, the National Security Act, 2017, the Liberal’s sweeping national security and oversight reforms, also currently at second reading in the Commons.
In the Senate:
Senators were able to clean their slate of a number of government bills before rising for the summer, despite a legislative showdown in the final days over changes the Senate wanted to make to the government’s budget implementation bill. Though it was unsuccessful in the end, the Senate has put the government on notice that it intends to flex its constitutional right to amend legislation as it sees fit. Amending government bills is something the increasingly independent Senate has begun to do more often.
One of the bills caught up in the end-of-sitting showdown between the chambers was Bill S-3, aimed at eliminating sex-based inequality in the Indian Act. The bill, which stems from a Quebec court ruling, didn’t pass the Senate in June because senators didn’t agree with the House’s decision to remove an amendment the Senate proposed. This will likely top the Senate's agenda when it reconvenes.