House of Commons rises but MPs could still face summer NAFTA ratification recall
OTTAWA – The House of Commons adjourned on Thursday, wrapping potentially the last sitting day for MPs before the fall federal election is called, and the end of the Liberal majority government’s legislative program.
MPs unanimously agreed late Wednesday night to adjourn the House the following day, one day ahead of schedule, but with the NAFTA ratification bill still in limbo, there is still a chance for a rare summer recall of Parliament, and it’s something Government House Leader Bardish Chagger says all sides have been told to anticipate.
In an interview with CTVNews.ca Chagger said that she was satisfied with the amount of legislation the Liberals were able to pass since this Parliament began in December 2015.
“There’s basically nothing left on the order paper,” she said.
After back and forth closed door negotiations with her opposition counterparts, Chagger put forward the motion on Wednesday that saw MPs agree to adjourn and advance a handful of key government bills in the House. Part of the motion allows the formal adjournment to be recognized as Friday, June 21 to allow any final reports or other housekeeping items to be tabled.
Then, in a sudden and sad turn of events, Conservative MP Mark Warawa died on Thursday after a spring cancer diagnosis, casting a somber tone over the Commons. This prompted all sides to agree to, instead of working through the remaining agenda items and having one last question period, to adjourn just after noon on Thursday.
“When there’s flowers on a desk it’s just a heavy place to be in,” said Chagger, referencing the white flowers set upon Warawa’s desk. “I wish all members a safe and enjoyable and healthy summer, I want to see everyone back here, I want you to be successful in all your endeavors.”
Once House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan announced that the House was now adjourned, MPs rose from their seats and moved onto the floor, shaking hands, hugging, and saying their farewells and wishing each other good luck as they may not be back for some time.
The House is technically scheduled to resume on Sept. 16, but given that the minimum campaign period for a federal election is 36 days, the Liberals will have had to have dropped the writ by then for the Oct. 21 vote.
Senate amended 30 bills
The Senate is scheduled to sit next Tuesday through Friday and then adjourn. Though, on Thursday the Upper Chamber made rapid progress on almost all of the outstanding pieces of government legislation by sitting late into the night, making the likelihood of an early Senate adjournment quite likely, potentially as early as Friday.
The only government bill left before the Senate is Bill C-98, which would set up a new oversight body for the two agencies. It was tabled by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in May, and moved quickly through the House without amendment.
The Senate’s increasing Independence has provided a new dynamic rarely seen in past Parliaments: amendments to government bills. What was once seen as a rare and dramatic occurrence happened 30 times this Parliament. There were 30 pieces of government legislation that the Senate sent back to the House with changes, and on 25 of those the government accepted some of the suggested alterations.
Chagger referenced this as a further boost to the Liberals’ legislative record.
“Not only did we get all legislation done, we got legislation done that's been amended both in committees as well as in the Senate. The Conservatives can't say that,” she said.
NAFTA recall anticipated
In its final act of this sitting, the Liberals passed the bill to ratify the new trade deal into committee stage, meaning it’ll now be up to the House International Trade Committee to decide if it’ll hold meetings over the summer to examine the agreement.
Should Parliament be recalled to ratify the new NAFTA this summer, then the session doesn’t necessarily have to be completely wrapped up by the end of this month. If parliamentarians are recalled to vote on Bill C-100, the bill to implement the renegotiated trilateral deal, MPs could address other outstanding bills that aren’t dealt with before this session wraps. Just because the House and Senate adjourn by months’ end, it doesn’t mean this Parliament has ended, so if a special summer session is in the cards, there will still be time to officially tie a bow on things.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to discuss ratification with U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Canada has vowed to keep pace with the Americans when it comes to ratification, a process the Democrats largely seem reluctant to advance, with Congress set to break for the summer at the end of July. Mexico ratified NAFTA domestically on Wednesday. Ratification has to happen in all three countries before the new deal can come into effect.
Chagger says that she has told her opposition colleagues to “not be surprised” if the government “had to or chose to” recall Parliament, “if there is progress in the United States.”
‘We got it all done’
The spring sitting came to an end with less procedural wrangling than usual, though the final prime minister’s question period — an informal Wednesday routine where Trudeau took all the questions — was highly-charged with partisan attacks between Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The attacks will not end with the adjournment of Parliament, rather it’s being taken to new venues: doorsteps and rallies across Canada as the three main party leaders ramp up their campaigns in advance of the vote.
In the final stretch leading up to the summer break the government routinely limited the amount of debate time on the remaining government bills, especially those with Senate amendments.
This, coupled with House sitting later most nights for the last few weeks, resulted in bills moving through quicker than has been the case for most of this Parliament. The Liberals have been criticized for the slow pace of moving legislation, something Chagger has attributed to an effort to allow more debate time on bills, which happened in some cases.
Should the Senate pass all bills remaining before them, the government will have passed 89 pieces of legislation over the last four years. In comparison, the previous Conservative majority government passed 122 government bills in four years, over two sessions, and left 19 unpassed.
Chagger defended her use of omnibus bills and time allocation as tools she used “limited” times, and said that many of their bills included measures repealing Harper-era policies.
“So we've used time allocation 65 times on 40 bills, and Conservatives used time allocation 91 times on 56 bills,” she said.
Though, Conservative MP John Brassard said that it felt like MPs were dealing with more bills in the final few weeks of this session than they had over the majority of this Parliament. “It was all coming at us at once, and this is a government that’s had four years… It just seemed like everything was being rammed and the hammer dropped many, many times from a government who said they weren’t going to use those type of tools,” he said on CTV's Power Play.
NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she was disappointed to see several private members’ bills left unpassed because the government “mismanaged” the agenda. Among the bills left in limbo are former interim leader of the federal Conservative Party Rona Ambrose’s Bill C-337 requiring sexual assault education for would-be judges and Bill C-262, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, sponsored by NDP MP Romeo Saganash.
The House left 16 government bills that are destined to be killed, including Bill C-99, which amends the Citizenship Act to include, in the citizenship oath, that new Canadians have to promise to respect Indigenous treaty rights. Other bills that won’t make the cut include several that were wrapped into omnibus justice and electoral reform bills and passed.
That is not counting Bill C-100, the "Canada United States Mexico Agreement Implementation Act" that was tabled on May 29 and very likely could still advance before the election.
Government bills awaiting Royal Assent by end of Thursday:
These are all bills that have passed in the final days of this session, but are awaiting the final step—Royal Assent—where the Governor General precedes over a ceremony in the Senate to essentially sign off on the passage of the Parliament-approved legislation. Royal Assent for these bills is happening Friday afternoon.
- Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act would introduce a federal ban on tanker traffic off of the B.C. north coast.
- Bill C-58, the legislation that changes Canada's Access to Information Law in several ways, including giving the new information commissioner new authorities.
- Bill C-59, the National Security Act, which is a wide-spanning piece of legislation that proposes national security and oversight reforms.
- Bill C-68, the legislation that makes changes to the Fisheries Act related to make clear the minister’s authority and strengthen the powers for enforcement of the law.
- Bill C-69, which makes a number of considerable changes to environmental assessments and regulations.
- Bill C-71, the gun control bill that includes various measures that tightens the rules around gun ownership.
- Bill C-75, an omnibus piece of legislation that aims to reform a number of areas of Canada's criminal justice system and address court backlogs.
- Bill C-77, which introduces a victims' bill of rights for the military justice system.
- Bill C-78, which updates family and divorce laws, in an attempt to have more disputes settled out of court, and amends the language related to custody.
- Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, which makes sweeping accessibility law changes.
- Bill C-82, this bill enacts a mechanism aimed at avoiding double taxation related to an OECD tax convention.
- Bill C-83, which proposes to eliminate solitary confinement as it is known.
- Bill C-84, which mends the Criminal Code to crack down on bestiality and animal fighting offences.
- Bill C-88, which makes changes related to regional resource protections in the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories.
- Bill C-91, which is aimed at reviving Indigenous languages and would create a new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.
- Bill C-92, which seeks to assert that Indigenous people have jurisdiction over child and family services in their communities.
- Bill C-93, the pot pardons legislation that will provide no-cost record suspensions for people who have past simple possession convictions.
- Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act, 2019.
- Bill C-101, which seeks to prevent a flooding of cheap steel being dumped into the Canadian market.
- Bill C-102, the Appropriation Act No. 2, 2019-20. This is a routine spending bill.