Key bills pass, feds present new policy in final days of House sitting
OTTAWA -- With the House of Commons set to adjourn for the summer on Wednesday, federal ministers are making last-minute legislative moves, including presenting a new disability benefit bill and updating Canada’s firearms policy, prompting the opposition parties to question the government’s priorities.
As MPs continue to work long hours to deal with as much outstanding parliamentary business as they can, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the latest policy initiatives his cabinet has advanced while he remains in quarantine.
On Tuesday morning, Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough tabled a bill that proposes to create a new disability benefit, for working-age Canadians, which would exist alongside existing disability support programs.
“The goal is to lift hundreds of thousands of people living with a disability out of poverty,” Trudeau said. The bill comes alongside a new “disability inclusion action plan,” a summer-long consultation process on future policy changes.
In a later press conference outlining the bill—which sets up a program modelled after the guaranteed income supplement for seniors—Qualtrough said that no one should be left behind in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
“The hope is to trigger a generational change to income support that will become part of our broader social system,” Qualtrough said.
Though Conservative critic Raquel Dancho questioned why the bill was coming “at the last possible minute, just hours before Parliament rises for the summer.”
Similarly, NDP MP Daniel Blaikie called the bill a “a thinly veiled attempt to hide the complete lack of urgency with which Liberals are treating this important issue.”
As well, with an existing legislative proposal to toughen gun laws and implement a prohibited firearm buyback program unlikely to pass before the House rises, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said pre-discussed measures to combat gun violence will soon come into effect.
“As of July 7th, when someone applies for a firearms licence, the background check will cover their whole life instead of just the last five years,” Trudeau said in first announcing the development, noting that additional regulations are rolling out that would make it a legal requirement for gun sellers to verify the buyer’s license and keep records of all firearms.
Blair said Tuesday afternoon that the policy changes will come through changes to regulations stemming from a 2019 update to Canada’s gun laws, with more policy changes expected this fall.
“It was our intention to bring forward these regulations within two years of royal assent of Bill C-71. We said at the time that the remaining elements… required spending authorities. We've, sought and obtained those spending authorities. It also requires regulatory changes and we are implementing those processes,” Blair said.
These two moves come as other ministers have also sought to put mandate-commitment initiatives in the window before the two-month summer hiatus. In addition to the disability and firearm policy updates, last week Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Melanie Joly tabled an overhaul of the Official Languages act aimed at strengthening French protections.
And, Justice Minister David Lametti has given notice that he intends to soon table a new bill that would amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act in regards to hate propaganda, hate crimes, and hate speech. The government has been promising to tackle so-called “online harms” and it’s expected this bill will be one piece of that plan.
While the government has presented these proposals, none are expected to actually advance before the end of the sitting on Wednesday, meaning the earliest they could become law would be in the fall when Parliament is scheduled to resume, barring an election call.
BROADCAST, LGBTQ2S+ BILLS PASS
Meanwhile, MPs have been burning the midnight oil in the House of Commons, with all sides expecting that despite how they’ve all recently voted, a pandemic election is on the horizon. Should a summer or fall campaign kick off, the 43rd Parliament would end, wiping clean from the slate any unpassed legislation.
In the early morning hours on Tuesday, the controversial Broadcasting Act update Bill C-10 from Heritage Minister Stephen Guilbeault passed the House and is now before the Senate for a fresh look that may not conclude before the upper chamber also adjourns for the summer.
After a tumultuous journey through the House, the legislation passed despite ardent opposition from the Conservatives who pushed without avail to reinstate a specific exemption for user-generated content that was the source of much of the concern around the bill.
“Shutting down debate on a bill widely condemned for its attacks on freedom of speech sets a very dangerous precedent. If this controversial bill is adopted, a Conservative government will stand up for Canadians and repeal this deeply flawed legislation,” said Conservative MP Alain Rayes in a statement.
And Tuesday afternoon—after the Liberals first attempt to advance the policy died when Trudeau prorogued last August—the government’s bill to stamp out conversion therapy passed with a vote of 263 to 63.
Bill C-6 as it’s called, proposes to prohibit unwanted religious counselling seeking to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender. While the majority of Conservative MPs voted against the bill after many of them tried to talk out the clock on the proposal, their leader Erin O’Toole joined the other party leaders and caucuses in voting to send the legislation to the Senate.
That leaves two outstanding “progressive” bills the Liberals have said are key priorities that they want to see passed before MPs rise or log off from the hybrid proceedings: Bill C-12, putting into law Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, and Bill C-30, the budget implementation bill, which contains extensions of core pandemic subsidy supports. Both bills are set to come to a final vote before Wednesday's adjournment.
Tensions have been strained across the aisle in the last few weeks, with the Liberals accusing the Conservatives of habitual “purely partisan” obstruction and the opposition parties responding with criticism the government mismanaged its legislative agenda, seeing just eight government-sponsored non-COVID-19 aid or fiscal-focused bills pass through both the House and Senate since Trudeau was reduced to a minority government in the 2019 election.
During his COVID-19 address, the prime minister called on the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats to work with the Liberals to pass as much as possible in the final hours of this session.
“I don’t know where he [Trudeau] was months ago, we could have gotten these things done,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Tuesday.
“There's always a back and forth in Parliament, there's always got to be debate and holding people to account and we welcome that and continue to, there's also a time to work together,” Trudeau said, dodging a question about whether the Liberals are setting the groundwork for calling an election on the basis of the legislative logjam.