New stat holiday, whales in captivity: private members' bills to watch
Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 29, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA – With just 35 sitting days left in the House of Commons, and a maximum of 40 in the Senate, the legislative crunch-time will be in full swing when parliamentarians return to the Hill later this month. Government bills will take precedence, and with dozens of those still to pass, the probability of many more private members’ bills or public bills—the Senate equivalent—passing is diminishing.
This is a perennial problem in each Parliament, where only a small portion of these bills—which are pushed forward by individual senators or MPs—make it all the way through both the House and Senate and receive royal assent.
This time around is shaping up to be no different, so with the countdown on here are some of the bills to watch, either because they are near-passage, or have been met with cross-party support and could still make the cut.
To date, 10 MP-sponsored private members’ bills have passed, and 12 senator-sponsored Senate public bills have passed. Another 46 MP-sponsored private members’ bills have been defeated and nine have not been proceeded with, while four senator-sponsored Senate public bills have been defeated, and another 11 are not being proceeded with.
Bills closest to passing: These are the bills that are the closest to reaching the finish line. MP-sponsored bills begin in the House and finish in the Senate, while the reverse is true for senators’ bills.
- Bill C-243: The National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act. This bill is sponsored by Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen, and is currently at third reading in the Senate, after it passed the Senate Social Affairs Committee without changes. It passed the House back in the spring of 2017. If passed, this bill would call on the Minister of Employment and Social Development to consult and work with colleagues and stakeholders to, within a year, create a national maternity assistance program for women who cannot work during their pregnancy and whose employers can’t find them alternate work during these months before taking maternity leave.
- Bill C-337: The Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training Act. This proposal is sponsored by former Conservative MP Rona Ambrose. If passed it would require comprehensive training on sexual assault, including rape myths and stereotypes associated with sexual assault complaints, and how trauma can affect memory, for anyone seeking a judicial appointment by the federal government. The bill has been in the Senate for two years, despite all-party support from the Commons, where MPs recently sent a message imploring their colleagues in the upper chamber to get on with studying and passing it. It’s currently awaiting consideration at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which has three government bills to get through first.
- Bill C-377: An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Châteauguay-Lacolle. This bill is sponsored by Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan, who currently represents the Quebec riding. Her proposal is brief: changing the name of the electoral district to “Châteauguay-Les Jardins-de-Napierville.” It seems a relatively uncontroversial proposal, and passed the House in May 2018. The only snag is that this brief bill is also awaiting scrutiny by the same committee as Ambrose’s bill.
- Bill S-203: The Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act. Sponsored by now-retired Sen. Wilfred Moore, this bill has had a tough fight through Parliament. It passed the Senate in October 2018 after spending nearly three years in the upper chamber, as it was strongly opposed by Conservative senators. Though in the House it has seen the support of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, the NDP, and the Liberals after considerable lobbying from animal rights groups. If passed, the legislation would amend the Criminal Code and create a new fine up to $200,000 with the aim of phasing out the keeping of these marine creatures in captivity, unless for rehabilitation. It is currently at report stage and is awaiting the final pre-passage step: third reading.
- Bill S-228: The Child Health Protection Act. Sponsored by now-retired Sen. Nancy Greene Raine, the legislation would amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit food and beverage marketing to people 17 years of age or younger. This bill has already made it through both the House and the Senate, but is not quite passable yet. The Senate needs to deal with amendments made by the House. The Senate has been discussing these amendments periodically over the last few months and there appears to be some concern among members in the upper chamber about the changes MPs made to the bill, referencing concerns from some Canadian agriculture stakeholders, while others say now’s the time to act.
Bills on the bubble:
Meanwhile, there are dozens of other proposals that still have multiple stages to make it through before they’re in a position to be passed, and these include some bills that have so far been well-received or broadly supported.
These pieces of legislation are likely the next in line when it comes to likelihood of passing, because in the dying days of any Parliament it’s not uncommon for negotiations to occur to have the government get its way on certain bills, in exchange for agreeing to move ahead with opposition-backed, or uncontroversial ideas. Some that fit this bill that are worth keeping an eye on are:
- Bill C-369: The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Act. This bill proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to set up an additional statutory holiday, focused on reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians. The government is backing this bill, and as such took it upon itself to amend sponsor NDP MP Georgina Jolibois' initial proposed date of June 21, to Sept. 30. Given it’s a piece of legislation the Liberals have stake in seeing passed, its odds are likely the best among bills that aren’t as far along. After passing the House in March, it’s now at second reading in the Senate.
- Bill C-417: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors) is sponsored by Conservative MP Michael Cooper. If passed, it would allow past jurors who are experiencing mental health issues as a result of their experience participating on a jury to be able to speak about their jury service to a mental health professional. It is currently a criminal offence for past jurors to speak to anyone about the deliberation process. The bill is currently before the Senate awaiting first reading after passing the House of Commons with cross-party support earlier this month.
- Bill C-262: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is sponsored by NDP MP Romeo Saganash. If passed, the bill would require the government to make sure that Canadian laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is currently at second reading in the Senate. It has been stalled there since it passed the House in May 2018. Last week the House of Commons sent a message to the Senate urging them to pass this bill, alongside Ambrose’s.
- Bill S-214: The Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act . This bill is from Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, is newly at second reading in the House of Commons, after passing the Senate in June 2018. If passed, the bill would amend the Food and Drugs Act to ban cosmetic animal testing, the use of animal testing to establish the safety of a cosmetic, and the sale of cosmetics manufactured using cosmetic animal testing. In a statement last week, Humane Society International stated that 81 per cent of Canadians they surveyed said they support a national ban on animal testing of cosmetics.