Legislative lowdown, 2015

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Leadership Monday, January 26, 2015 View Count = 2443

Legislative lowdown, 2015

Parliament Hill

In today's post, Samara communications coordinator Mark Dance gives a lowdown on what this legislative year bring.

As Parliament boots back up and the election clock ticks down, it’s a good time to take a look at the House of Commons as a legislative assembly, as a place where bills and motions are passed and laws are made. What will Parliament be considering—and not considering—in the coming months?

Anti-terror legislation promised by the Harper government is certainly expected early in the session. Although the exact contents remain unknown, the bill will likely include new powers for security agencies to find and stop potential terrorists. Preventive detention and arrest, powers to which civil liberties activists will likely object, could be a part of the picture as well. “We want to make sure that we get a balance – that we protect the rights of Canadians and also the security of Canadians. We must protect both,” Stephen Harper said earlier this month.

Then there’s S-225, introduced before the holidays by Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth, that would decriminalize physician-assisted death for competent adults. Because the bill was introduced in the Senate, it has to make it through the entire legislative process on that side of Parliament and then head over to the House of Commons for the other half of the process. "This bill is fundamentally about choice," said Senator Ruth.

With the frantic election speculation of a few weeks past, it’s also worth looking at important legislation that might not be a priority as much as it could be. When dissolution of Parliament occurs, “all items on the Order Paper including government and private Members’ bills die,” meaning that many measures could be nipped in the bud by a spring election. (From the last federal election in 2011, you can see the massive amounts of legislation that was forever halted at dissolution in a document called Status of House Business at Dissolution—although many of the government bills were picked back up or rolled into larger pieces of legislation in the next Parliament.)

On the democratic reform side of things, there are at least two outstanding measures that could have an impact on our Parliament and which still sit on the order paper and risk being shredded if they are not considered in coming months. Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Reform Act was amended by committee before the holidays and now needs to be debated and voted on again in the House of Commons. It stands to change the way that MPs relate to their party leaders and to Parliament, loosening the reins of party control over individual members. Meanwhile, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s motion on electronic petitions, M-428, is still on the agenda for the House of Commons committee on Procedure and House affairs and could open up Parliament to citizens in a new way if it were made a priority.

More than just the pieces of the government agenda or private member’s legislation that we mention above, it’s striking to see just how diverse the laws are that Parliament makes. A bill to reinstate the long-form census, an Act concerning the mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods, an Act to amend the Criminal Code by expanding the scope of animal cruelty offences, an Act to protect the environment and human health by ensuring the safe and effective use of biotechnology and nanotechnology, an Act to establish a framework to enable First Nations control of elementary and secondary education,  a government initiative to require balanced budgets of itself and federal governments to come, an Act to compel the government of Canada to develop a national strategy for suicide prevention,  an Act to establish and maintain a national Breast Implant Registry. Wading into the stream of bills that may or may not make it through the legislative process, it becomes clear just how expansive Parliament’s mandate is and how much business the House of Commons can do.

This is the institution that, year after year and session after session, makes our country what it is more than any other. It’s probably worth paying attention.

Also worth a read: Ottawa Citizen had a couple articles late last week about what’s worth watching as the House resumes its business, including a piece about the legislative and political priorities of the different parties and a piece by Scott Reid about why Parliament matters in the run-up to this election. The Hill Times has this useful piece about Parliament resuming, which includes a nice paragraph about the government's legislative blitz which began before the holidays.

(Image credit: parl.gc.ca)

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