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Opposition says government agenda ‘light’ this fall, considering ambitious campaign promises

By Rachel Aiello      

The government, however, says more bills are coming before the end of the month, and points to no shortage of issues to debate in the House

Opposition House leaders Murray Rankin, left, and Candice Bergen say they're still waiting for the government to table legislation implementing big policy promises, and the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader Kevin Lamouruex says it's coming. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Opposition House leaders say they’re still waiting, one month into the fall session of Parliament, for the Liberals to bring forward substantive policy proposals, with the incoming NDP House Leader Murray Rankin classifying the House legislative agenda as “light and not addressing the priorities that one would have thought based on their election campaign.”

“So far, we’ve had some legislation that one wants to support; the gender-identity bill [Bill C-16] comes to mind. There are others. But there are a lot of things they promised on the campaign that have not come forward at all,” Mr. Rankin (Victoria, B.C.) said in an interview shortly after being named the New Democrats’ new House leader.

He is also the NDP justice critic, a role he anticipates having to relinquish shortly to focus on House duties full-time.

However, the government disagrees with that classification, saying more bills will be brought forward this week, and also pointing to bills it has introduced and moved this session—like Bill C-16, the trans bill of rights that moved quickly last week from second reading debate to study at the House Justice and Human Rights Committee; and Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians that is also set to begin study shortly at the House Public Safety and National Security Committee.

Last week, NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) announced he was stepping down from his role as NDP House Leader, a position he’d held since 2014, to explore a party leadership bid.

Mr. Rankin described himself as conciliatory and flexible, adding that he hopes to work constructively with other House leaders.

“The legislation is where those promises tend to be delivered or not delivered … so I’ll be watching to see just in the next while, now that a year has come and gone, some of the more difficult decisions are soon going to have to be made and they’ll be translated into legislation, and I’ll be watching to see if we can be constructive but be firm in making sure that they don’t shilly-shally on the things that they committed to do,” Mr. Rankin said.

This is his first time in a House leadership role, but he has sat on a number of committees since first being elected in a 2012 byelection. In announcing his new position, Mr. Rankin told reporters he’ll be brushing up on his “Bosc and O’Brien”—a reference to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice publication, edited by Marc Bosc and Audrey O’Brien—and is dedicating his time to learning the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure. He said he will not be pursuing his own leadership bid.

During Question Period on Oct. 20, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) welcomed her new counterpart and thanked Mr. Julian for his work, saying: “He had a reputation of being tough and a little difficult to work with … but I felt he was fairly good to work with.”

In an interview that afternoon, Ms. Bergen agreed with Mr. Rankin that the roster of bills before the House as of last week were lacking any big moves, which she said is indicative of the Liberals prioritizing work outside of Parliament.

I think the Liberals have shown that they are much more talk and not a lot of substance. They don’t give a lot of regard to Parliament,” Ms. Bergen said.

Legislation passed and time management

Responding to this criticism, Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.), the parliamentary secretary to Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), told The Hill Times that among the legislation on its way will be a supplementary budget-implementation bill to push forward measures that will accompany the finance minister’s Nov. 1 fiscal update.

In an email, Ms. Chagger said her priorities for the next few weeks will be moving ahead Bill C-26 and Bill C-27, both from Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.), that make changes to the Canada Pension Plan.

So far this Parliament, the government has passed 10 bills, nine from the House and one from the Senate, and all were before the House rose in the summer.

The only policy-based bill that MPs were around to see reach royal assent was Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying). The Senate then passed three other government bills after MPs went home for the summer.

Mr. Rankin criticized this, saying that even Bill C-14 wasn’t a decision the government wanted to make but was forced to by the impending Supreme Court deadline.

“Some of the really hard decisions that I care deeply about like C-51 (the previous Conservative government’s anti-terrorism law), or environmental assessment reform, are examples of things that we haven’t really seen anything on, nothing. So where the agenda is imposed on them, for example C-14, they rise to the occasion. Stuff that they talked about doing that Canadians care deeply about … radio silence… not a single word on any of those issues, nothing,” he said.

No new bills have passed since MPs returned just more than a month ago. Last week, two more government bills moved from the House of Commons to the Senate, but that’s the most progress that has been made. A number of committees have been busy travelling and conducting studies, but no new committee study of government bills has happened yet.

Since returning, the government has tabled five new pieces of legislation: Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Salaries Act; Bill C-25, An Act to amend Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act and the Competition Act; Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and the Income Tax Act;  Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985; and Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge).

Ms. Bergen criticized the types of bills introduced so far, classifying them as taxes or bills that are “centralizing power,” giving the example of Bill C-24, which puts the government’s cabinet structure into law, provides for the addition of three new ministers, and changes pay for what were ministers of state to be equal to full ministers, something the government said it has been practicing since cabinet was sworn in.

She said the previous Conservative government had been more productive with their legislative agenda, passing more bills in similar time periods.

Mr. Lamoureux countered: “It would be problematic, from my point of view, if we didn’t have anything to put in when government business comes up. What’s important is there’s actual legislation that’s being debated, and to the very best of my knowledge, we have no shortage of legislation that needs to be debated. So it’s hard to say you have a light agenda if in fact there isn’t enough time to get everything that we want, even with what we currently have.”

Promised parliamentary reforms

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) back and forth in public remarks last week on his commitment to electoral reform concerned the opposition because of the number of parliamentary reforms promised that have yet to be put on the table.

“Are they still committed to those things or was that what they said in the first year and we’re going to watch that promise or that suggestion disappear as well? … I don’t mean to be partisan, but why talk about it if we don’t really know if that’s something that they continue to be interested in,” said Mr. Rankin.

Of the parliamentary reform promises put into action, so far parliamentary secretaries have been removed as sitting and voting members of committees, but are still attending regularly—interfering in some cases, opposition MPs have alleged. Also, cabinet ministers have begun going over to the Senate for a special Question Period. But other promises that remain are for the installation of a Prime Minister’s Question Period, and for legislation to end the use of omnibus bills or prorogation, as promised during the campaign.

“I don’t believe that the prime minister is walking away from either one of them. He genuinely wants to see them happen. In my discussions with the government House leader, it’s just as important today as it has been in the past and we are pursuing it,” Mr. Lamoureux said.

Mr. Lamoureux has said the government will also push for Standing Order changes that are currently being left up to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to recommend.

Ms. Bergen said the government has not given any indication for when they’ll be bring such parliamentary reforms forward.


The Hill Times

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