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Meet NDP MP Don Davies, the MP with the most private members’ bills introduced in the House and zero chance of passing one

By Rachel Aiello      

He's No. 221 on the priority list to advance any of his 16 private members' bills in this Parliament, but NDP MP Don Davies knows the drill. It's the bigger purpose that counts.

Even a prorogation couldn’t boost NDP MP Don Davies' chances. The list for consideration of private members’ business established at the start of every Parliament doesn’t change in a new session.
The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

PARLIAMENT HILL—NDP MP Don Davies has so far tabled 16 private members’ bills in this Parliament, the most of any MP in the House. It’s a title he’s defending from the last Parliament too, but right now he has about zero chance of advancing any one of them in this Parliament. And that’s just fine with him.

“Unfortunately, I’ve got really bad luck when it comes to the draw… oh god it gets worse every year,” said Mr. Davies in a telephone interview from his Vancouver Kinsgway, B.C., constituency office.

Thanks to his unlucky draw in the private members’ bill lottery at the start of each sitting, he’s No. 221 on the order of precedence of MPs who have a chance to pass a bill or a motion. First elected in 2008, Mr. Davies has never been high enough up on the order of precedence to get his turn before an election is called and Parliament is dissolved. He’s been through two Parliaments so far—2008-2011 and 2011-2015—and is into his third. On average, in each Parliament it’s unlikely a bill or motion will come up for debate if the MP sponsoring it is higher than 150 on the order of precedence.

So he knows the deal, but Mr. Davies said not all is lost in his legislative efforts. It’s the principle, he said.

‘It’s a very important part of our job to add our legislative voice to the parliamentary order paper,’ said NDP MP Don Davies. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

“It’s a very important part of our job to add our legislative voice to the parliamentary order paper,” said Mr. Davies. He said he’s found the practice of crafting constituent concerns into legislation generates debate and discussion within his riding and it’s all part of his job as a federal law maker.

“Not everybody agrees on every piece of legislation, but it can generate more interest in what we’re doing in Parliament and it can encourage people to express their opinions, which I think is a valuable consequence of doing it as well,” he said.

As well, the way Mr. Davies sees it, private members’ bills and motions offer another vital opportunity for opposition MPs to publicly show their legislative priorities.

“Even if they don’t get passed, necessarily, they are officially registered as a bill, they get a number, they get printed,” he said.

Mr. Davies has a range of issues covered by his 16 private members’  bills. For instance, he has three bills to amend the Canada Elections Act, including one to change the voting age from 18 to 16; one to change the hours of voting in the Pacific time zone on polling day from 8 a.‍m. to 8 p.‍m.‍; and another to change voting hours across Canada on polling day from 7 a.‍m. to 10 p.‍m. He has another bill to encourage energy efficiency by removing the Excise Tax Act requirement for consumers to pay GST and HST on the purchase of energy-efficient products and to create a tax credit under the Income Tax Act for the purchase of these products.

Some of his private members’  bills have been revived from previous Parliaments and once a year he adds another bill onto his roster from  his own “Create Your Canada” contest, in which he asks Grade 11 and Grade 12 students in his riding to submit legislative ideas to make Canada better. The winning candidate gets their bill legally drafted and introduced in the House. Mr. Davies tabled this year’s successful bill idea in June, Bill C-356, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (donations to food banks), which would create a tax credit for businesses that donate food to charities in an effort to reduce food waste.

Mr. Davies said he sees private members’ bills as “a way to facilitate the voice of young people in Parliament and to introduce them to their federal government and try to make it real for them.”

Most MPs on average will prepare a bill or motion or two in each Parliament. So far in this Parliament, 162 private members’ bills have been tabled.

The number of private members’ bills that pass each Parliament vary widely. In the 41st Parliament, 43 passed; in the 40th Parliament, six passed; in the 39th Parliament, 14 passed; in the 38th Parliament, six passed; and in the 37th Parliament, 11 passed.

To date in all Parliaments since Confederation, 278 private members’  bills have passed, including Senate-sponsored public bills.

And the three that have passed in this Parliament are: Bill C-224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act from Liberal MP Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, B.C.); Bill C-233, National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act from Conservative MP Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, Ont.); and Bill C-238, National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury Act from Liberal MP Darren Fisher (Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, N.S.).

In every Parliament, MPs have a chance to advance a piece of legislation or a motion of their choosing and the order in which they have the chance to do so is determined by a draw at the start of the Parliament. MPs can introduce bills at any time, but the time for it to be considered depends on where they are in line. Before a bill comes up, the subcommittee on private members’ business of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee can deem bills non-votable, taking them off the roster.

Once the first 30 MPs on the list have had the chance to bring forward their legislative initiatives, the list is then replenished with the next 15 MPs on the list for the remainder of the Parliament. So far in this Parliament, 76 MPs have had the chance to put something forward. Both bills and motions are debated at second reading and voted on. If it’s a bill and it passes the second reading vote, it continues on through the legislative process, starting with being sent to the relevant committee for further study.

Mr. Davies works with his staff on the broad strokes of what the bills will accomplish, and their potential pitfalls, and then submits the bills to the House counsel for legal drafting. He then takes any new bills he’s ready to introduce to his party’s relevant critic or critics, as well as the NDP Leader’s Office.

“It’s fairly involved,” he said.

In the last Parliament, Mr. Davies introduced 30 private members’ bills and in the one before that, he introduced 20 private members’ bills.

The next runner-up in the world of prolific private members’ business writers is NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) who in this Parliament has introduced nine bills, tabled 22 during the 41st Parliament, and 32 during the 40th Parliament.

A look through the docket of private members’ bills tabled so far this Parliament show a lot of good ideas that he hopes the government would look at, and perhaps act on, said Mr. Davies.

“This is one of the few areas where an MP is really free to not only represent the unique desires and interests of their own constituents, regardless of party discipline, but also to pursue issues that are important to the MP themselves,” said Mr. Davies.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been so active in drafting private members’ bills, is I think it’s really important for individual MPs to jealously guard that historic right and exercise it.”

NDP MP Don Davies’ Private Members’ Bills:

  • C-356, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (donations to food banks)
  • C-298, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voting hours — Pacific time zone)
  • C-297, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voting hours)
  • C-296, Government Awareness Day Act
  • C-293, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (Advisory Committee)
  • C-284, National Renewable Energy Strategy Act
  • C-283, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (electronic products recycling program)
  • C-282, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Income Tax Act (extra-energy-efficient products)
  • C-272, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (fire and emergency response statistics)
  • C-271, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (batteries for medical or assistive devices)
  • C-257, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (sugar content labelling)
  • C-256, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for dues paid to veterans’ organizations)
  • C-255, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (appeal process for temporary resident visa applicants)
  • C-214, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (appeals)
  • C-213, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voting age)
  • C-212, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (members who cross the floor)

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