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House leaders brace for jam-packed, late-night legislative push in final ‘high-octane’ weeks of spring sitting

By Rachel Aiello      

The House is back for four final weeks before it adjourns for the summer and the government is expected to try again rolling out changes to the House rules and table bills on political financing and national security.

NDP House leader Murray Rankin, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader Kevin Lamoureux, and Conservative House leader Candice Bergen say they are expecting a busy four weeks of late-night sittings, as the government endeavours to have a productive end to an otherwise slow-moving legislative session. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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PARLIAMENT HILL—In the last legislative push before the House rises for the summer, the government wants to wade well into the debate on the suite of marijuana legislation, pass the budget bill, introduce new legislation on political financing and anti-terrorism, and implement contentious new rules on how the Commons works, despite resistance from opposition parties.

On all sides, the House leadership teams are bracing for a jam-packed four weeks of late-night sittings, with lots on the agenda as the government attempts to have a productive end to another otherwise slow-moving legislative session.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.), who is parliamentary secretary to Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), said the government’s goal is to “ensure that we’re feeling productive inside the House of Commons.”

The government currently has 32 bills moving through the House or Senate, including 25 in the House, seven in the Senate, and more legislation expected before the summer recess. This last legislative four-week push is normally called “silly season” on the Hill.

In total, the government has introduced 52 bills and has passed 20 since coming to power.

With lots of “high-octane issues” and big policy changes ahead, NDP House Leader Murray Rankin (Victoria, B.C.) said he’s anticipating it being “among the most interesting periods in Parliament since this government got elected” because MPs will be dealing with some substantial bills, such as legalizing marijuana. “We’ve got some big bills we’re dealing with… these are important policy changes,” Mr. Rankin said. As well, MPs will be making changes to way the House operates. “It’s going to be a fascinating week with those kind of high-octane issues that we’ve been waiting for.”

The Conservatives have a new leader, Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.), who will direct their new approach in the House.

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) said the Liberals will have “a challenge on their hands” to get done all they want to because of the state of the relationship between the two sides of the Commons.

“We are going into that time of year where the government is realizing there are a lot of things they didn’t accomplish, and now they quickly want to try and get some things done, and they’ve squandered away some of the goodwill we did have when we first all came together back in the fall,” she said.

Among the pieces of legislation the government wants to make “tangible progress” on, according to Mr. Lamoureux, are Bills C-45, and C-46, which cover marijuana legalization and impaired driving, respectively. Also in that category is Bill C-44, which is the 2017 budget implementation bill—a must-pass piece of legislation that the House Finance Committee is now studying and several Senate committees are looking at as well, in advance of the bill being passed in the House and sent to them.

“We have other legislation that we want to see debated, we have opposition days that have to be debated, there’s private members’ hours … there’s a finite amount of hours in the month of June, even with the extended sittings,” said Mr. Lamoureux. “The most productive month is usually the month of June, and I’m not expecting anything different here,” he said.

Bill C-46 is scheduled to come up for debate again this week, and it’s possible Bill C-45 could for the first time as well. Thursday is an opposition day, and early in the week MPs will be debating the motion from the government to extend the sitting hours until the House adjourns for the summer.

In an effort to kick-start this push for productivity, on May 18 Ms. Chagger gave notice of the motion, which will have the House sit until midnight Mondays to Thursdays from May 29 to June 22, with the House scheduled to rise on June 23, though it could rise earlier.

In addition to extending the sitting hours until midnight for the remainder of the session and not just the last two weeks of it—as is common, and planned for in the parliamentary calendar—the government’s motion, if adopted as written, would allow for votes to happen later than usual on Thursdays. It would also allow for votes on Fridays, something that conventionally does not happen. It also prohibits motions intended to cause delay from being moved after 6:30 p.m. each night and it cuts off opposition motion debate at the regular hours, allowing for government business on opposition days.

Mr. Lamoureux said he envisions having longer to debate each day will mean some days will be long discussions on a single bill, while others the House could consider multiple issues.

Upon consideration of the motion, which includes some of the same clauses as were in the controversial Motion 6 from the Liberals during Dominic LeBlanc’s (Beauséjour, N.B.) time as government House leader last year, the opposition House leaders are expressing concern about what it could mean for tone in the House, though they say they are glad it means more MPs will have time to share their views on the big bills coming up.

“This motion allows the government to turn the House into a government-legislation-passing machine and it limits the tools of opposition and backbench MPs,” said Mr. Rankin.

New bills coming on political financing, national security

Among the new bills the Liberals are expected to introduce is a new political financing bill about political-party fundraisers. The Liberals were in hot water earlier this year for hosting so-called “cash-for-access” events with the prime minister. Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.) has signalled the bill is on track to be introduced imminently.

It is not clear if the legislation will stick to just political financing, or if the government will try to wrap in other initiatives it’s promised like creating an independent commissioner to organize leaders’ debates, or reviewing what political parties and third parties can spend during and in between election campaigns, to move through some more of its promises quicker, given the government has had a slow legislative lap time this Parliament.

Another bill expected to be tabled before MPs decamp for high school graduations and barbecues in their ridings, is Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) legislation to repeal elements of the wide-spanning anti-terrorism bill, C-51, brought in by the previous Conservative government. As of a March interview in The Globe and Mail, Mr. Goodale was “hopeful” to have “a good, solid legislative package in the public domain for the House and the Canadians to see later on this spring.”

Changes coming to Standing Orders spurred by contentious discussion paper

Though not likely the first week back, Ms. Chagger is expected to soon be introducing the hotly-contested motion to put in place long-term changes to the Standing Orders. Opposition parties are holding to their promise to stand together against the changes.

A portion of the motion to set up the midnight sittings allows for closure to be put on motions. Ms. Bergen called the move the government’s “first shot across the bow whereby they’re using their majority and they’ll force these changes upon us.” She noted that it’s still the opposition’s intention to use what tools it can to prevent this motion going through, though because of its majority the government is not likely to lose this battle.

The motion to change the rules of how MPs govern themselves is expected to include giving the House Speaker the ability to separate portions of omnibus bills for study; require governments that use prorogation to justify it in reports to Parliament; and create a Question Period for the prime minister.

After a discussion paper from Ms. Chagger triggered a weeks-long filibuster at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee and similar tactics in the House over the proposed changes, she backed down late last month. She sent a letter to her opposition counterparts saying the government would axe some of the proposed changes, while doubling down on the Liberal government’s determination to make other changes that the letter says are in line with its mandate and campaign commitments to modernize Parliament.

Proposals that didn’t make the cut include: a legislative programming tool to determine how much debate will be scheduled for new bills, electronic voting in the House, and the elimination of Friday sittings.

As for the potential of rising early, Mr. Lamoureux said it’s too soon to say, and will depend on negotiations among the House leaders and how much they’re able to get done.

The other factor in how much the government will be able to accomplish over the next few weeks is the Senate, which has regularly been amending government legislation, causing a bit of legislative ping-pong between the Chambers before bills pass. The Senate is scheduled to sit a week later than the House, potentially giving extra time to get bills to the finish line.

STATUS OF GOVERNMENT BILLS

House of Commons

S-2, Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians Act (second reading)
C-5, An Act to Repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1 (second reading)
C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act (consideration of amendments made by the Senate)
C-12, An Act to Amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act (second reading)
C-17, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (second reading)
C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act (second reading)
C-23, Preclearance Act (committee)
C-24, An Act to amend the Salaries Act and the Financial Administration Act (second reading)
C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, Canada Cooperatives Act, Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and Competition Act (report stage)
C-27, An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 (second reading)
C-28, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge) (second reading)
C-32, An Act related to the repeal of section 159 of the Criminal Code (second reading)
C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (second reading)
C-34, An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act and other Acts (second reading)
C-36, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (report stage)
C-38, An Act to amend an Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons) (second reading)
C-39, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) (second reading)
C-42, Veterans Well-being Act (second reading)
C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy (second reading)
C-44, Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1 (committee)
C-45, Cannabis Act (second reading)
C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) (second reading)
C-47, An Act to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and the Criminal Code (amendments permitting the accession to the Arms Trade Treaty) (second reading)
C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act (second reading)
C-49, Transportation Modernization Act (second reading)
Senate

S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (committee)
S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act (third reading)
C-4, An Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code, Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, Public Service Labour Relations Act, and Income Tax Act (consideration of amendments made by the House)
C-7, An Act to Amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act, and others (RCMP union bill) (consideration of amendments made by the House)
C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (third reading)
C-18, An Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, Parks Canada Agency Act, and Canada National Parks Act (committee)
C-22, National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act (second reading)
C-44, Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1 (pre-study)
Awaiting royal assent

C-31, Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

raiello@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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