Senators took aim at their colleagues in the House last week for the shoddy work they did on the so-called "Wendy Lill" Bill that would give retiring MPs aged between 50 to 55 health, dental and life insurance benefits even though the current law says MPs can't collect their pensions and normal retirement benefits until they hit 55. The legislation was created after NDP MP Wendy Lill, 53, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and decided to quit politics. While the House took all of about 20 minutes to pass the bill, C-24, in one sitting without study, the Senate took the time to review the legislation at committee. Senators on the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee learned that the government's rational for the move is full of holes. The government has argued that the amendment would put MPs on equal footing with public servants who can start collecting benefits at 50. But the Senators reported that, in fact, public servants only have access to very reduced benefits if they retire at as early as 50. The committee's final report concluded that the "legislation appears to be providing Parliamentarians with benefits which are superior to those available to civil servants." The report also stated that: "Proponents of Bill C-24 suggest that it fills a gap in coverage and brings retirement benefits for Parliamentarians in line with those of public servants. Witnesses appearing before the committee, however, disagreed. Individuals who have left the public service do not have the option of benefit plan coverage between the ages of 50 and 55 prior to receiving their pensions. In essence, it was argued that the government is legislating a double standard: one for former Parliamentarians and one for retired public servants. The committee was also informed that the vast majority of private plans require that retirees be in receipt of their pension before any health or dental benefits become available." The Senators also argued that the bill could set a bad precedent that could impact future public service collective bargaining. They wrote that extending new benefits to Parliamentarians could result in nearly half a million federal employees requesting similar pre-pension health and dental benefits. Finally, the Senators took a dim view of how the House rammed the bill through in one sitting. "Unfortunately, the bill's underlying objectives and overall impact were not addressed in any detail in the House of Commons, where it was passed pursuant to the terms of a House Order at all stages in less than one hour, with minimal debate and without committee review," wrote the Senators. Nonetheless, the committee decided to report the bill back to the Senate Chamber without amendments where it will go to a final vote this week. Kingsley doesn't like it Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley is not happy with the new powers the governing Liberals plan to give him as part of their bill that would amend the Canada Elections Act so that any one single person can form a party and qualify for election and financial benefits. Though the senior official was careful not to come right out and say this when testifying before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee last week, he left little doubt he believes the legislation could cause him serious problems. Mr. Kingsley said he is "apprehensive" about the new powers the legislation would give him to make judgments about the platform and the purpose of a political party applying for registration. It's a power the government wants to give him as a safeguard against possible abuse by parties set up for the sole purpose of giving out income tax credits. "It's that kind of judgment which I'm ready to exercise, but which is not always easy to make, and leads sometimes to an apprehension that judgments are being put in the hands of an officer of Parliament that might best be remain in the hands of others," said Mr. Kingsley in his usual understated manner. Forming a party will be much easier than before after C-3 becomes law. Under the current provisions in the Canada Elections Act, a party must nominate at least 50 candidates to be registered as a political party. The new threshold contained in C-3 brings that down to one candidate. The government moved in this direction because the Supreme Court ruled that the 50-candidate threshold is unconstitutional last year. The court, however, suspended its judgment until June 27, 2004 to allow Parliament to come back with a legislative solution. This has put the government under the gun, and perhaps explains the botched legislation. If C-3 doesn't pass before Prime Minister Paul Martin calls an election a "legal vacuum" will occur because Elections Canada won't be able to register or de-register parties. The legislation, which comes with a two-year sunset clause, has been panned by the opposition. Even its sponsor, Government House Leader Jacques Saada, has admitted that C-3 is far from perfect. Mr. Saada has responded to criticism by pointing out the legislation will die two years after it comes into force. But last week, Mr. Kingsley argued that bills, once they become law, have a way of sticking around. "I think we have to recognize that when a statute exists patterns become established and it's very hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube," he told the Senators. The matter originally made its way to the courts after Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada, saw his party lose its registration status during the 1993 election because it failed to nominate at least 50 candidates. As a result, the party, which was founded in 1921, was forced to liquidate all its assets, pay all its debts and pay back the outstanding balance to the Chief Electoral Officer The Liberal government didn't have to fight the case through the courts. It could have accepted a new 12-candidate threshold favoured by Mr. Figueroa, but opted for litigation instead. A first for Paul Martin Prime Minister Paul Martin got his first bill through Parliament on Wednesday ­ that is, the first bill which he can call his own. Up until April 28, the eight other bills to have made it through to Royal Assent on his watch had all been throwbacks from the days of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, the last Liberal leader. So, for the record, the first new law Mr. Martin has created as Prime Minister is C-21, the Customs Tariff Bill. Sponsored by Denis Paradis, the minister of state for financial institutions, the legislation extends for a further 10 years two tariff programs: the General Preferential Tariff (GPT) and Least Developed Country Tariff (LDCT). Not very sexy, but a first nonetheless. Dem-Ref update The Procedure and House Affairs Committee coordinating much of the Liberal government's much-ballyhooed action plan on democratic reform tabled its first status report on April 26. By most accounts, it does little to move the agenda forward. It's just over four pages long and doesn't include a single recommendation on how to implement the various measures outlined in the action plan launched last February by the Government's House Leader Jacques Saada, also the minister responsible for democratic reform. Instead, it rehashes what the action plan is supposed to accomplish and outlines previous efforts at reform ­ such as those launched by the 1985 McGrath Committee that were never implemented. Conservative MP Chuck Strahl, a member of the committee, said the so-called democratic deficit has been studied to death and the time has come for concrete action, not more study. He said the committee is at a loss and wants something much more substantial from the government to sink its teeth into. Only then will the MPs be in a position to really move forward. This point was actually raised in a separate three-page letter the committee sent to Mr. Saada last week and signed off by Liberal MP Peter Adams, chair of the committee. Obtained by The Hill Times, it states that "some Members have indicated that they would prefer to have a more detailed proposal or list of options from the government to respond to." The April 22 letter to Mr. Saada also outlines a series of questions which the committee needs clarification on, particularly on the work being done by all standing committees which have been asked by Mr. Saada to recommend which government appointments that fall under the purview of the Prime Minister should be subject to Parliamentary oversight. The letter asks Mr. Saada a number of basic questions: "What will you do with these recommendations? Will you be communicating with the relevant committees if you do not agree with their recommendations? Do you propose to table a comprehensive response to all the committee reports, or deal with each one separately? What will happen if a particular committee does not make any recommendations?" When approached about the letter on Wednesday, April 28, seven days after it was sent, Mr. Saada said he hadn't read it yet. But he said that he's familiar with the MPs' concerns and has already addressed them "verbally." "I knew there was some difficulty adjusting to the request. So we did a lot of homework in trying to be more specific... All those things have been cleared verbally," he said. Caucus leak The media can't be blamed for reporting about secret caucus meetings, even when the broadcasts of the closed-door conversations get leaked to them, concluded the Commons' Procedure and House Affairs Committee last week. The report was the final word on a matter that many MPs say had dragged on far too long. Last month, House Speaker Peter Milliken ruled that a "prima facie" breach in Parliamentary privileges took place when the secret conversations of several Ontario Liberal MPs ended up on the front page of the Ottawa Sun after they were broadcast on Parliament's internal network, taped and subsequently leaked to Sun Media. The week ahead Both Chambers are back at it this week, though the real action will take place in the Upper Chamber where a couple of bills still on the Order Paper must get through before Parliament is dissolved by an election call. That includes C-3, a bill that would make major amendments to the Canada Elections Act, and C-7, the Public Safety Bill which has been over two years in the works. The government moved closure on C-7 at third reading on Thursday, while C-3 is still at committee. Meanwhile, the Bloc will have control of the House's agenda on May 6 when it gets its first supply day of the new supply. email@example.com The Hill Times STATUS OF BUSINESS IN PARLIAMENT House of Commons C-2* - Radiocommunication Bill (committee) C-9* ­ Patent, Food and Drugs Bill (third reading) C-10* ­ Marijuana Decriminalization Bill (third reading) C-12* ­ Protection of Children Bill (third reading) C-19* ­ Corrections and Conditional Release Bill (committee) C-23* ­ First Nations Fiscal Management Bill (report) C-25 ­ Whistleblower Protection Bill (committee) C-28 ­ Canada National Parks Bill (committee) C-29 ­ Mental Disorder Bill (first reading) C-30 ­ Federal Budget Bill (third reading) C-31 ­ Land Claims Bill (committee) C-32 ­ Impaired Driving Bill (first reading) Senate C-3* ­ Canada Elections Bill (committee) C-7* ­ Public Safety Bill (third reading) C-11* ­ First Nation Self-Government Bill (committee) C-15* ­ International Transfer of Offenders Bill (second reading) C-17* ­ Amendments and Corrections Bill (third reading) C-22* ­ Cruelty to Animals Bill (committee) C-24 ­ Parliamentarians Health and Dental Bill (third reading) Adopted / Royal Assent C-4* ­ Ethics Watchdog Bill C-5* ­ Electoral Boundaries Bill C-6* ­ Human Reproduction Bill C-8* ­ Library and Archives Bill C-13* ­ Capital Markets Fraud Bill C-14* ­ Criminal Code Bill C-16* ­ Sex Offenders Bill C-18* ­ Health Equalization Bill C-21 ­ Customs Tariff Bill *denotes reinstated bills.