When there is a unanimous consent in the House, there are virtually no limits on how quickly MPs can pass bills and motions into law.
That’s what happened Tuesday evening, as MPs of all stripes – including the independents – agreed to one motion with broad implications, even after some MPs snuck through a bill in the absence of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who opposed its unanimous consent.
Some of the bills began in the Senate, meaning they are now ready to become law Wednesday during a Royal Assent ceremony to finalize 19 bills.
Bills that start in the Senate begin with the letter S. Bills that start in the House of Commons begin with C. Those bills that were passed by the House Tuesday will still need to be debated and approved by the Senate.
The Tuesday evening vote produced the following results:
Bill C-54, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, was passed by the House and sent to the Senate. The bill was introduced on Feb. 8, 2013. The bill amends the mental disorder regime in the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act to state that the paramount consideration should be the safety of the public. It also increases the involvement of victims in the process.
Bill S-14, the Fighting Foreign Corruption Act, was passed by the House. The legislation increases the maximum prison sentence for bribing a foreign public official.
Bill S-17, a bill implementing tax treaties and conventions with Namibia, Serbia, Poland, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Switzerland, was passed by the House.
Bill S-15, the Expansion and Conservation of Canada’s National Parks Act, was passed by the House. The bill creates the Sable Island National Park Reserve of Canada. It also amends the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to prohibit petroleum drilling from the boundary of the park out to one nautical mile.
This was a bill passed thanks to some political gamesmanship. The Green Party Leader was concerned about offshore drilling around the park, and had opposed unanimous consent to fast-track the bill from its committee stage to the house. Ms. May had left he house Tuesday, and was being covered for by Bloc Qubecois MP Louis Plamondon. When Mr. Plamondon stepped out, the Conservatives quickly called for unanimous consent to push the bill into third reading. It was then passed in one fell swoop with the other bills, as part of the deal to adjourn for summer.
“It was just old fashioned parliamentary procedure, and it worked... We just saw [Mr. Plamondon] go, and we were like, all right, giddy up,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said.
The bill had rare cross-partisan support, and was also backed by the NDP and Liberals. It blocks drilling – anything other than “low-impact” seismic activity – on the island. “For once, you had this rare show of the way things can go in this place, and she blocks it,” Ms. Rempel said, adding she was frustrated by the move. “It’s disappointing, but we won.”
Bill C-32, the Civil Marriage of Non-residents Act, was passed by the House. The bill closes a loophole in the 2005 gay marriage legislation that prevented some gay couples from getting a divorce. The bill had never been debated by a Parliamentary committee, yet it was passed through all stages Tuesday.
Bill C-425, a private members bill dealing with citizenship from Conservative MP Devinder Shory called Honouring the Canadian Armed Forces was not passed. The bill grants easier access to citizenship for permanent residents who sign on to a minimum three-year contract with the Canadian Armed Forces and complete basic training. It also removes citizenship for someone who engages in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had backed it.
This, in particular, was seen as a major victory by the NDP. Leader Thomas Mulcair said Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan “threw Jason Kenney under the bus” by agreeing to let the bill stall. Despite adjourning – and ensuring Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t have to appear in Question Period before fall – Mr. Mulcair said it was too good to pass up.
“You know as well as I do that he wouldn’t have been here. So here’s what we got. We got the end of an odious bill on immigration that would deprive Canadians of their citizenship… it was a disgusting bill Jason Kenney was trying to enact,” Mr. Mulcair said after a caucus meeting Wednesday.
Mr. Van Loan argued that while the public attention in Ottawa has been on question period, important policy changes were accomplished through legislation.
“Regardless of whatever things may have been dominating the news, our government has been delivering on things that matter to Canadians,” he said during a news conference.
The House also agreed to a new process, proposed by the NDP, that will see the Procedure and House Affairs committee hold public hearings on how to replace the closed-door Board of Internal Economy, which currently manages House of Commons spending and financial rules.
“We were also able to take a step in the right direction for getting rid of the secretive Board of Internal Economy as the only place expenses of this parliament are vetted. We want a better system, and what we proposed will actually produce a result,” Mr. Mulcair said.
The house also agreed to study Liberal transparency motions, though the NDP say their proposal to overhaul the system would likely trump the Liberal suggestions. Nonetheless, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau cited those as his party’s top contribution.
“I am most proud of the transparency and accountability proposals we put forward. I demonstrated through my leadership race a level of openness to political reform, to open nominations, to empowering MPs to be better representatives for their communities,” Mr. Trudeau said. He spoke Wednesday with MP Bob Rae, who announced he’d resign his seat to focus on other projects.