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Friday look ahead: the cream of the private-members-bill crop Add to ...

New laws compensating frustrated air travelers, apologizing to Italian Canadians and punishing Canadian mining companies for their overseas behaviour are all on the agenda this spring in Parliament.

The initiatives have nothing to do with the Conservative government but nonetheless have a good chance of becoming law.

Friday morning, the House of Commons released the full list of the 30 priority items of private members business, which are bills and motions introduced by MPs of all parties who are not in cabinet.

Most private members bills have no chance of ever becoming law because of the time it takes for these items to work their way through the system.

However these 30 items are first out of the gate and therefore have much greater odds of success.

Given the Conservatives have so far been reluctant to present much legislation until the stimulus package is approved, the most lively debates over coming months could well be triggered by the items on this list.

The MPs on the top 30 list were chosen through a lottery. Among them:

Bloc Québécois MP Meili Faille has a motion calling on the government to introduce legislation by Oct. 15, 2009 that will "prohibit the use of replacement workers in labour disputes falling under the jurisdiction of the federal government."

NDP MP Jim Maloway has already attracted attention with his bill obliging air carriers "to provide compensation and other assistance to passengers in certain cases when a flight has been cancelled or delayed, when boarding has been denied, and when an aircraft has remained on the ground for a period of more than an hour at an airport." The bill also requires air carriers to disclose all relevant information to the public regarding the pricing of flights.

Liberal MP John McKay has a bill forcing the Foreign Affairs Minister to issue corporate accountability standards for Canadian mining, oil or gas companies operating in developing countries.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau won the top slot in the lottery, which he will use to move a motion calling for a committee to "consider the introduction in Canada of a national voluntary service policy for young people."

Bloc MP Christian Ouellet has a bill that would remove the two week waiting time for Employment Insurance.

Conservative MP Joy Smith has a bill imposing a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of trafficking minors.

Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, who has long led the attacks on Canada's long gun registry, has a bill that would "modify the conditions under which a registration certificate for firearms is required."

NDP MP Bruce Hyer is bringing back a bill from the last Parliament that was proposed by NDP leader Jack Layton, setting deep emission reduction targets for greenhouse gases in Canada. The bill was supported previously by all three opposition parties, but the international political consensus on targets may be shifting in light of the recession and the fact U.S. President Barack Obama is proposing targets that are closer to what the federal Conservatives have in mind.

Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti has a bill that would apologize to Italian-Canadians and offer compensation for the "enemy alien" designation and internment during the Second World War. The bill comes on the heals of recent apologies to aboriginals for Indian residential schools, Chinese Canadians for the head tax and to Indo-Canadians for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident in which 376 mostly Sikh passengers on a Japanese ship were denied entry in Vancouver.

All of these bills and motions must still clear two important steps. A committee of MPs will meet soon to decide whether each one meets the criteria to be deemed "voteable." That means some may only be debated and never put to a vote.

Secondly, the government can appeal to the Speaker to block a private member's bill from becoming law by successfully arguing that the bill would force the government to spend money.

Also, bills carry more weight than motions. The government has in the past ignored several motions adopted by the opposition. However the government's reluctant response to private members' legislation passed against the government's wishes has created significant procedural and legal debate about the government's obligations.

Coming up: The House of Commons does not sit the week of Feb. 16, but there will be plenty of action on the Hill centered around the Feb. 19 visit of Barack Obama. One of the challenges may be finding room for the nearly 200 members of the American media expected to accompany the President.

 

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