Canada's Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland arrives to deliver the budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 19, 2021.
The federal government is quickly running out of time to pass its priority bills into law as the clock counts down to the summer recess and a potential fall election.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget bill, C-30, is clearly the government’s top priority, but there is also a sense of urgency around Bill C-15, which aims to align Canadian law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Another Indigenous-related bill received fast-track treatment Friday, as MPs struck a deal to pass Bill C-5 through all stages and send it to the Senate. The bill would create a new holiday for federally regulated workers on Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, in honour of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
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Beyond that, however, it appears several government bills are unlikely to pass into law by summer given that the last scheduled sitting day in the House of Commons is June 23 and the fact that senators are warning they won’t rubber-stamp every bill that suddenly comes their way.
Early June is typically a time of intense backroom negotiations on Parliament Hill, as the government attempts to push its legislative agenda into law.
The looming possibility that the minority government could call a snap election this fall is an added element to these negotiations. An election would wipe away any bills that have not yet received royal assent.
“In a minority Parliament, there is always going to be some uncertainty,” said Green Party MP Elizabeth May. “On the slate of bills we have right now, there aren’t any that I would say would not benefit from longer study and improvement. And what we have right now is a trampling of study to get things through because there is this potential election.”
Bills often take months to work their way through the House of Commons and the Senate, but negotiations between parties at this time of year can lead to some bills suddenly zipping through within hours, such as with Friday’s deal on C-5.
The Globe and Mail spoke with key MPs, senators and Parliament Hill staffers to get a sense of which noteworthy government bills are likely to pass before summer and which ones may have a hard time getting approved.
Opposition House leaders told The Globe they will be seeking an agreement that allows committees to meet during the summer recess if necessary. The House and its committees are currently operating under special COVID-19 rules that allow MPs to participate remotely in House debates and votes via video link, but they expire on June 23.
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The Globe’s assessment of how likely it is that a bill will become law before summer is based on the aforementioned conversations with MPs and senators as well as how far along a bill is in the parliamentary process.
When a bill is introduced, it is debated in the House at second reading and voted on to send it to committee for a detailed review. It is then brought back to the House at report stage, followed by a third reading debate and final vote. A similar process follows in the Senate. If the Senate amends a bill, the changes must go back to the House for approval before the bill can receive royal assent and become law. A small number of government bills start in the Senate and then go to the House.
Senator Yuen Pau Woo, the facilitator of the largest grouping of independent senators, noted there are limits to how many bills senators can approve at the last minute.
“We are the tail end of this sausage-making factory and we welcome the arrival of more sausages,” he said. “But everyone needs to know that we rise on the 23rd of June and there’s only so much we can pack into our days.”
Clear priority bills
C-30, the budget bill (in committee)
The issues: The large government bill contains the legal changes required to approve billions in payments to businesses and individuals that were announced in the April budget. Some of the payments are time-sensitive, such as a pledge to provide a one-time payment of $500 in August to pensioners 75 or older.
Will it pass by summer? Definitely.
C-15, the UNDRIP bill (in the Senate) This bill would ensure Canada’s laws are “in harmony” with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The issues: The government introduced the legislation in December after a previous version died ahead of the 2019 election.
Much attention has been focused on Article 28 of the UNDRIP, which says development cannot happen on traditional Indigenous lands without the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous communities.
Will it pass by summer? Very likely. Bill C-15 has a strong chance of becoming law by summer, according to key senators. Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the assembly mounted an energetic lobbying campaign for the bill, using Zoom calls to urge senators to approve it “as it is,” without amendments.
C-6, the conversion therapy bill (at third reading)
The issues: The government introduced legislation targeting conversion therapy last March, but its path through the system ended when the government prorogued Parliament in August.
In October, the bill was approved in a 308-to-7 vote, with seven Conservative MPs voting against the bill. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole voted in favour of the bill. Conversion therapy is a widely denounced practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill creates five new Criminal Code offences, including causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, causing a child to undergo conversion therapy and profiting from providing conversion therapy.
Will it pass by summer? It looks likely. The government has prioritized the bill for debate in recent days.
C-12, the net-zero emissions accountability act (in committee)
The issues: In November, the government introduced legislation requiring national targets for the reduction of Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions en route to reaching net zero in 2050.
The bill would require setting targets from 2030 onward and includes provisions for an emissions reduction plan, progress reports every five years as of 2030 to be tabled in the House of Commons and an advisory body on these matters for the Environment Minister.
In a statement, NDP critics Laurel Collins and Taylor Bachrach said they welcomed the legislation and praised Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his team for accepting their feedback to improve the bill.
However, they said the bill’s “most significant shortcoming” is its lack of near-term accountability measures on the path to 2030.
Will it pass by summer? Possibly. It will depend on MPs giving the Senate enough time to review the bill.
C-13/C-218, the single sports betting bill The government’s Bill C-13 is taking a back seat to a similar private member’s bill, C-218, from Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, which has been approved by the House and is now before the Senate.
The issues: Both bills would legalize betting on a single sporting match. Current laws require Canadians to bet on at least two games at once, which is known as a parlay bet. The restriction was originally meant to deter match fixing. Bill C-218 is currently being studied by the Senate banking committee. Some senators have expressed concern it could contribute to the negative societal impacts of increased gambling.
Will it pass by summer? Likely. The Senate has previously held up attempts to legalize single match betting, deferring to concerns expressed by the major professional sports leagues. But the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the Canadian Football League have since announced they support the idea, which has led to a change of heart in the Senate.
Senator Don Plett, who leads the Conservatives in the Senate, thinks the bill will be law by summer.
“If I were a betting man, I would bet the bill will pass,” he said.
The most contentious bill
C-10, the bill that updates the Broadcasting Act (currently in committee)
The issues: This bill aims to bring large online streaming services such as Netflix under the Broadcasting Act regulations that apply to traditional broadcasters. The bill has received many amendments at committee and is strongly opposed by the Official Opposition Conservatives.
Will it pass by summer? Increasingly unlikely. The Bloc Québécois has offered to help the government shut down debate on the bill so it can be passed by summer. The government has not yet said whether it will take up the Bloc’s offer. It is also not clear whether the Senate is willing to pass this bill quickly. Bloc House Leader Alain Therrien told The Globe his party is increasingly concerned that the government is losing interest in pushing the bill forward. Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell says his party is strongly opposed to C-10 out of concern it will infringe on free speech.
On the backburner
Several bills that were heavily promoted by the government when they were introduced now appear unlikely to become law in the coming weeks. These include C-11, which updates Canada’s private sector privacy laws but is facing criticism from the federal Privacy Commissioner; C-21, which creates a range of new criminal penalties related to firearms; and C-22, which repeals various mandatory minimum penalties.
Despite the possibility of an election, the House has also made slow work of Bill C-19, which updates the Canada Elections Act to assist Elections Canada in running a federal election during the pandemic. The bill would expand options for things such as advance voting and voting by mail.
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