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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)
Important news: It's sunny in Ottawa, and getting warmer, which could hasten passage of C-14, the assisted dying bill.
Old hands know about the June dance that Parliament plays each year. As the scheduled date for Parliament to rise nears, and important bills remain stuck in legislative limbo, the government and opposition engage in a time-dishonoured gavotte. The prime minister of the day insists that Bill C-Whatever must be passed, and he will keep Parliament sitting through the summer, if need be, until the opposition relents.
Opposition leaders insist the bill is hopelessly flawed, and vow to continue debate until the cows come home or the government sees the error of its ways. Observers warn that the session could drag into July or August, for all we know, wiping out the precious summer recess.
Except it's all show. MPs want to get back to their ridings. And Centre Block isn't air conditioned. Invariably the House leaders meet, each side gives up something, debate miraculously ends, C-Whatever passes third reading and the House rises. The Senate hangs around for a week to do its duty, the governor-general grants royal assent, and we're done. See you in September.
But this year, Parliament is likely to drag on at least till the end of June, abbreviating the summer recess and leaving everyone in a perfectly foul mood.
The problem is the assisted-dying bill. The principal opposition to the Liberal government's version of the bill comes, not from the Conservatives and NDP, but from the Senate. Newly-arrived independent senators chosen by Justin Trudeau, Liberal senators who are no longer part of caucus and therefore not bound by a party whip, and Conservative senators who feel unconstrained since no one else is, are flexing some serious legislative muscle.
The version of C-14 that the House passed only permits a medically assisted death if a natural death is "reasonably foreseeable." In their version of the bill, senators permit a medically assisted death if the patient's condition is "grievous and irremediable," even if death is not imminent, in accord with a Supreme Court ruling. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is not pleased.
In theory, the Senate could return the amended bill to the Commons, the Commons could reject the amendments and return the original bill to the Senate, and the two houses could bat the thing back and forth like a shuttlecock until one of them relents. Or the Commons could reject the amendments, send the bill back to the Senate, and senators could back down.
There is another factor. The Parliamentary calendar has the House rising no later than June 23, next Thursday. But U.S. President Barack Obama is in Ottawa the following week, and is scheduled to address Parliament June 29. Had Parliament already risen by now, MPs would simply have returned for a special, one-day sitting, and then resumed their break. But even if the Senate passes an amended C-14 in the next day or so, it could still take several days for the government to decide how to respond. With other legislation, including the budget bill, also still in play, the House is likely to sit straight through next week until Mr. Obama arrives.
A reasonable guess: House and Senate leaders work out a compromise next week, C-14 passes (probably in a version closer to what the government wants than what the Senate wants), Mr. Obama has his say, and the Parliamentary summer belatedly begins.
But that could all go off the rails. We are in uncharted waters. (This column is setting a record for mixed metaphors). The situation could resolve itself immediately, or the session could drag into July. Depending, in part, on the weather.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW IN OTTAWA
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> Canada is now the second-largest exporter of arms to the Middle East, buoyed by its sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
> The Liberal government may end up adopting parts of the Magnitsky Act, which would impose sanctions on corrupt Russian officials.
> The Prime Minister's principal secretary, Gerald Butts, says the Liberals outspent the Conservatives in the last election.
> Canadian ambassadors got rare face time with Justin Trudeau last week, where they were urged to promote the trade deal with Europe and given advice on how to start laying the groundwork for Canada's next bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
> As the government moves to more aggressively recruit people from outside the public sector for its executive jobs, the head of an association representing bureaucrats warns the group's members that promotion to the top ranks "is not an entitlement." (for subscribers)
> The president of the federal NDP is recommending leadership rules that include a final vote in October, 2017, and a requirement that candidates collect at least 500 signatures from across the country.
> Conrad Black owes the Canadian and U.S. governments $31-million in tax debts, and the Canada Revenue Agency is worried he will skip town.
> Mexico and Canada could become closer if Donald Trump becomes U.S. president, the Mexican finance minister says.
> And a fascinating profile of Michelle Obama's speechwriter.
> Ontario: The mayor of London, Ont., has temporarily stepped aside and the deputy mayor has resigned after it was revealed the two were having an affair.
> British Columbia: Vancouver's mayor says they will impose a tax on property owners who don't live in their homes.
> Manitoba: Premier Brian Pallister is facing questions for being away from the legislature without initially explaining why. "I am sick, I am now. I am sick of questions. I had a lot of work to do and things to prepare and I just needed a day to do it, so I asked for it. … I wasn't in Costa Rica, let's be clear. I'm sorry I missed the vigil, I took my first sick day in about a decade," he said.
WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
Bob Rae (Globe and Mail): "Canada does not pay ransom to terrorist kidnappers. It only feeds their appetites. The best way to fight this wave of violence is to say no. It is hard to disagree with such direct, morally cogent arguments. The difficulty is that they miss another, equally compelling reality, which neither governments nor the media seem willing to discuss: The governments that say no know perfectly well that the families and friends of people kidnapped and held in various parts of the world will do whatever they can to achieve the release of their loved ones. Those same governments will, in fact, help the families make contact with skilled, professional advisers, as well as with various intermediaries who live in the shadowy world of kidnapping negotiations. This is what happens in the real world, and everyone in government, the military and business knows it."
Campbell Clark (Globe and Mail): "The Liberals' promised innovation policy is still vague. There's more diagnosis of the problem than prescription of the solution. [Innovation Minister Navdeep] Bains hit some smart themes, though most were unformed. But all of it is very, very earnest. In Justin Trudeau's Ottawa, the Innovation Agenda is a big deal. It is the big economic policy discussion for the Trudeau club that runs the country, from the PM and his closest advisers on down." (for subscribers)
Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): "Article 1 of the [Parti Québécois] constitution declares the party exists to make Quebec an independent country. So get on with making it so, PQ hardliners proclaim. Except that the venerable old horse called the Quebec electorate – the one that has seen so many promises and lived so many political experiences and become so sophisticated in assessing its self-interest – has become wise, weary and bored. It can be led, with considerable reluctance, to the waters of secession but it will not drink, not in the past, not now and quite likely not in the future." (for subscribers)
Robyn Urback (National Post): "[Ontario] Premier Kathleen Wynne delivered this diversion Monday, adding seven new members to make a swollen cabinet of 30. Growing the size of the executive council is another shrewd way to steer the discussion toward one about the composition of the cabinet, rather than taking a tough look at the cabinet members themselves, though a larger cabinet does come with the obvious disadvantage of increasing the likelihood that someone will have his or her eyes closed during the executive council 'class photo.'"
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