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editorial

The Senate chamber is seen Thursday April 24, 2014 in Ottawa.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldAdrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

For a federal government so dedicated to law and order, the Harper Conservatives seem to be having trouble with the law part of the equation. For the second time this summer, a private member's bill that toughens laws related to crime and punishment has been sent to the Senate with a serious error in it. The first time it happened, it could reasonably be dismissed as a one-off. A second time, however, points to more a systemic failing that doesn't put the government in a good light.

In the first instance, the wrong version of a private member's bill that would make it substantially more difficult for convicted criminals to get parole was sent to the Senate. The incorrect version left out critical amendments that had been asked for during committee hearings.

In the second instance, a bill to prevent the recruitment of gang members, an amendment made in committee to add a key word was carried in one clause of the act but not in a critical second clause. The flawed paper was sent to the Senate, which passed it. It is now law.

In both cases, the errors have jeopardized the bills and resulted in a potential waste of time and effort. They are also an embarrassment to any self-respecting parliament. But whom to blame? Private member's bills in general get less scrutiny from the public service. These bills are not reviewed by the Justice Department for potential conflicts with the Constitution. Finally, reductions in Justice Department staff mean officials have less time to draft bills, whether from the government or individual MPs, and double-check their content.

Add to this that the government is currently pushing 30 bills through Parliament related to crime and punishment – and 25 of them are private member's bills. Some of them, including the two with errors, could make substantial changes to our laws. This should not be happening: Bills changing fundamental aspects of Canadian life that come from government members should be treated as government bills. A majority government has the power to pass almost any bill it likes, but there are protections along the way that prevent errors, identify conflicts and give the public and the opposition greater ability to scrutinize the legislation. Private member's bills circumvent those critical protections to some degree. To what end? Not a good one.