The Liberal Party’s 2019 platform will include a pledge that the United Nations declaration on Indigenous rights will be applied to Canadian law after the government acknowledged that a private member’s bill to that effect is poised to die before the next election.
In the final parliamentary flurry to pass legislation before the summer recess, the government leader in the Senate, Peter Harder, said Wednesday that several high-profile bills introduced by individual MPs or senators are not going to make it to final votes before the summer break.
The Senate calendar currently shows senators will stay in Ottawa until next Friday, but senators widely expect the Red Chamber will wrap up this week.
The House of Commons is also planning to rise this week for summer, but it started sitting in January – several weeks before senators started meeting in 2019.
Because an election is scheduled for Oct. 21, Parliament is not expected to sit again before the campaign. That would mean all legislation that has not been passed into law will die when the election is called.
The Senate has focused this week on passing major government bills. Senators are expected to approve the latest versions of Bill C-48 – which imposes a tanker ban off Canada’s northern Pacific coast – and C-69 on environmental assessments.
However, three private members’ bills that are in the final stage of becoming law are stuck in limbo.
They are Bill C-262, which aims to ensure that federal laws are in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); Bill C-337, which would require judges to receive training on sexual-assault cases; and Bill S-228, which would prevent the marketing of unhealthy food aimed at children.
The Senate rules allow for a minority of senators to use procedural tactics in a way that can prevent bills – especially private members’ bills – from coming to a final vote. Mr. Harder told the Senate Wednesday that it is clear there is not “a collective will” to pass any private members’ bills into law this month.
“Regrettably, I simply do not see a path forward,” Mr. Harder said. “On behalf of the government and the Prime Minister, I’ve been authorized to formally announce in this chamber that in the forthcoming election, the Liberal Party of Canada will campaign on a promise to implement as government legislation the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Bill C-262 was introduced by NDP MP Romeo Saganash and approved by the House of Commons more than a year ago, with Conservative MPs voting against the bill. Canada announced at the UN in 2016 that it would formally support the declaration, which recognizes various Indigenous rights.
Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson, the critic for the bill, previously said he was “troubled” that it had not been introduced by the government. In a speech to the Senate, he quoted former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould when he outlined his concerns with the legislation.
In a speech as minister, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said “simplistic approaches, such as adopting the UNDRIP as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it.”
Then-minister Ms. Wilson-Raybould and cabinet ultimately voted in favour of the bill at third reading.
Bill C-337 was originally introduced by former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and it was approved unanimously by the House of Commons more than two years ago.
Last week, she wrote on her Twitter account that the Conservative Party leadership told her Conservative senators would block all private members’ bills – including C-337 – to make sure that C-262 on the UN declaration never passes.
“It’s shameful that powerful senators lack the will to stand up for victims of sexual crimes," she wrote this week.
Bill S-228 also had the support of the government even though it was introduced as a private member’s bill by former senator Nancy Greene.
Conservative senators, along with some independents, have moved to block the bill from becoming law in response to concerns from food-industry groups that the legislation unfairly labels Canadian products as unhealthy, which could harm exports.
Andrew Lynk, the chair and chief of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said the bill would have made a positive impact toward reducing childhood obesity.
“We’re very disappointed that a few senators can block such an important bill. It seems very undemocratic, but we’re in this for the long term, and we’re going to battle on after the next election,” he said.