The Senate gave its final approval to the government’s budget bill and climate change legislation Tuesday, but recessed for summer without passing Bill C-10, the controversial Liberal broadcasting bill, nor a separate bill aimed at curtailing conversion therapy.
The Liberal government had listed all four bills as priorities to pass into law by summer, but the Senate only signed off on two of them.
One of the biggest questions facing the Senate this week was whether it would schedule committee hearings over the summer on Bill C-10, which would update the Broadcasting Act. Summer hearings would have left open the possibility that the bill could still pass before a possible fall election. However senators effectively shut down that option Tuesday, recessing until mid-September without scheduling any summer hearings.
As a result, if an election campaign begins in late August or early September, Bill C-10, as well as the other unapproved priority bill and all other unfinished legislation, would die.
Canada’s governor-general post has been vacant for months, that’s a problem
Catherine McKenna, and half of Trudeau’s first cabinet, are now going or gone
During this week’s debate on C-10, senators expressed strong reservations and said it required more in-depth review.
Senator David Richards, a Canadian novelist who was appointed as an independent senator by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, told the Senate Tuesday that C-10 raises serious freedom-of-speech concerns.
“I will always and forever stand against any bill that subjects freedom of expression to the doldrums of governmental oversight,” he said. “And I implore others to do the same. Because I don’t think this bill needs amendment. I think, however, it needs a stake through the heart.”
The four bills were only sent to the Senate from the House in late June. Several senators expressed frustration with the government pressure to approve them despite the tight timing.
As one senator, Scott Tannas, put it last week: “Your bad planning is not my emergency.”
Bill C-10 was introduced in the House of Commons in November. According to the government, it’s meant to update the Broadcasting Act for the digital age and level the playing field between traditional broadcasters and web giants. The legislation is one in a series of bills on internet regulation that Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault promised to introduce.
C-10 gained notoriety this spring during study at a Commons committee, when Liberal members removed a section of the bill that would have excluded user-generated content from regulation. Critics said this change meant Canadian citizens could have their social-media content regulated, while the government maintained that there were other provisions in the bill to protect people’s rights.
Senators also resisted government pressure to pass another bill, C-6, that the Liberals had identified as a priority. The legislation would effectively ban the practice known as conversion therapy, which aims to change an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or to change an individual’s gender identity or expression.
Rather than approving the bill this week, the Senate sent the legislation to committee for further review in September.
Several senators have spoken in favour of C-6 in recent days, including Senator Marilou McPhedran, who described the legislation as “an act of love.”
“I am the proud mother of a non-binary queer person who, as a child, was secretly taken to gender conversion sessions until I found out,” she told the Senate last week. “This is a brilliant, strong, compassionate person who brings huge light to our world. To this day, more than 30 years later, they remember that terrible time even though they have not only survived, but they thrive and share the power of love every day, in so many ways, with so many people.”
But Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett said this week that the bill raises religious freedom concerns.
“Here’s the problem: It’s no secret that the practice of homosexuality is forbidden in some faiths,” he told the Senate this week. “The bill before us today may be well intentioned, and Conservatives support it in principle. Abusive or coercive conversion therapy should be banned. But the bill has significant problems that need to be addressed.”
The Senate approved Bill C-30, the budget bill, and C-12, a climate change bill, on Tuesday.
Bill C-30 gives the legal authority for the government to move ahead with various plans laid out in April’s budget, including extending pandemic-related support programs through the summer.
Bill C-12 requires the federal government to set national targets for reducing Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions. The targets – and related progress reports – would apply to every five-year period from 2030 to 2050, when the government says Canada will reach a target of net zero emissions.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.