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The 7 private members' bills that shouldn't die in parliament, but probably will

This Magazine Staff

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during an event in Edwards, Ontario September 14, 2010.   REUTERS/Blair Gable   (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT)

Compiled by Kevin Philipupillai and Simon Wallace

Parliament resumes today.  Over the next few weeks we’re going to hear a lot about the gun registry and the census and the economy and the economy and the economy.  Often overlooked are the small, less flashy, things that parliamentarians do. Like propose private member’s bills, legislation that individual MPs sponsor, but that almost never become law. That’s sad, because there are lots of worthy ideas amidst all the chaff. Here’s a list of seven of the most interesting proposals that we’d like to see enacted. Naïve? maybe. But to be a progressive voter is to live in hope.

1) C- 318: An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act
Shocking as it may be, it turns out that most artists and authors are neither flush with cash nor given many employment benefits.  (This I know from experience.) It turns out that Tony Martin of the NDP knows this too, so he’s proposing amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. Basically if you find yourself employed under contract (implied or actual) as an artist or a writer (as, say, a foreperson at the prose factory) you will also find that you now qualify for EI – which means that writers and artists would also qualify to “receive maternity, parental and sickness benefits and access to publicly funded training programs.” So, yeah, we definitely hope this passes.

2) C-298 and C-300 re: Regulating the Social Responsibility of Mining Companies
One pressing and under-reported issue, two proposals for action. Paul Dewar (NDP) and John McKay (Liberal) offer similar-but-not-the-same proposals aiming to hold Canadian mining giants accountable for their practices in other countries. We are once again reminded of the absurdity of relying on resource-extraction companies to police themselves (i.e. restrain themselves from beefing up profit margins).

3) C-224: An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include a right to housing
Large-scale changes to our legal rights may seem abstract compared to the everyday struggles faced by too many people, but they can have an impact for the better. Peter Stoffer of the NDP wants a right to housing to be written into the Canadian Bill of Rights. Right up in Part 1, Section 1. Next to life, liberty, security, and equality. There are related proposals from NDP colleague Libby Davies to amend both the Criminal Code (C-558) and the Human Rights Act (C-559) “to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of social condition.”

4) C-381: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking and transplanting human organs and other body parts)
The poor, yes, are poor so the rich can be rich.  But being poor, and being rich, isn’t just about personal wealth but also tremendous amounts of power.  One of the most grotesque examples of of how the wealthy in our midst literally live off the poor is the global traffic of human organs and human remains. In some cases kidneys are bought, in other cases they are literally stolen from the bodies of the living—either way it’s always some rich guy who does well by this black market trade and it’s always some ravaged and abused person who suffers because of it.  It’s been going on for centuries, but it’s still nice to see that there is at least one Parliamentarian (Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Liberal) trying to do something about it.

5) C-509: An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials)
Libraries are one of the most used public institutions in the country.  A lot of us read, a lot of us enjoy reading, and all of us benefit from a literate and knowledgeable society. Having the post office (a government service — for now!) subsidize the mailing costs for libraries (another public service) makes so much sense we can’t believe it hasn’t been done yet. Actually, we can’t believe that mail isn’t free for libraries. But this bill written by Merv Tweed (Conservative) is a good start.

6) C-394: An Act to acknowledge that persons of Croatian origin were interned in Canada during the First World War and to provide for recognition of this event
This I did not know.  Thus proving, to me at least, that it’s important. During World War I individuals of Croatian origin were interned in camps. It’s important in and of itself to know these things but with the way things are starting to look in the Afghanistan war era we could all be reminded that history does judge, and it does not judge kindly racism and the suspension of civil liberties. Even—especially—if it’s done in the name of freedom. Props, again, to Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

7) C-353: An Act to prohibit the release, sale, importation and use of seeds incorporating or altered by variety-genetic use restriction technologies (V-GURTs), also called “terminator technologies”
Even in the aftermath of the devastating tragedy which continues to affect Haitians, there was enough suspicion among many Haitian farmers about ‘terminator seeds’  given as food aid that many burnt them in mass protests. These are crops genetically modified so that they essentially-self-destruct after one generation. Here we have a bill proposed by Alex Atamanenko (NDP) to keep terminator seeds out of our fields and off our plates.

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