This election means death. Not only have Ottawa scrums, filibusters, and drawn-out committees been killed, pieces of legislation making their way through parliament have all met a harsh end as politicians take to the campaign trail.
Before a bill becomes law, it is introduced in either the House of Commons or the Senate. Subsequently the bill goes through readings where it is introduced, given a number code and debated. It can be read again, amended then passed, from the House to the Senate but only becomes law if it is given Royal Assent by the Governor General.
But bills are stopped in their tracks when an election is called. We tracked down the people who pioneered five of the most important bills that died on the order paper when the writ dropped. We asked what they thought of the abrupt death of their projects and if they’ll attempt rebooting them.
While government bills (titled C- with a number under 201) can be reintroduced at an advanced phase with the consent of the House, private members’s bills and motions are entered in a lottery to determine their Order of Precedence, meaning the order in which they can be re-introduced. Only 30 members per session have their motions considered, although the list is replenished if all motions are dealt with.
Here’s a look at the five bills that may or may not rise again:
Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes), was introduced by then NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis in May 2009. After she left to run for mayor of Winnipeg, the bill was adopted by another NDP MP, Paul Dewar.
The bill, which came to be known as “the AIDS drug bill” would’ve allowed generic drug makers to supply their products to developing countries, so they could fight diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, and help the world’s 15 million AIDS victims. Apotex Inc. had promised to make much-needed antiretrovirals for children, should the legislaiton pass. The bill, which was passed earlier this month by the House of Commons, was sabotaged by its review committee and then by the Conservatives’s attempt to effectively whip the senate, feeling it would hinder Big Pharma.
“It’s pretty outrageous,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “This bill had a lot of potential, and we pushed really hard to get it to pass. We had a lot of support from MPs in all parties.”
Dewar said he plans to reintroduce the bill. “We have to abolish the senate though, first,” he laughed. “That’s my plan. Well I’m just joking… but not really.” Dewar noted the bill was lucky to be successfully transferred after Wasylycia-Leis’s leave, as it is not an automatic process. “It was revived when actual co-operation broke out in the House of Commons,” he said. “Through unanimous consent, I was able to pick the bill up. “I’m ready, able, and willing to carry it forward after the election,” said Dewar, who hopes it ranks high in the order or precedence. “There’s so much public support for it. I don’t think they could get away with this again.”
Private Member’s Motion M-517 proposed a reform of Question Period. Conservative MP Michael Chong’s pet project aimed to civilize parliament’s most savage — and ironically unproductive — 45 minutes each sitting day.
The motion sought to strengthen how much discipline a speaker can give, lengthen the alloted time for each question and answer, and aimed at “examining the convention that the minister questioned need not respond.”
“Parliament needs to be reformed and I think the reform of parliament should begin with the reform of Question Period,” said Chong. If passed, the motion would have also stipulated who should be asked questions, most notably dedicating Wednesday exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister, and requiring ministers be present for two of the other four days. Chong noted that he was listed in the Order of Precedence for the first time in six years, and said he would re-table his motion in the rare chance he was listed for the next session. “I’m disappointed that the committee didn’t have a chance to deal with it before the election.”
Chong explained that while many members add motions and bills to the order paper solely to generate publicity for an issue, he fully intends to enact this reform. “I’ll continue to work on this issue through whatever mechanisms are available to me after the election,” said Chong. “Because this problem isn’t going away and I think Canadians want it to be addressed.”
Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), was a private member’s bill sponsored by NDP MP Bill Siksay. Introduced in early 2009, the legislation would have make it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity, and aimed to protect transgender individuals by amending the Human Rights Act.
These amendments would have also been made to the Criminal Code, rendering these acts of discrimination hate crimes. The House passed the bill in February, against Stephen Harper’s wishes. However, the fact that it received “unanimous support from the Bloc, several Conservatives, and the Liberals bodes well for the next parliament” says Siksay. The MP is confident in the future of the bill; passing it again will demonstrate the governments’ “commitment to human rights.”
Bill S-11 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, was introduced in May 2010 and would have developed federal regulations for governing water provision, disposal and quality standards in First Nations communities.
An issue that has received much attention recently is the issue of providing First Nations reserves with safe drinking water. An assessment from 2001-2001 found that three quarters of the drinking water systems in First Nations communities were at risk.
Despite the dire situation on many reserves, many First Nations leaders criticized the bill, feeling they were left out of the creating of the legislation and not offered funding to get it off the ground. The Assembly of First Nations felt that the bill presented lofty goals but sparse plans for financial investment and support, which in the long run, could leave reserves in worse condition.
The bill sparked controversy for attempting to criminalize the use and promotion of software that circumvents digital locks, generating high-profile criticism, a minister’s comment that critics were “radical extremists,” and an indutry-led astroturfing campaign. But the bill also aimed at tackling online piracy, and making it legal to transfer music from CDs to iPods.
MP Tony Clement, who introduced the bill as Minister of Industry, told us he plans to reintroduce the bill if re-elected. “It’s just another example of important legislation that has now been discontinued because of the opposition parties passing a motion of non-confidence,” said Clement. “This is a very necessary piece of legislation to help regularize certain habits of consumers and also protect artists from wealth-destroying pirates. “I’m hoping that if we get a majority government, we can actually concentrate on the issues like C-32 and privacy protection and other aspects of the digital economy.”