House of Commons rises for what could be the last time before the election

After a series of late-night sittings over the last month, the House of Commons has passed the vast majority of outstanding government legislation and has wrapped up for what could be the last time before the fall election.

So far in the 42nd Parliament — which started on December 3, 2015 after the last election — Parliament has passed 74 bills (including some that are still awaiting royal assent). Another 10 bills are in the final stages of the legislative process in both the Commons and the Senate and are likely to be sent over to Governor-General Julie Payette for signing in the next couple of days.

The former Conservative government passed 122 government bills between June 2, 2011 and August 2, 2015 — the four years of Stephen Harper’s majority government.

Some of those Conservative bills were relatively minor tweaks to the Criminal Code — strengthening witness protection, measures to prevent elder abuse and changes to the citizen’s arrest law, among others. But the Harper government also passed omnibus budget bills that ran to more than 400 pages — meaning a mere numerical count of bills doesn’t give the whole picture of how much legislative change Harper brought about.

Liberals maintain that a more independent Senate — where amendments are more frequent and Independent senators are free from the machinery of party politics — has slowed down the pace of legislative action.

MPs managed to pass more than a dozen bills at a breakneck pace over the last month — including consequential legislation like the budget, the pot pardons bills, legislation to change the definition of bestiality and crack down on animal cruelty, a massive overhaul of the fisheries regime in this country, a bill to help people who inadvertently find themselves on the ‘No Fly List,’ changes to firearms law and legislation to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

MPs also have accepted — and rejected — amendments made to Bill C-69, the controversial overhaul of the environmental assessment process, and Bill C-48, the northern B.C. oil tanker ban bill.

MPs also passed Bill C-101, changes to the customs and tariff rules that are necessary for an eventual NAFTA ratification.

The House got Bill C-100, the NAFTA enabling legislation, to the second reading stage — the finance committee also held a series of meetings with key stakeholders. MPs could return over the summer to pass that legislation into law, depending on the outcome of U.S. congressional discussions about their own NAFTA bill.

While Mexico passed its enabling legislation on Wednesday, the U.S. version faces an uncertain future thanks to Democratic and Republican wrangling over the wording of the deal’s text.

“We’re going to make sure we’re keeping in step with them,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of the Americans. “We have an ability to recall Parliament if we need to and we’ll also make sure we’re monitoring the pace at which the Americans are ratifying.”

The Senate, which typically sits a few days longer than the Commons after MPs punt government bills to the upper house, also has been actively passing bills in recent days — including C-92 the Liberal government’s reforms to the First Nations child welfare regime.

Solitary confinement bill faces an uncertain future

A Senate source, speaking on background, told CBC News that the best case scenario for the upper house is that it sorts through seven to nine government bills this evening before adjourning tomorrow.

A complicating factor is Bill C-83, legislation that will change how Correctional Services Canada deals with prisoners who must be separated from the general population. The government has said it will do away with solitary confinement because of human rights concerns and replace it with structured intervention units (SIUs).

Independent Ontario Sen. Kim Pate, a noted prison reformer and the past director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry, has said the proposed reforms don’t go far enough and could be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds.

The government accepted three changes to the bill but rejected several other more substantial Senate amendments to the legislation.

Perhaps the most significant Senate amendment was a requirement that all SIU placements be authorized by a Superior Court after 48 hours. The Correctional Service of Canada would have to file with the court each time an inmate is admitted to an SIU.

The government has said this amendment is unworkable.

“It would result in a significant addition to the workload of provincial superior courts,” the government said in rejecting that particular change.

The government also rejected an amendment that would require the transfer of prisoners suffering from disabling mental health issues to psychiatric hospitals, saying such a demand “does not take into account the inmate’s willingness to be transferred to a hospital or the hospital’s capacity to treat the inmate.”

MPs might be recalled to Ottawa this summer

A number of Trudeau-appointed Independents are opposed to the legislation, making its passage uncertain. If the Senate rejects the House’s message on the legislation, MPs might have to be recalled to Ottawa to deal with the bill to prevent it from dying on the order paper.

The Senate has not yet finished its work on the House changes to Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 — two bills that have dominated debate in the Senate for months as members of the upper house worked to make sweeping changes to the Liberal natural resources plan in response to massive opposition from industry and politicians in western Canada.

While the Liberal government accepted dozens of Senate amendments — most of which were introduced by Independent senators appointed by Trudeau — they rejected Tory amendments they said weakened provisions of the bill designed to restore trust to a “broken” environmental review process and provide clearer timelines to proponents of major energy and mining projects.

The Senate passed an unprecedented 188 amendments to Bill C-69 after months of study and a cross-country committee tour to regions most affected by changes to the natural resources and energy regulatory regime. All told, the government has accepted 62 of those Senate amendments verbatim and accepted 37 others with some substantial tweaks.

The government accepted language that will strengthen the role of the provinces in the review process and changes that will limit the ability of the environment minister to start and stop project review timelines (the government has agreed much of that power should fall to the new regulatory agency, the Impact Assessment Agency).

Among the rejected amendments were those the government saw as diluting provisions of the bill relating to Indigenous peoples — provisions the government has presented as the best way to avoid some of legal pitfalls the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project experienced as a result of Indigenous-led litigation.

Bills that passed Parliament this week (and are awaiting Royal Assent)

  • C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  • C-59, An Act respecting national security matters
  • C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act
  • C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
  • C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, and the Garnishment, Attachment, and Pension Diversion Act
  • C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)
  • C-88, An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  • C-91, Indigenous Languages Act
  • C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth, and families
  • C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis

Bills awaiting Senate approval

  • C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act
  • C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act
  • C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and other Acts
  • C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act
  • C-97, Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1
  • C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tariff and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act
  • C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020

Once passed by Parliament, legislation must receive Royal Assent from the Governor-General before becoming law.

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