Liberal bills left in legislative limbo

July 8, 2021

To say a lot has happened in Canadian politics of late would be an understatement, so let’s take stock. 

The current session of Parliament began in December of 2019, just two months following the election of a Liberal minority government and a mere three months before the declaration of a global pandemic. Then, in August of 2020, the 1st session of this Parliament was prorogued and the second session began in September. Since late December 2020, the development of effective vaccines has offered the world hope that there is a way out of the oppressive protocols driven by an aggressive, airborne virus.

While the federal government’s initial procurement effort was slow and plagued by missed deadlines for vaccine delivery, Canada is now leading the world in terms of vaccination rates. The nearly universal opinion is that there will not be a better moment for the Liberals to call an election, in the hopes of leveraging their pandemic achievements into a majority position. So when the House rose on Wednesday June 23, followed by the Senate adjourning last week until mid-September, it has pretty much been assumed that the 43rd Parliament of Canada is effectively concluded.

If that is indeed the case, those government bills still making their way through the parliamentary process will be left in limbo – dead, but likely still walking. 

This Parliament has seen 20 government bills become law during this session. For example, the Liberal’s Medical Assistance in Dying bill (C-7), and the Act to Implement the Agreement on Trade Continuity between Canada and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (C-18) both received Royal Assent earlier this year. And in a nail-biting last sitting of Senate before summer break on June 29, the government’s budget bill (C-30) received their final nod, as did Bill C-12Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

The Senate did not, however, approve Bill C-10, the controversial Liberal broadcasting bill, nor a separate bill aimed at curtailing conversion therapy (Bill C-6). Despite both bills being passed by the majority of MPs, senators said the bills warranted a more complete study in the fall.

But things did not end there. 

Prior to adjourning, the Senate explored the possibility of summer meetings to address these two bills specifically but it became clear last week that there was little support among Senators to do so. That unleashed a flurry of accusations that ranged from, “your bad planning is not my emergency” to cries of ,“Conservative obstruction” that had delayed these bills’ arrival in the Senate.

Liberal leadership, however, was not prepared to leave it at that. 

As recently as last Friday, the government’s representative in the upper chamber, Senator Marc Gold, proposed that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs meet virtually this month to study Bill C-6 specifically. This puts the “ball” squarely in Senator George Furey’s court. As Speaker of the Senate, Sen. Furey can recall the upper house if the ‘public interest so requires’.

At the time of publishing, the wrangling continues. 

It ought to be noted that Liberal law-makers did rush to table or advance several other bills during June, knowing full well they would have a very slim chance of making it to the finish line before the much-anticipated election is called. Bill C-19 allowing the government to temporarily adopt new measures to ensure safe access to election voting during the pandemic moved from second reading to consideration in committee. Bill C-32, an Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages ActBill C-35 which proposes a new federal disability benefit, and Bill C-36 calling for stricter laws around hate speech, particularly online, were all tabled in June. Of all the Liberal priority bills, only Bill C-11’s digital charter proposal, and Bill C-21’s firearms protections stalled at second reading in the House with no attempt to revive them.

In each of these cases, it raises the question of where these government priorities might feature within the context of an election platform and beyond? 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, we will likely have our answers sooner rather than later.