Friday, March 1, 2013

Canadian Parliamentary Procedures for the Passage of Bills: Focus on Bill C-45

A session of the Canadian Parliament. The Parliament comprises the House of Commons and Senate, and determines the Canadian federal laws.
Omnibus Bill C-45 "Jobs and Growth Act, 2012" is a budget implementation bill comprised of 60 bills in 1 bill and 457 pages. This bill was passed by the House of Commons on December 4, 2012, and passed the Senate on December 14, 2012. Bill C-45 includes the following subject areas: Shipping, Financial Institutions, Fisheries, Trade Act, Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act, Canada Pension Plan, Indian Act, Judges Act, Canada Labour Code, Amendments to the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act, Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and many more subject areas. 

Bill C-45 took under two months (58 days) to pass from the First Reading to Royal Assent: October 18, 2012 to December 14, 2012 (Status of House Business. (March 1, 2013). The federal government has the power to set time limits for the passage of bills. The time allocation allows the government to limit the debate to hours or days for one stage of the legislative process. Time allocation can be decided by all parties, majority of parties, or unilaterally with oral notice (House of Commons Procedure and Practice. (2000)). Based on 2012 and a majority government – a bill takes two weeks to less than a year to pass into law (CBC News, 10 Bills Hurried Through The House in 2012, (July 9, 2012)).

Why was such a lengthy and complex bill allowed to pass instead of first being required to be separated into its 60 bills? Parliamentary norms require that bills have a common thread throughout them to ensure consistency within the bills. However, a majority government can limit time for Members of Parliament and related committees to both comprehend and adequately debate lengthy and complex bills prior to voting on them. There are no rules to disallow more than one bill in a bill. If Members of Parliament do not have reasonable time to comprehend and debate a bill (which affects all of Canadians), then this would favor the individuals proposing the bill, and undermine the debate and amendment processes.

Further, because the federal electoral system is based on "single member plurality" or first-past-the-post, the party or parties with a majority of the parliamentary seats do not have to represent a majority of Canadians. So a party with a majority of the House of Commons but not majority support of the Canadian electorate, can pass bills with or without amendments and which may not have been adequately debated or understood by most members of the House of Commons.

Main Aspects of the Canadian Parliamentary Process for the Passage of Bills: 

Legislation in the form of a bill can be introduced by Cabinet Members, Members of Parliament, Private Members, or a Committee. The Minister of Justice (Cabinet’s bill), or the Legislative Services office (Members’ bill), or the House (Committees' bill) reviews the bill to ensure compliance with parliamentary conventions and the Constitution (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

Each bill receives three readings in the House of Commons, and then is passed to the Senate for consideration (this process is reversed if the Senate introduces a bill.) Any amendments are discussed through messages between both Houses, and the bill receives Royal Assent only if both Houses agree on the content (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

There are procedures in place that allows the Senate to consider the bill and form an opinion before the bill passes from the House of Commons. This allows for a speedier passage if the bill is time sensitive (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

There are no specific rules regarding content of bills. The long title of the bill must accurately represent what the bill contains, and all sub-issues within the bill must be relevant to that title (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

A bill can contain many parts, divisions, and subdivisions as long as all the ideas are related and relevant to the long title of the bill (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

Related Processes Which Affect the Passage of Bills in the House of Commons:

According to the Elections Act, the electoral system in Canada is referred as "single member plurality" also known as "first-past-the-post" system. The aforementioned means that the candidate with the majority of votes in a given electoral district (geographically the Canadian territory is divided in electoral districts, also known as ridings) will be elected as a member of the Parliament (MP). There is no need to have 50 percent of the electoral district vote to access to the House of Commons, namely, a candidate with the most votes in an electoral district wins the parliamentary seat for the district (Elections Act, 2000) (Foundation for Democratic Advancement Electoral Fairness Report on Canada, 2013).

The Members of Parliament tow the party line (Maple Leaf Web, June 2007).

To become law a bill must be approved by both the Senate and the House of Commons, and then receive Royal Assent from the Governor General (Compendium, February 2010).

Passage of Bills require a simple majority support by the members of the House of Commons present (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

References: 

CBC News. (July 9, 2012). 10 Bills Hurried Through The House in 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/02/15/pol-time-allocation-2012.html).

Compendium. (February 2010). Legislative Process. Retrieved from the Canadian Parliament: http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/compendium/web-content/c_g_legislativeprocess-e.htm.

Foundation for Democratic Advancement. (2013). Electoral Fairness Report on the Canadian Federal Electoral System. Report will be published in March, 2013.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009). Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/procedure-book-livre/Document.aspx?sbdid=DA2AC62F-BB39-4E5F-9F7D-90BA3496D0A6&sbpid=539552ED-5EA6-4A8C-A16D-F8B411136225&Language=E&Mode=1).

Maple Leaf Web. (June 2007). Weakening of Responsible Government. Retrieved from: http://www.mapleleafweb.com/features/prime-minister-cabinet-canada.

Status of House Business. (March 1, 2013). Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Pub=status&Ses=1&File=1#DOC--B2952766D5614F618B303693A6D81DB8).

Related Links:

Summary Contents of Bill C-45

Bill C-45 Second Reading Document

Questions:

Should the Canadian parliamentary process for the passage of bills be reformed for lengthy, complex bills in order to ensure reasonable time for comprehension and debate of these bills by members of the Parliament?






Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director







Ms. Sarah Rapchuk, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Legal Researcher

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