Parliament Returns Monday: Five Key Bills To Watch

Parliament Returns Monday: Five Key Bills To Watch

September 14, 2018 6amET

Firearms, trade, and the assessment process for resource projects are among the key government bills in the House of Commons and Senate as Parliament returns Monday from a three-month summer break.

Here are five pieces to legislation to watch for this autumn; some have progressed to Senate, while others have yet to be debated at all.

Bill: C-71

Topic: Firearms Regulation

Status: Third Reading (House of Commons)

C-71, the government’s firearms legislation, includes:

  • RCMP licence background checks considering a person’s entire lifetime, not just the previous five years;
  • Requiring sellers to confirm a buyer’s valid licence;
  • Requiring commercial retailers to keep complete sales records, which police could access via warrant. The previous government made this record-keeping voluntary;
  • Returning the RCMP’s power to classify firearms (non-restricted, restricted, prohibited) without a cabinet override. A government to make changes would need legislation to amend the Criminal Code;
  • Requiring permits for the transport of all restricted and prohibited firearms — except to and from a shooting club or range.

CPAC In Focus: Bill C-71 and Firearm Regulation

The public safety committee produced three reports on the bill in June. That included an amendment to expand the criteria for considering a firearms application: a history of violent behaviour and threats, a history of domestic violence, and online activity.

The committee also called for better tools to prevent weapons trafficking, illegal gun sales, and gang activity.

Meanwhile, the mandate letter for new cabinet minister Bill Blair includes an order to examine “a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians.”

Here’s what the prime minister said following this summer’s Danforth shooting in Toronto:

The opposition Conservatives have criticized C-71 for failing to combat urban gang violence and rising rural crime rates, while punishing law-abiding gun owners and Indigenous people.

The NDP supports certain aspects of the bill, such as expanded background checks, but criticized the use of time allocation to limit debate in the House of Commons. However, the public safety committee did accept an NDP amendment on licence verification when purchasing a gun.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had this to say when introducing the bill in March:

Bill: C-79

Topic: Implementing the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement

Status: First Reading (House of Commons)

While NAFTA talks — and cross-border tariffs — continue with the United States, C-79 is concerned with another piece of Canada’s international trade: entry into the “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The Conservatives accused the government of dragging its feet in introducing the bill this past spring:

The NDP, meanwhile, accuses the other two parties of championing an agreement that would harm Canada’s automotive and manufacturing sectors — at a time when U.S. tariffs continue on steel and aluminum, and President Donald Trump threatens the same on vehicles.

Other current signatories to the CPTPP are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the original TPP agreement in 2017, leading the remaining countries to forge the new version.

Canada already has free trade with Chile, Mexico, and Peru. According to federal estimates, Canada’s trade with the other seven countries totalled $71 billion in 2016.

Bill: C-76

Topic: Election Law

Status: Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs 

C-76 proposes an array of changes to federal election law, from the voting process, to foreign and third-party spending, to the information that political parties collect on voters.

Some proposals come from recommendations sent to Parliament by former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand. Other sections seek to reverse policies implemented by the previous government.

CPAC In Focus: Government Seeks Changes to Spending, Voting Process

A May time allocation motion from the government led to testy question period exchanges:

Conservatives were critical of C-76 provisions on foreign funding and voter identification, and claimed the government waited too long to introduce the bill in advance of 2019.

The NDP wanted more debate and committee consultation. New Democrats also called for more party consensus before major changes to the electoral system, and more attention paid to the personal information collected by political parties.

At committee, the chief electoral officer has recommended amendments that include:

  • forcing a registered party’s privacy policy to be consistent with the principles of PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act)
  • strengthening provisions to prevent foreign entities from circumventing the proposed spending rules

Here’s what MPs from the three major parties initially told CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen when the bill was introduced on April 30:

Bill: C-69

Topic: Environmental Assessment and Natural Resource Projects

Status: First Reading (Senate)

The government’s plan for environmental and regulatory review of major resource projects now resides in the upper chamber.

From the beginning, C-69 has been tied to the Trans Mountain pipeline dispute and the wider debate over social licence and Indigenous consent. For instance:

Now, senators will consider the assessment plan following the Federal Court of Appeal that quashed approval of the pipeline expansion and brought construction work to a halt.

CPAC In Focus: Full Reaction to Trans Mountain Court Decision

CPAC In Focus: New Assessment Rules Tabled in Parliament

The previous Conservative government passed several changes to environmental assessment and resource project reviews in budget implementation legislation.

The 2015 Liberal platform pledged a new assessment process, and the Trudeau government launched a formal review in June 2016. That followed the introduction, five months prior, of an interim assessment process for energy projects already under review.

The interim criteria:

  • “no project proponent will be asked to return to the starting line;
  • “decisions will be based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant evidence;
  • “the views of the public and affected communities will be sought and considered;
  • “Indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted, and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests will be accommodated;
  • “direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the projects under review will be assessed.”

The Trans Mountain decision said the government failed in its duty to meaningfully consult Indigenous people — and that the National Energy Board did not account for impact of extra tanker traffic on the Southern resident killer whale population.

As for Bill C-69, the Commons environment committee passed amendments in May.

Bill: C-58

Topic: Access to Information and Government Transparency

Status: Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

When the government’s long-awaited reform package for the Access to Information Act arrived there were immediate questions about whether the changes lived up to the 2015 Liberal platform — especially transparency for the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet ministers.

Here’s more on the reaction when the government first proposed the access to information reforms in June 2017. There was much criticism that the bill doesn’t address fundamental problems in the 30-plus-year-old federal access to information system.

The NDP’s Nathan Cullen called C-58 “nothing short of a travesty,” especially for First Nations seeking information about land claims and grievances.

The information commissioner labelled C-58 a “regression of existing rights” — and a failed promise to make the Prime Minister’s Office and ministers’ offices subject to the Access to Information Act.

A Commons committee has since passed several amendments, while rejecting a longer list of potential changes.

The newer provisions include:

  • more power for the information commissioner to publish the results of investigations and orders
  • more power for the information commissioner to overrule a department’s rejection of a request for vexatious or bad faith reasons
  • a30-day proactive disclosure for ministers’ mandate letters

Subsequent third-reading debate saw opposition MPs remain critical of the legislation — with Conservatives tying the bill to the Liberal government’s overall approach to democratic reform and transparency.

-Andrew Thomson