Next week, things will be quiet on Parliament Hill. The House of Commons is adjourned until April 20, and the next fixed sitting day for the Senate is April 21. Meanwhile, Ontario’s legislative assembly will reconvene on April 13. It’s as a good a time as any for those who have a stake in upcoming government decisions (which is, to some extent, all of us) to take a big-picture view of some of the political developments from the last few weeks.
If we weren’t all familiar with the details of Bill C-51 before, they’ve certainly entered the public consciousness now. For this reason, I’ve decided to not to discuss this particular bill. Instead, you’ll find a rundown of three lesser-known recent bills along with the debate – official and public – that surrounds them. I’ve been following these issues using HansardWatch (Gnowit’s government-monitoring platform) and CoreAlerts (Gnowit’s media-monitoring platform). These tools turned up almost all of the sources referenced below.
Bill C-42: Common Sense Licensing Firearms Act
On April 2, Bill C-42 passed its second reading. According to a legislative bill summary provided by the Library of Parliament*, the bill:
- creates a statutory category for non-restricted firearms
- provides for the automatic issuance of authorizations to transport upon license renewal
- creates a grace period extending the validity of firearms licensing
- makes the completion of a safety course a prerequisite for obtaining a new firearms license
* The points above are taken directly from the Library of Parliament website, which listed several other major elements of the bill.
Those Affected: The gun lobby, hunters, those at risk of being victimized by gun-related violence, those who advocate on behalf of any of the aforementioned groups, and anyone who feels strongly about access to firearms in Canada.
History: The federal government’s destruction of the long gun registration in 2011 was highly controversial. Its ongoing conflict with Quebec – the one province that challenged the order to destroy registry information – came to a head on March 27, when the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the Harper regime. Bill C-42 is the latest firearms-related issue introduced by the Conservatives. The bill was initially slated for debate on October 22, 2014 (one day after the shootings on Parliament Hill).
Point of Contention: Strong words emerged in response to several major aspects of the bill, including a six-month grace period for gun owners after their registration lapses, a decrease in restrictions on the transportation of firearms, and restrictions that lessen provincial authority over the implementation of firearms legislation. In addition, some members – including Francoise Boivin, MPP for Gatineau – expressed the opinion that the Conservatives are shutting down debate, pointing to the number of time allocations they have used.
Steven Blaney, Conservative, Levis – Bellechasse, Quebec: “[This bill] includes measures that will increase the safety of our country, such as mandatory training for anybody who wants to acquire or possess a firearm.”
Jinny Simms, NDP, Newton – North Delta, B.C.: “[Making these changes] does not put public safety first; rather, it puts political pandering to its lobby groups ahead of what is good for Canadians.”
Adam Vaughn, Liberal, Trinity – Spadina Ontario: “With a world view that sees terrorists around every corner, how are Canadians made more safe by making automatic and semi-automatic weapons easier to get?”
The title of Bill 82 (a private member’s bill introduced by NDP member Peter Tabuns) provides a straightforward summary of its contents. Its first reading was carried on March 25. On the same day, Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro asserted that a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would not be considered.
Those Affected: Producers of natural gas and their advocates, members of communities near potential hydraulic fracturing sites and their advocates, those who are concerned about pollution, and those who view natural gas as an integral part of Canada’s economic development.
History: Fracking is a contentious issue in Canada and other parts of the world. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have placed moratoriums on the practice, and similar discussions have occurred in other provinces. But there have also been swells of support for the natural gas produced by fracking, including in B.C., where the Liberal government has been banking on an LNG (liquified natural gas) boom. Across Canada, media reports – which discuss health and environmental concerns as well as potential economic benefits – have played a prominent role in the debate. Though Bill 82 was quickly shot down after its introduction, the Council of Canadians immediately published an article in support of it.
Interestingly, on March 26, one day after Peter Tabuns introduced his private member’s bill, Bill 76 (the Natural Gas Superhighway Act, which includes amendments to the Taxation Act that would provide tax credits to those who purchase vehicles that use natural gas) – was referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills.
“This bill amends the Oil, Gas, and Salt Resources Act to prohibit hydraulic fracturing. It provides the people of this province with a legal barrier to any cabinet that may want to allow it.”
“[T]he legislative assembly will determine how [this] particular bill is dealt with in due course.”
Broader Implications: Though some would probably relegate this private members bill to a mere footnote in recent federal government history, its broader context gives it greater significance. Polls show a good deal of support for a prohibition on fracking in Ontario, but only time will tell what these polls mean for the province and the various interests involved.
Bill 40, which passed second reading on March 11, would expand the scope of what can be insured by Agricorp, a Crown agency of Ontario. Through amendments to the wording of the original Crop Insurance Act – from “agricultural crops and perennial plants” to “agricultural products” – the Agriculture Insurance Act will extend the rules governing Agricorp’s business interactions with farmers to livestock, poultry, dairy and more. The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs began consideration of the bill on April 2.
History: First reading occurred on November 19, 2014. As of March 11, nine days of debate had been devoted to the bill, despite the fact that it consistently garnered a great deal of support within the house. It was noted during the proceedings that every Canadian province insures a broader range of agricultural products than Ontario.
Points of Contention: In the March 11 debate, some Liberals members were eager to proceed with the bill (which the party had introduced). Several Conservatives believed there was more to say. Mr. Rick Nicholls, for example, raised concerns related to the timeliness of future payments after natural disasters.
Hon James J. Bradley, Liberal, St. Catherines:
“This bill, if passed, will help our farmers better manage risk and encourage greater innovation, job creation and growth in the agri-food sector.”
Mr. Rick Nichols, Conservative, Chatham – Kent – Essex:
“[F]or far too long, Ontario farmers have been at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts across the country.”
Broader Implications: The bill is sure to appeal to farmers and their advocates; of course, there are potential ramifications for private insurers, who tend to lose out financially when services are made public.
Feature Image Courtesy: Lord of the Wings