Parliament's fall sitting
MPs are are heading back to Ottawa to consider holdover issues from the spring, foreign interference, pharmacare and measures to address the affordability crisis
Following a major cabinet shuffle over the summer, which included the appointment of a new Justice Minister, Parliament resumes this week amid a housing and cost-of-living crisis, the fallout from web giants refusing to pay for news following legislative changes to Canada's broadcasting policy, and declining support for the government in national public opinion polls.
The task of managing the legislative agenda ahead falls to a new Government House Leader, Karina Gould, who says she hopes to set a new tone with other House parties. In the spring, the government managed to secure the support of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois for time allocation motions frequently to overcome procedural obstacles set by the Conservatives.
As Parliament reconvenes, Justice Marie-Josée Hogue will lead the highly anticipated foreign interference public inquiry, and the government may introduce legislation enabling a foreign agent registry. Former Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, has urged Parliament to begin studying foreign interference legislation models from the UK and Australia, rather than waiting for the inquiry to complete its work.
The NDP, who are in a confidence and supply agreement with the governing Liberals, have quieted threats to pull their support from the government, opting instead to "use all available tools" to push the government on key agenda items. One of those is a promised pharmacare bill to be tabled before the end of the calendar year, though it would serve only as a framework requiring nine provincial premiers to sign onto before it can usher in a national pharmacare system. (PEI has already signed on).
The government has also signaled it will push its cybersecurity and digital privacy bills this fall. Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says he wants Canada to be the first country to have a legislative framework for AI in place. Closed-door consultations have been held around a future online harms bill, which the government may also introduce soon.
Meanwhile, the country is largely focused on the housing crisis and the kinds of tools the federal government has at its disposal to address it.
Among the housing measures unveiled last week is the revival of a 2015 promise to remove the GST for purpose-built rental housing. That measure is likely to be presented in the upcoming fall budget bill. The government has also announced there will be changes to the Competition Act, including scrapping the efficiencies defense for mergers, granting the Competition Bureau the authority to compel the production of information to conduct market studies, and empowering it to take action against collaborations that hinder competition and consumer choice. Initially pledged for 2022, these changes have been the subject of consultations for the past year.
Meanwhile, several government bills are at different stages in both chambers:
- Bill S-6 is a technical omnibus bill amending different statutes as part of a regulatory modernization initiative to remove barriers to economic growth and innovation. It has passed the Senate and has only had a few hours of second-reading debate in the House of Commons.
- The relatively controversial Bill S-7 proposes to create a permissive new standard by which border officers can examine personal digital devices. Senators objected to the new standard and amended the bill to require that preclearance officers require "reasonable grounds to suspect" before conducting a search. As amended, the bill passed the Senate but has languished on the order paper in the Commons without debate for almost a year.
- Bill S-9 amends the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act to avoid potential discrepancies with its namesake convention. This bill had passed the Senate but died on the order paper at the last election call. It has passed the Senate again but has yet to be debated in the House, almost one year later.
- Bill S-11 is a technical bill that works to harmonize federal law with Quebec civil law and ensures that each language version of existing legislation takes into account both common and civil law. It was introduced and passed by the Senate last fall, and has been waiting for debate in the House since February.
- Bill S-12 is a criminal justice bill around amending the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which also codifies the process for modifying or revoking publication bans. It passed the Senate in June and awaits introduction in the House of Commons.
- Bill S-13 amends the Interpretation Act to ensure that statutes and regulations are construed as upholding the Section 35 Aboriginal and treaty rights of Indigenous people, repealing non-derogation clauses in other Acts. It was introduced in the Senate in June and has only seen introductory debate there.
- Bill C-20 would create a new Public Complaints and Review Commission for the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency. However, there are concerns the proposed independent oversight body won't be empowered to carry out its mandate. The bill spent the spring session being studied at committee, which has yet to report back on its conclusions.
- Bill C-21 is the government's centrepiece gun control bill that would end the importation of handguns and increase penalties for several firearms-related offences. Following an outcry over proposed amendments, consideration was paused for several months until a new series of amendments was proposed and passed. The bill passed the House of Commons and is now undergoing consideration at committee in the Senate.
- Bill C-23 would see greater Indigenous participation in the designation of historical places or sites of national historical significance and their conservation. The bill has undergone a few hours of debate at second reading, albeit months apart.
- Bill C-26 makes technical changes to the Telecommunications Act around securing systems against cyber-attacks and enacts parts of the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act. The bill passed second reading in the House, and awaits committee study.
- Bill C-27 is the government's promised overhaul of federal privacy legislation to make it more compliant with the digital era, including establishing a new Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal. It passed second reading in the House of Commons in April, and awaits committee study.
- Bill C-29 proposes the creation of a national council for reconciliation in response to Call to Action 53 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is currently undergoing committee study in the Senate.
- Bill C-33 makes amendments to railway safety and seeks to modernize the governance of federally-owned and regulated ports. It saw a few hours of debate at second reading in the House of Commons, but those hours were months apart.
- Bill C-34 seeks to modernize the national security review portions of the Investment Canada Act. The bill passed second reading in the House in April, and has been undergoing committee study.
- Bill C-35 looks to create a federal framework in legislation for the continued funding of provincial early learning and childcare, proofing it somewhat against its dismantling by future government to dismantle. The bill passed the House of Commons in June and awaits debate in the Senate.
- Bill C-37 seeks to amend legislation pertaining to the Employment Insurance Board of Appeal in advance of a promised modernization of the EI system. It has yet to be debated nine months after its introduction.
- Bill C-38 enacts changes required by the Nicolas v. Canada decision around Indian Act registration for those who had previously been disqualified in discriminatory ways. It also seeks to hold off on further litigation by First Nations families looking to end the inequities and exclusion faced by those "enfranchised" under previous versions of the Indian Act. It has been introduced but has yet to be debated.
- Bill C-40, seeks to create a Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission. It completed second reading debate in June and awaits committee study.
- Bill C-42 could amend the Canada Business Corporations Act to require beneficial ownership disclosure for federally-regulated corporations, long called for to fight money laundering and sanctions evasion. The bill passed the House of Commons in June and awaits debate in the Senate.
- Bill C-48 is the federal government's response to provinces' demands for bail reform and makes targeted changes to require a reverse onus for certain repeat offenders. The bill was introduced in May but has yet to see any debate.
- Bill C-49 amends the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to make several technical changes to the rules around offshore oil projects. The bill was introduced in May but has yet to undergo debate.
- Bill C-50, short-titled the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, which is the government's preferred terminology to the "just transition" away from carbon-intensive industries to training workers for the net-zero economy. Some provinces, namely Alberta, are up in arms about the bill, which was introduced in June but has seen no debate.
- Bill C-52 creates a new statutory framework around transparency and accountability for the air transportation sector, hoping to deal with some of the issues that have plagued airlines and airports since the re-opening after the height of the pandemic. It has yet to be debated.
- Bill C-53 would give recognition to certain Métis governments in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It swiftly passed second reading upon introduction and awaits committee study.