With all the focus lately on Prime Minister Harper’s self-serving request that the Governor General prorogue Parliament, there has been surprisingly little commentary on whether Mr. Harper could have kept Parliament shut down during the Olympics without resorting to that blunt instrument Canadians now commonly know as Prorogation. And just what did we lose when all those Bills died on the Order Paper?
The rules of procedure for the House of Commons provide that the days or times of parliamentary sittings may be altered through special order. Examples of this being done before are listed on Parliament’s website itself [emphasis added]:
- to eliminate a sitting in order to allow some Members to attend a political convention;
- not to sit when ceremonies are taking place to mourn the passing of public figures;
- to make a statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools;
- to start a sitting earlier on given days in order to consider Government Orders;
- for the installation of a new Governor General;
- to begin a sitting earlier or later in order for a visiting leader or head of state to address both Houses;
- not to sit on days on which the House would otherwise sit;
- and to sit on days on which the House would not otherwise sit, including Saturdays and Sundays.
Although none of the reasons cobbled together by Mr. Harper for shutting down Parliament for an extended period of time rise to the level of making a landmark apology to victims of Indian Residential Schools, the fact remains that there was a process available for altering — even drastically — the schedule of Parliament without proroguing the parliamentary Session.
The difference between prorogation and an (albeit extended) adjournment is significant. Upon prorogation, all parliamentary committees cease and all orders of reference lapse. Committee memberships (other than for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs) are terminated. No documents can be tabled (including reports of parliamentary officers like the parliamentary budget officer, or the auditor general). A new throne speech must be read and debated. And, most significantly, by default Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and must be reintroduced at the next Session as if they had never existed. (And yet Mr. Harper complains about Bills getting stalled in the Senate!)
Here, by the way, is a list of Bills that died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued:
- Bill C-6: An Act respecting the safety of consumer products (Canada Consumer Product Safety Act). This bill had actually passed third reading stage in the Senate, but hadn’t actually received Royal Assent. Close, but no cigar.
- Bill C-8: An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act).
- Bill C-13: An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act.
- Bill C-15: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Here’s another Bill that had passed Third Reading in the Senate but hadn’t yet received Royal Assent.
- Bill C-19: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions)
- Bill C-20: An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident (Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act). Sound important? It made it through the Commons Committee stage.
- Bill C-23: An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia (Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act). That’s okay. The Colombians aren’t going anywhere.
- Bill C-26: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime). This one was before a Senate committee when it died.
- Bill C-27: An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act (Electronic Commerce Protection Act). Huh, what’s that about the economy?
- Bill C-30: An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (Senate Ethics Act).
- Bill C-31: An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.
- Bill C-34: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act).
- Bill C-35: An Act to deter terrorism, and to amend the State Immunity Act(Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act).
- Bill C-36: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act).
- Bill C-37: An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts (An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission).
- Bill C-40: An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (Expanded Voting Opportunities Act).
- Bill C-42: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes Act).
- Bill C-43: An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code (Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act).
- Bill C-44: An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act.
- Bill C-45: An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. According to the Bill’s legislative summary, this is actually the third time this Bill has died on the Order Paper.
- Bill C-46: An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act (Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act).
- Bill C-47: An Act regulating telecommunications facilities to support investigations (Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement in the 21st Century Act).
- Bill C-52: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud) (Retribution on Behalf of Victims of White Collar Crime Act).
- Bill C-53: An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act).
- Bill C-54: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act (Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act).
- Bill C-55: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Shoker Act).
- Bill C-57: An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act).
- Bill C-58: An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service (Child Protection Act (Online Sexual Exploitation)).
- Bill C-59: An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act (Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act).
- Bill C-60: An Act to implement the Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America (Keeping Canadians Safe (Protecting Borders) Act).
- Bill C-61: An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations (Railway Continuation Act, 2009).
- Bill C-63: An Act to amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act and another Act in consequence thereof (First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act).
This list doesn’t include the four government Bills introduced in the Senate, the 45 public bills from the Senate, or the 353 private members’ bills in the House (which admittedly weren’t likely to get anywhere anyway). All of which died on the Order Paper.
If we are to believe Mr. Harper’s claim that time was needed for MPs to participate in the Olympics and simultaneously buckle down on figuring out how to manage the economy — and we don’t — then surely he could have seen fit to introduce a motion for a special order modifying the Parliamentary schedule to accommodate this through an extended adjournment. Sure, he would have had to convince more people than just the Governor General, but at least a case could have been made that the time was right for a snow day. And, when MPs got back to work after the Olympics and figuring out that pesky economy, they could have picked up where they left off debating those Bills they thought important enough to consider over the 13 days of sittings they had already had before the break. (The first break, that is: admittedly this manoeuvre would have required an Order of the House of Commons itself. But there was plenty of time to arrange that, either when Parliament was scheduled to resume on January 25, or earlier if Mr. Harper asked the Governor General to advance the date on which Parliament was set to resume.)
Now that the prorogation ship has sailed, the least Mr. Harper can do is support a move to resurrect Bills that died on the Order Paper (such as Mr. Layton’s proposal), or even bring one himself. The Standing Orders provide that Bills can be reinstated at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session, either with unanimous consent, or by motion after notice and debate.
So, we at DoubleHearsay say “Bring Back the Bills!” If Harper doesn’t pledge to do it first, I suspect the opposition parties would find a lot of public support for moving to reinstate some of these themselves. If there’s one thing Canadians won’t be able to stand more than watching MPs take an extended winter vacation to help the Prime Minister avoid accountability, it’s watching those MPs waste time re-“debating” legislation all over again.