When it comes to the Harper government's omnibus crime legislation, the Senate's sober second thought will carry over into the new year, calling into question the government's previous claim that the bill is urgent and a top priority for the Conservatives.

In an interview with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Wednesday, Government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton did not include C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, on her short list of legislation she expects the Senate to pass into law before Christmas.

"The commitment that the government made was to pass the crime bill within 100 sitting days," LeBreton said. "It's sometime in mid-March. 

"We fully expect it will be debated in the Senate, and will go to committee, legal and constitutional affairs, and it will be there I expect for quite some time."

LeBreton said the Senate's priorities for swift passage before the holiday break are C-13, the budget implementation bill, C-18, the bill to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing monopoly over Prairie wheat and barley, and C-20, the bill which redistributes and adds new seats to the House of Commons.

C-20 has yet to clear the House of Commons. Government House leader Peter Van Loan is expected to move a motion for time allocation to limit debate on the seats bill on Wednesday afternoon.

C-10 previously billed as urgent

The governing Conservatives used motions to limit debate and speed along the omnibus crime legislation not just once, but three times on its journey through the House of Commons this fall. Doing so was important, ministers said, because the measures were a key campaign commitment for the government.

On Dec.1, after late amendments to the bill were rejected, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the House of Commons that passing C-10 was a priority for the government.


Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Senate leader Majory LeBreton, seen during the Harper cabinet's swearing-in last May, offered different perspectives on the relative urgency of the omnibus crime legislation this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

On Monday, the day the bill had its final vote to clear the House of Commons, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson continued to express the government's urgency at a specially convened news conference.

"Parliament has seen and debated these measures, some of them, for as long as four years. The time for talk is over, the time for action is now," Nicholson said, encouraging the Senate to pass the legislation "expeditiously."

The omnibus legislation bundles together measures from nine bills that did not pass in previous Parliaments, some of which had been identified previously as government priorities but died when the government prorogued Parliament or an election was called.

Provincial governments, including Quebec, have expressed concerns about several aspects of the legislation, especially the cost of implementing the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions and its impact on provincial prison capacity.

Stakeholder groups, pro and con, voiced passionate opinions when the House committee reviewed the bill. Such groups may be called to appear again during the Senate's review.

The Senate is also expected to reconsider amendments proposed by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler to strengthen the bill's anti-terrorism provisions to allow victims to pursue justice in court.

Government MPs voted against Cotler's amendments at committee, but the government then attempted to reintroduce them as their own changes during report stage debate in the House of Commons.

House Speaker Andrew Scheer disallowed the amendments because they had been rejected at committee previously, meaning it now falls to the Senate to revise the bill, if that's what the Conservatives really want.

With files from Julie Van Dusen