Senators face fewer barriers than MPs on backbench bills
If Conservative Senator Bob Runciman carries through on his pledge to draft legislation cracking down on protests like the one that briefly bedevilled the prime minister's security detail in Vancouver this week, it would put him in line to have not one but two bills passed into law in a single Parliament.
Last June, Runciman became one of just four senators to successfully shepherd a bill from first reading to Royal Assent during that parliamentary session, when his bid to legalize mixed martial arts prize fights garnered the near unanimous approval of the House of Commons.
Unlike the Commons, which doles out private members' speaking slots through a chance-based lottery system, once a Senate public bill has been introduced, it is automatically added to the upper chamber's to-do list, and can be called for second reading debate the very next sitting day — provided, that is, the Senate doesn't adjourn before making it through the daily order paper, or "scroll."
To keep the scroll from being cluttered with dozens of legislative gambits that have been effectively abandoned by their sponsors, the Senate rules dictate that any item not brought forward for consideration within 15 sitting days be dropped.
As long as a senator is willing to put in the minimum effort required to keep a bill from falling off the agenda, he or she can be reasonably confident it will go to at least one vote, although there is, of course, no guarantee that it will get the parliamentary nod to go further.
During the last session, senators defeated just one public bill: then-Liberal Senator Mac Harb's bid to abolish the seal hunt, which went down on a voice vote at second reading. Three more were dropped from the scroll due to inactivity, and 14 died on the order paper at prorogation.
MP co-sponsors needed to get bill into House
If the bill does manage to make it through third reading in the Senate, the sponsoring senator has to find an MP willing to introduce it in the Commons, at which point it is placed in the rotation for Commons private members' business.
Those MPs, it's worth noting, don't have to give up their own spot on the priority list to back a Senate bill, but can only sponsor a Senate bill once per Parliament.
In Runciman's case, that duty fell to Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti, who also led off the first round of debate on the bill when it came up for consideration a few weeks later.
From introduction to final passage, the entire process took just 15 months, including four months on the waiting list at the perennially overbooked House justice committee.
And while MPs have to wait for months — or, not infrequently, years — for their number to come up, Runciman could very well see a second bill through to completion before the next election.
Even if he missed that deadline, he'd be able to reintroduce it on the first day of the 42nd Parliament, which is something that his lower house colleagues, who serve at the pleasure of the electorate, can't necessarily count on being able to do if and when they return to their seats in the Commons.