10 bills hurried through the House in 2012

The Opposition calls it undemocratic. The government calls it necessary. We're tracking when the government uses either closure or time allocation motions to limit debate in the House of Commons.

Why the rush? Harper government continues to limit debate on bills big and small

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan has overseen the use of time allocation on four bills since the House of Commons resumed after the winter break. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Opposition calls it undemocratic. The government calls it necessary.

In 2011, the Harper government used either closure or time allocation motions to limit debate and speed the passage of bills that could otherwise have stalled in the face of Opposition objections on 12 occasions for seven different bills.

Here's a list of the government bills that have seen this hurry-up offence so far in 2012:

C-10: Safe Streets and Communities Act

Introduced: Sept. 20

Royal assent: March 13

C-10 saw motions to limit debate in the House of Commons and at committee a total of three times before it was sent to the Senate. Six amendments were made to the bill during the Senate's review of the legislation and the House must now debate and vote on its concurrence with these changes to C-10.

Debate on concurrence began on March 6. After a lengthy speech by New Democrat Jack Harris that threatened to carry over into the second day allocated for the debate on concurrence, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice late in the day of another motion for time allocation to limit the number of additional hours before the House holds its final vote on the bill.

Van Loan moved that motion on March 7 and it passed early that evening. March 8 was a day allocated for opposition business, and Harris resumed speaking on March 9 and carried on a little long before ceding the floor to other speakers. The Senate's amendments were eventually voted upon and passed on March 12.

C-11: Copyright Modernization Act

Introduced: Sept. 29

Royal assent: June 29

The membership of the special committee reviewing C-11 was set early on last fall, when Heritage Minister James Moore was still talking about wanting the bill passed before Christmas. (This bill is exactly the same as one debated and reviewed by a committee in the previous Parliament, and keeping the bill identical was one of the government's strategies for speeding it along.)

The special committee couldn't get to work, because C-11 wasn't prioritized the way other bills were for passage at second reading. The government's reasons for doing so weren't explicitly stated – it is hard to separate the Canadian debate from the very active and contentious American copyright legislation file – but time allocation for C-11 was passed on Feb. 8 after a motion from Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, citing the 75 speeches already given in the House on the bill, and denunciations from Moore, decrying opposition stalling tactics.

The committee moved quickly following the second reading vote, and reported back to the House on March 15. However, the committee report includes amendments to 8 clauses of the legislation.

Report stage debate for C-11 did not begin until May 14. At the end of its first day of debate at report stage, citing an agreement which "has not been reached" with the opposition parties concerning the proceedings for the final stages of the bill, Van Loan gave notice of a second motion for time allocation the following day. In doing so, Van Loan mentioned that the bill has just seen its 11th day of debate in the House, and that the bill had been the subject of "extensive hearings" in the current and previous Parliament, hearing from "almost 200 witnesses." 

The House debated, voted on and passed a vote on time allocation for the report and third reading stages on May 15. The House voted to concur the bill at report stage that evening. The single day allocated for debate at third reading was June 15, and the bill passed its final vote in the Commons on June 18.

The government's Conservative majority expedited its passage through the Senate in late June, but needed to use time allocation there too to ensure it passed at third reading before senators recessed for the summer.

C-19: Ending the Long-gun Registry Act

Introduced:  Oct. 25

Royal assent: April 5

After raising some eyebrows by not including the legislation to end the long-gun registry in with other bills rushed through the House before Christmas, the government kicked off the new year by wrapping up debate at the report stage on C-19 with a time allocation motion on Feb. 6. (The committee that studied the bill after second reading had reported back to the House on Nov. 30. No amendments passed in committee.) Van Loan said he wanted it passed by mid-February, and with the support of two NDP MPs, the bill passed third reading 159-130 on Feb. 16.

The Senate considered the bill through March and the bill became law on April 5. However, its implementation is currently stalled, subject to a court injunction until arguments from the province of Quebec are heard in June on the constitutionality of the bill.

C-24: Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act

Introduced: Nov. 15

Currently: passed at second reading June 20 and referred to committee for study in fall

On June 6, Van Loan gave notice of a time allocation motion for the bill to implement Canada's free trade deal with Panama.

Speaking after question period on June 7, Van Loan noted that this trade deal was signed when he was international trade minister in 2010, some 755 days ago, and suggested it was time to speed its passage and limit additional debate at second reading to seven hours. The motion was debated and passed June 8. The bill passed at second reading on June 20.

C-25: Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act

Introduced: Nov. 17

Royal assent: June 28

The government served notice of time allocation for C-25, its bill to create a pooled pension plan scheme for the self-employed or employees of small businesses, immediately after the House of Commons returned from its winter break, and the motion to limit debate passed on Jan. 31. In the debate on the motion, NDP Whip Chris Charlton called it an "absolute disgrace" that a bill on which debate only began the day before, dealing "with the most fundamental question that is before Canadians" [retirement income security.] Van Loan said the issue was before Canadians during the last election, when the Conservatives won their majority.

Following the limited second reading debate, the bill moved on to the Finance committee for review. That committee reported back to the Commons on March 7, without any amendments. The bill cleared report stage on May 28.

On June 6, Van Loan gave notice of a time allocation motion for the debate at third reading. That second motion, limiting third reading debate to five additional hours, passed the following morning. The bill cleared its final vote in the Commons on June 12 and moved on to the Senate, which expedited its passage in late June.

C-31: Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act

Introduced: Feb. 16

Royal assent: June 28

On March 6, he first day C-31 was up for debate in the Commons, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice of a motion for time allocation. Van Loan proposed five more days for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage, for a total of six days of consideration at second reading before the legislation goes to committee.

"This is my best assessment of the time necessary to debate the bill fully, after I consulted the House leaders from the opposition parties," Van Loan said.

The debate and vote on this instance of time allocation happened on March 12, immediately after Van Loan gave notice of the government's intention to move closure on new legislation to prevent an Air Canada work stoppage (see below.)

The government says C-31 needs to pass before June 29. The committee reported back to the House with amendments to the bill on May 14.

Report stage debate started on May 17. On May 28, Van Loan gave notice of his intent to introduce a second time allocation motion to limit further debate at the report and third reading stages. That time allocation motion passed on May 29, providing for only one more day of debate at report stage and a final day of debate at third reading. The bill was concurred at report stage on June 4 and passed at third reading on June 11.

The Senate expedited its passage in late June.

C-33: Protecting Air Service Act

Introduced: March 12

Royal assent: March 15

The government's legislation to prevent any work stoppage or disruption of air travel services resulting from Air Canada's ongoing labour dispute and impose a final arbitration selection process was introduced on the morning of March 12. That afternoon after question period, House Leader Van Loan gave notice of the government's intent to move closure to speed its passage.

On the afternoon of March 13, Van Loan moved that debate on the bill not be further adjourned. The motion passed, and later that evening the bill moved on from second reading to consideration by committee of the whole. The Commons sat until just before 1:30 a.m. so the bill could move through all stages and see final passage. It moved on to the Senate on March 14, and was similarly expedited there, receiving royal assent the following day.

C-38: Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act

Introduced: April 26

Royal assent: June 29

The budget implementation bill, C-38, is over 400 pages long and contains not just budget measures but substantive other changes as well, including significant regulatory amendments for environmental assessments.  Concerns were raised by the opposition about the size and scope of the bill, and the fact that the customary review by the finance committee may not be the appropriate place for oversight of significant changes that would normally the mandate of the environment or natural resources committee.

Nevertheless, debate at second reading began on May 2, and notice of time allocation was given. Debate and a vote on the limiting of second reading debate for C-38 to only seven sitting days in the House happened on May 3. The bill passed at second reading on May 14, and reported back to the Commons June 7 after a rocky review at committee.

Report stage debate began on June 11, with House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer dividing up hundreds of amendments into dozens of groupings for debate and an expected marathon of votes.  Later that evening, Van Loan gave notice of the government's intention to move time allocation a second time to cut off debate at report stage and move swiftly towards those votes. The time allocation motion was debated and passed just before noon on June 12, calling for only 10 further hours of debate at report stage.

The Commons voted continuously for about 22 hours on June 14, until all the report stage amendments were exhausted and the bill was concurred at report stage. According to the second time allocation motion, an additional eight hours of debate at third reading occurred on June 18, followed by its final passage in the Commons.

Time allocation was also used to speed passage of C-38 in the Senate. On June 20, Deputy Senate Leader Claude Carignan gave notice of a time allocation motion to limit debate on C-38 at second reading in the Senate to six additional hours. The motion passed just before 6 p.m. on June 21. The debate ran out of speakers however, and the bill passed at second reading just before 9 p.m. and was referred to the Senate finance committee.

According to a motion passed in early May, Senate committees studied certain measures of C-38 in advance to speed its passage. As a result, the Senate finance committee met only once on June 26 to consider the bill, and reported back with no amendments.

Although an amendment was attempted at third reading, it failed to pass. The Conservative majority in the Senate introduced a second time allocation motion at third reading to ensure the budget implementation bill cleared the Senate before the summer.

C-39: Restoring Rail Service Act

Introduced: May 28

Royal assent: May 31

Before the legislation to end the Canadian Pacific Railway strike was introduced, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt moved a time allocation motion to limit debate to two hours at second reading, one hour in committee of the whole (in lieu of a standing committee review) and 30 minutes of debate at third reading. The motion also declares that multiple stages can be dealt with in the same day.

If the time allocation motion passes, C-39 would take precedence over all other business. The motion also states that only cabinet ministers could propose votes or otherwise interrupt proceedings or move to adjourn the House during debate on C-39.

Debate on this time allocation motion started at noon on May 28, several hours before the bill was introduced after question period. In justifying this rare tactic, Peter Van Loan's office reminded reporters that the Liberal goverment in 1995 did the same thing to speed passage of two separate pieces of back-to-work legislation, including a bill to end an ongoing railway strike. However, in those examples, some opposition MPs supported the legislation.

Later the same day, Van Loan gave notice of the government's intention to evoke closure on the debate about the time allocation motion. The closure motion passed, the time allocation motion passed, and then a marathon debate moving through all remaining stages of the bill unfolded overnight on May 29, passing at third reading just after 1:20 a.m. ET on May 30. The Senate expedited the bill's passage through royal assent the following evening, May 31.

S-5: Financial System Review Act

Introduced (in House of Commons): Jan. 31

Royal assent: March 29

On Feb. 10 Van Loan failed to get unanimous consent to limit debate for an innocuous bill likely to have multi-party support, C-28 (The Financial Literacy Leader Act, to enact new consumer education measures).

On Feb. 14, Van Loan moved time allocation for S-5, a technical bill originating in and already passed in the Senate. This bill amends legislation governing financial institutions to extend some measures set to expire, including some involving consumer protection measures. In moving time allocation, Van Loan noted that the last two times this kind of technical legislation has come along all the parties agreed to send it to committee after one day of debate. The Liberals in this case were willing to pass it quickly again, but Van Loan says the NDP did not cooperate.

S-5 passed at second reading after one day of debate and was referred to committee on Feb. 14. The committee considered it only briefly and reported back to the House promptly, on Feb. 16 without amendment. The bill was concurred at report stage on March 27 and cleared the Commons with its final vote at third reading on March 28.