14 backbenchers set to seize the Commons spotlight in 2014

Conservative MP Michael Chong's proposal to rejig the caucus power dynamic may have gotten the lion's share of media coverage, but he's far from the only MP who wants to change the world - or, at least, the law of the land.

Local food promotion, Lyme disease strategy and 'protection of children before birth' among expected bills

A new crop of bills from backbench MPs will garner some attention when the House of Commons resumes later in January. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Michael Chong's proposal to rejig the caucus power dynamic may have gotten the lion's share of media coverage, but he's not the only backbencher who wants to change the world — or, at least, the law of the land.

In fact, Green Party Elizabeth May has credited Chong for indirectly ensuring she would be able to focus all her energy on her upcoming bid to create a National Lyme Disease Strategy.

"I don't have to do anything on my bill to get rid of leaders' signatures on (local candidate) nomination papers," she told CBC News.

May is one of 15 MPs to be added to the private members' priority list when the House returns in January, which means she'll get a chance to convince her Commons colleagues to rally behind a bill she once called "the ultimate in non-partisan ... non-geographically limited issues."

At the time of the holiday adjournment, more than half of the 15 MPs bound for the private members' business priority list had already chosen a bill or motion to carry forward to the next stage of debate.

5 private members' proposals that won unanimous approval last year

  • Banning the bulk export of cross-border waters (Conservative MP Larry Miller).
  • Requiring all future parliamentary officers and agents be fully fluent in both English and French (NDP MP Alexandrine Latendresse).
  • Recognizing anaphylaxis as "a serious concern for an increasing number of Canadians" (Conservative MP Dean Allison).
  • Supporting the importance of religious freedom (Conservative MP Bev Shipley).
  • Encouraging the government to "respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing" (NDP MP Jonathan Genest).

Under the standing orders, that list is established through a lottery season at the beginning of each Parliament. Whenever the current list of private members' business drops below 15, the list is replenished by adding the next 15 names from the main list.

New Brunswick MP and passionate francophone rights advocate Yvon Godin is one of the MPs who will make the grade this year.

Buoyed by the success of his caucus colleague Alexandrine Latendresse, who was able to sell the House on her bid to ensure that all parliamentary agents are fluent in both official languages earlier this year, he's optimistic he'll be able to muster the necessary support for his proposal to impose the same requirement on Supreme Court justices.

A similar rule is already in place at the Federal Court, he told CBC News. "[The Supreme Court] is the highest court in the land!"

On the other side of the House, Conservative MP Rob Anders intends to put forward a bill that would impose minimum prison sentences for rape — eight years for a first offence and 10 for a second offence.

"I also want [those] sentences to be consecutive rather than concurrent," he told CBC News, which he thinks may be contributing to the delay in finalizing the text, which has yet to be tabled formally in the House.

His caucus colleague Scott Reid confirms he also has something in the works, but declined to share any further details.

"I have 'til Jan. 27 to [introduce] it, and I want it to be perfect!"

Then there's NDP firebrand Pat Martin, who, at last count, has five separate items on the Order Paper, including a pitch to have Canadians swear allegiance to Canada instead of the Queen and a proposal to eliminate the nickel.

He says he's currently torn between pushing onward with his his bid to improve the Access to Information Act — which, he points out, includes many of the very same proposals put forward by the then-opposition Conservatives in their 2006 campaign platform — or taking his battle to recognize Louis Riel as a Father of Confederation to the Commons floor.

He admits that he finds the prospect of proceeding with the Louis Riel bill "kind of delicious," as his fellow Manitoban Shelly Glover is both Métis and Minister of Canadian Heritage, but he hasn't yet made a final decision.

Martin isn't alone in having more than one item standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Local food and waterways protection

Caucus colleague Anne Minh-Thu Quach has proposed new measures to "promote local foods," as well as separate bills to restore full environmental protection to specific Quebec lakes and waterways. 

In an email to CBC News, she confirmed that she intends to make the case for local food when her speaking slot comes up next year. 

"I'm convinced that if the federal government established a national buy-local strategy, the economy of our regions and the health of citizens and the environment would improve."

Meanwhile, just before the House rose for the holidays, Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott served notice of two separate motions related to the "legal protection of children before birth." 

A few days earlier, he introduced a bill to amend the Divorce Act to replace "custody orders" with "parenting orders" to support "equal parenting."

Like Martin, Quach and Vellacott will have to pick one proposal to take with them when they make the leap to the priority list.

While choosing which pet initiative to carry forward to the next stage is doubtless a difficult task, it is one less likely to produce a frantic last-minute scramble than not having anything on the Order Paper at all.

At press time, just one MP in the top 15 is in that particular position: New Democrat MP Pierre Dionne Labelle, who didn't respond to queries on how he intends to use his slot.

When the House returns in January, he'll have just two days to do so before the Jan. 29 cut-off date, or he'll forfeit his spot on the list.

That, however, would be good news for Chong.

On the waiting list

Despite the flurry of attention that accompanied the introduction of his private members' bill, at the moment, he's not slated to be included in this batch of priority list promotions, as his name is currently in the 16th spot on the main waiting list.

If no one drops out, he'll have to wait until the next replenishment, will likely take place later this spring.

Here's the full list of private members' bills and motions that will be debated in the House when regular parliamentary business resumes in January, in order of the sponsoring MP's spot on the waiting list: 

NOTE: MPs who have yet to submit an item to, or choose from multiple items on the Order Paper.are not included. 

Yvon Godin (NDP) (2)

Bill C-208 - An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages).

Summary: "This enactment amends the Supreme Court Act and introduces a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter."

Elizabeth May (Green) (3)

Bill C-442 - An Act respecting a National Lyme Disease Strategy.

Summary: "This enactment requires the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for health and with representatives of the medical community and patients’ groups for the purpose of developing a national strategy to address the challenges of the recognition and timely diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. It also authorizes the Minister of Finance to establish guidelines in respect of the allocation of funding to provincial and territorial governments that have enacted legislation to implement that strategy."

Nycole Turmel (NDP) (4)

Bill C-465 -An Act to amend the National Capital Act (Gatineau Park)

Summary: "This enactment amends the National Capital Act to establish the boundaries of Gatineau Park, to clarify the National Capital Commission’s responsibilities with respect to Gatineau Park and to remove the Commission’s authority to modify the boundaries of Gatineau Park or sell public lands situated within the Park."

Greg Kerr (Conservative) (5)

Bill C-555 - An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence)

Summary: "This enactment requires the Governor in Council to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to increase the distance that a person must maintain from another person who is fishing for seals, except under the authority of a seal fishery observation licence."

Anne Minh-Thu Thac (10)

Bill C-539 - An Act to promote local foods

Summary: "This enactment is designed to implement a pan-Canadian local foods strategy and to require the development of a policy to encourage government institutions to purchase those foods."

Paul Dewar (NDP) (11)

Bill C-486 - An Act respecting corporate practices relating to the extraction, processing, purchase, trade and use of conflict minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa

Summary: "This enactment requires Canadian companies to exercise due diligence in respect of the exploitation and trading of designated minerals originating in the Great Lakes Region of Africa in seeking to ensure that no armed rebel organization or criminal entity or public or private security force that is engaged in illegal activities or serious human rights abuses has benefited from any transaction involving such minerals."

Alex Atamanenko (NDP) (13)

Bill C-322 - An Act to amend the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act (slaughter of horses for human consumption)

Summary: "This enactment amends the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act to prohibit the importation or exportation (a) of horses for slaughter for human consumption; and (b) of horse meat products for human consumption."

Tarik Brahmi (NDP) (15)

C-556 - An Act to amend the Criminal Code (breath alcohol analysis)

Summary: "This enactment amends the Criminal Code to authorize peace officers to require, at random or in the event of an accident involving a motor vehicle, any person who is operating that motor vehicle to provide a breath sample for analysis by means of an approved screening device."

Not all MPs decide to use their moment in the parliamentary spotlight on a legislative proposal, of course.

Some choose to put forward motions instead.

Although not binding on the government, such initiatives can give MPs a freer hand to highlight an issue of particular concern without the need to shoehorn it into a bill.

The exception, of course, is motions that are drafted as instructions to the House.

That was the case with Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's failed proposal to establish a special committee to study the legal definition of "human being," and the same rule would apply to Maurice Vellacott's motions to look into the protection of "children before birth."

The approval process for motions is also considerably quicker, as such proposals are put to a final vote after the two hours allotted for debate, at which point they are either adopted or rejected. 

As of the Christmas adjournment, however, just two MPs had decided to take that route instead of trying their luck with the legislative process:

Peter Goldring (Conservative) (7)

M-455 — That, in the opinion of the House, one nationally standardized “point in time” should be recommended for use in all municipalities in carrying out homeless counts, with (a) nationally recognized definitions of who is homeless; (b) nationally recognized methodology on how the count takes place; and (c) the same agreed-upon criteria and methodology in determining who is considered to be homeless.

Charlie Angus (NDP) (14)

M-456 — That, in the opinion of the House, the government should establish a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End-of-life Care Strategy by working with provinces and territories on a flexible, integrated model of palliative care that: (a) takes into account the geographic, regional, and cultural diversity of urban and rural Canada; (b) respects the cultural, spiritual and familial needs of Canada’s First Nation, Inuit and Métis people; and (c) has the goal of (i) ensuring all Canadians have access to high quality home-based and hospice palliative end-of-life care, (ii) providing more support for caregivers, (iii) improving the quality and consistency of home and hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada, (iv) encouraging Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life care.