Anti-scab 'opposition bill' to take NDP private member's slot

It's not exactly Powerball, but rookie Quebec MP Karine Trudel appears to have won the lottery for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, with her rank in the private members lottery providing a House of Commons slot for an anti-scab "opposition bill."

Rookie Quebec MP Karine Trudel drew coveted second slot in December private members lottery

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair doesn't get to introduce legislation as the leader of the third party. But there's a way around that: convincing one of his MPs with a coveted slot for private member's business to champion the leader's idea. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's not exactly Powerball. But rookie Quebec MP Karine Trudel appears to have won the lottery for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Last December, Trudel drew the second slot in the lottery conducted to determine which MPs have their bills and motions scheduled first in the limited time allocated in the House of Commons calendar to private member's business.

Asked several weeks ago what she intended to use her slot to champion, Trudel's office referred CBC News to NDP party communications staff.

A party spokeswoman said Trudel "was looking at different options" and declined an interview on her behalf.

Then last month at the NDP's caucus retreat in Montebello, Que., NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said his party would refute criticisms it was drifting away from its left-leaning roots.

"I've committed to making anti-scab legislation one of our first opposition bills," Mulcair said to thunderous applause from his MPs.

There's only one problem. Officially, there's no such thing as an opposition bill.

Ministers, as representatives of the government, introduce legislation. The only tool available for the opposition to introduce bills in the Commons is private member's business. 

(Senators can introduce bills in the Senate, but the NDP has no senators.)

CBC News has learned that New Democrats plan to use Trudel's slot for the party's bill.

Copying Tory tactic?

MPs who drew the top slots in the lottery have until Feb. 26 to decide how they want to use their allotted time and put a bill or motion on the order paper for vetting by the House subcommittee responsible for private members business.

Trudel, a former mail carrier and postal union leader from Jonquière, Que. before her election last October, serves as her party's critic for Canada Post and is deputy critic for labour.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, seen here with his executive assistant George Smith and deputy chief of staff Chantale Turgeon at his caucus retreat last month, announced in a speech that the first "opposition bill" for the NDP would be anti-scab legislation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Normally, MPs use their slots to champion causes near and dear to their hearts.

For example, when he was lucky enough to win the lottery after his first election as MP in 2008, Justin Trudeau became the first member of the 40th Parliament to introduce a private member's motion. It called for a "national voluntary service policy for young people," evoking his family's history with the Katimavik program. (Trudeau serves as his own minister for youth in today's cabinet.)

Private members business is not allowed to repeat matters already voted upon in the House or dictate to the government how money should be spent, but within these parameters a wide range of business is green-lighted to proceed to the floor for debate, usually at a pace of one hour per sitting day.

During the last Parliament, several private member's bills proposed by Conservative MPs were endorsed by Stephen Harper's ministers, assuring their passage.

That led to accusations that, contrary to the stated intent, private member's business was starting to resemble government business, through a back door.

For example, as New Democrat Nathan Cullen pointed out a few years ago, a law-and-order-style anti-crime bill introduced by a backbench Conservative MP need not pass a Charter review at the justice department before being introduced.

But that doesn't mean co-opting private member's business isn't sound Commons strategy.

And so, an NDP MP's slot is being used to champion a cause strategic to New Democrats as a whole.

MP with top slot still undecided

Conservative Ted Falk pulled the number one ranking for the 42nd Parliament.

Last month, the MP told CBC News he was excited about the prospect of fronting a bill of his choice.

"It's a very unique privilege," said the Manitoban first elected in a 2013 by-election. "Many never get the opportunity. It's quite an honour."

He said he had "lots of irons in the fire" as far as what he might end up doing, and was soliciting feedback from his constituents on social media, asking them what they would want to change if they had a chance.

"I need to find something I can feel passionate about," he said, adding a bill would be more rewarding and make more of an impact than a motion.

Trudel's caucus colleague, Windsor, Ont. MP Brian Masse, drew seventh in last month's lottery. 

He's already signaled his intent to revive a controversial sports-betting bill that cleared the Commons but stalled in the Senate in the last Parliament.

Veteran Liberal Mauril Bélanger, the MP recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, drew the 15th slot and introduced his bill to make O Canada gender-neutral last week.

Some 270 MPs from all parties, excluding cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries, were included in the lottery, which are typically drawn in batches of 30.

Business from MPs who draw slots in the lower half of the lottery rarely sees the light of day for debate, let alone passes, before another election is called.

Who won the first round?

Here are the first 30 MPs drawn last month. As befits a Commons with 200 rookies, many of these MPs are new and will be introducing private member's business for the first time. 

The full list is on Parliament's web site.

  1. Falk, Ted (Conservative)
  2. Trudel, Karine (NDP)
  3. Blaney, Steven (Conservative)
  4. Ste-Marie, Gabriel (Bloc Québécois)
  5. Aboultaif, Ziad (Conservative)
  6. Kelly, Pat (Conservative)
  7. Masse, Brian (NDP)
  8. McKinnon, Ron (Liberal)
  9. Fragiskatos, Peter (Liberal)
  10. Lobb, Ben (Conservative)
  11. Wagantall, Cathay (Conservative)
  12. Sikand, Gagan (Liberal)
  13. Nicholson, Rob (Conservative)
  14. Fillmore, Andy (Liberal)
  15. Bélanger, Mauril (Liberal)
  16. Erskine-Smith, Nathaniel (Liberal)
  17. Stewart, Kennedy (NDP)
  18. Hussen, Ahmed (Liberal)
  19. Brosseau, Ruth Ellen (NDP)
  20. Waugh, Kevin (Conservative)
  21. Miller, Larry (Conservative)
  22. Gerretsen, Mark (Liberal)
  23. Liepert, Ron (Conservative)
  24. Anandasangaree, Gary (Liberal)
  25. Fisher, Darren (Liberal)
  26. Lapointe, Linda (Liberal)
  27. Tan, Geng (Liberal)
  28. May, Bryan (Liberal)
  29. Lockhart, Alaina (Liberal)
  30. ​Jordan, Bernadette (Liberal)

Prominent private member's business in the last Parliament:

With files from Susana Mas


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