Politics·Analysis

Conservatives' doomed legislation will be back during the campaign

A Conservative cabinet minister said recently that a flurry of late-session legislation was partly for housekeeping, partly to campaign on and the rest was just to "wedge" the opposition. James Fitz-Morris looks at how those bills set the table for Stephen Harper's campaign.

More than a dozen new bills were tabled in June alone, most with no chance to pass. But that's not the idea

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan delivered a list of all the accomplishments the government has achieved over the last four years. However, reporters were more focussed on promises made that weren't delivered. 2:01

A Conservative cabinet minister said recently of the flurry of late-session legislation that some of it was for housekeeping, some of it was to campaign on and the rest was just to "wedge" the opposition.

In just over two weeks, with the end of the 41st Parliament fast approaching, the government introduced more than a dozen pieces of legislation.

That's an impressive clip — if there was time (and a desire) to examine, debate and pass these things.

This month, the House unanimously passed a bill finalizing a long-negotiated self-government deal for the Déline First Nation in just one day.

That is a rare exception of cross-party cooperation on a complex issue, and perhaps inspired Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Defence Minister Jason Kenney to ask for the same for two of their bills — at least publicly.

"Well, I believe we're going to get all-party consent," Raitt said of bill C-62, which would give regulators greater power over recalls in the automotive industry.

Opposition sources say they are open to pushing the bill through — but no one has asked them directly yet, nor has the government brought the bill up for debate in the House.

Of course, with the House expected to rise for the summer — and the election — as early as today, there isn't much time left.

Kenney introduced C-71, the Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act, on Monday.

While acknowledging there is no time for a thorough examination of the bill, he said opposition critics had been given a preview of it the week before and he hoped to "find a way to fast-track the adoption of the bill in the House."

Opposition sources, again, say the preview of the bill they were given provided very little detail and they will need some time to go through the 80 or so pages of legislative changes.

More to come

Last week, Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal announced the government would table legislation to bar Muslim women from wearing a niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

We don't know yet how many pages the anti-niqab legislation will stretch — because it hasn't yet been tabled.

But that's not the point.

By criticizing the unavoidable unconstitutionality and discriminatory nature of any such law, the government hopes the opposition parties will find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion.

It's a similar case with C-53, which allows for sentences of life without parole in some cases.

Experts agree the courts would quickly reject such a law.

But who wants to run an election campaign arguing against tough sentences for murders and rapists?

Introduced in March, the Life Means Life Act quickly fell from the government's priority list and Justice Minister Peter MacKay acknowledged weeks ago the government had "run out of runway," and the bill would die.

Not to worry, said Government House Leader Peter Van Loan on Monday, all the bills can come back.

"We have introduced a number of bills, as you know, rather late in the session," he told reporters at an end-of-session news conference, "that demonstrate what will be the core of an agenda of a Conservative government re-elected when we return in the Fall."

Expect all of this doomed legislation to be mentioned frequently during the campaign.

New Democrats and Liberals will be blamed for not giving unanimous consent for the less-contentious bills.

They will be vilified and portrayed as weak on [insert issue here] because of the bills they fought against or sought to change.

Politics of fear?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called out the Conservatives for playing politics with C-51, the anti-terror legislation.

"We know that, tactically, this government would be perfectly happy if the opposition completely voted against this bill," he told a group of University of British Columbia students in March, "because it fits into their fear narrative."

Gov. Gen. David Johnston, left, waits for members of Parliament to arrive in the Senate Chambers, as he presides on a royal assent ceremony of several bills on Thursday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

As obvious as some of these traps may be — they are not easily side-stepped.

The Liberals supported the bill even after the government rejected all of their proposed amendments.

"This conversation might be different if we weren't months from an election campaign, but we are," Trudeau acknowledged.

The NDP fought the bill from the beginning and suffered through the accusations of being "soft on terror" hurled at them from the Conservative benches.

Now that public sentiment about the bill seems to have soured, it's these divergent stances often cited by pollsters as contributing to the NDP's recent rise, seemingly at the Liberals' expense.

Which might have Conservative strategists wondering if they wedged that one too hard.

Driving Stephen Harper's many opponents into one camp would be bad news for him and his party in the election — leaving, potentially, a new government to sift through all those dead bills and only resurrect the ones they like.

A look at government bills introduced in June:

  • C-61 - Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area Act - Introduced June 2, 2015. Fast-tracked and passed June 17, 2015.
  • C-62 - Safer Vehicles for Canadians Act - Introduced June 3, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-63 - Déline Final Self-Government Agreement Act - Introduced June 3, 2015. Fast-tracked and passed same day.
  • C-64 - Georges Bank Protection Act - Introduced June 5, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-65 - Support for Canadians with Print Disabilities Act - Introduced June 8, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-66 - Appropriation Act No. 2, 2015-16 - Introduced June 8, 2015. Fast-tracked and passed same day.
  • C-67 - Appropriation Act No. 3, 2015-16 - Introduced June 8, 2015. Fast-tracked and passed same day.
  • C-68 - Protection Against Genetic Discrimination Act - Introduced June 9, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-69 - Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act - Introduced June 10, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-70 - Protection of Communities from the Evolving Dangerous Drug Trade Act - Introduced June 11, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-71 - Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act - Introduced June 15, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-72 - Qausuittuq National Park of Canada Act - Introduced June 15, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-73 - Dangerous and Impaired Driving Act - Introduced June 16, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.
  • C-74 - Canada-Quebec Gulf of St. Lawrence Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act - Introduced June 18, 2015. Never brought forward for debate.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.