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In Depth

The 39th Parliament

Where are the government bills heading?

Last Updated December 21, 2006

About one-third of the government's bills are focused on crime and justice. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a number of crime-focused promises during the last election campaign.(Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The government, just short of a year old, has implemented many of its platform promises in its first budget in March. It announced 28 tax cuts and money for crime reforms, child care and defence. Those measures were passed into law.

But what about all those other bills? In all, the government has introduced about 44 pieces of legislation in the House of Commons since April. Here's a look at some key bills that are making their way through the House. Will they make their way into law in this minority government?


What's new as of Jan. 1

Federal Accountability Act comes into effect, including the ban on political contributions from corporations and unions.

All federal personal income tax brackets rise 2.2%.

Maximum EI premiums drop $9.30 a year.

Maximum CPP contribution rises by $79.20 a year.

Employment tax credit doubles to $1,000 for 2007.

Children's fitness tax credit applies on up to $500 in fees for physical fitness programs.

Apprentices are eligible for $1,000 grants under an apprenticeship incentive program.

Already passed

So far, nine bills have received Royal Assent. Four of them are money bills related to the March budget. One was an amendment to the Elections Act on party registration while the last bill was to approve funds for the agricultural sector. The Accountability Act, one of the government's key bills, was signed into law in mid-December 2006.

Law and order

Conservatives pledged that they would get tough on crime, and made it one of their key priorities. Since Parliament opened in April, the government has introduced 13 bills focused on law and order. Included are items that address DNA identification, street racing, age of protection and other procedural bills that will likely pass if this government survives long enough.

But there have been more contentious and controversial bills, including the dangerous offenders bill, which would impose reverse onus on certain repeat violent and sexual offenders, minimum sentences for gun laws and a bill that targets conditional sentences or house arrests.

The government agenda: Big bills introduced but not passed
Bills Focus of bill Plank
C-9 Conditional sentence Crime
C-10 Min. penalties firearms Crime
C-17 Amend Judges Act Crime
C-18 DNA identification Crime
C-19 Street racing Crime
C-21 Gun registry Crime
C-22 Age of protection Crime
C-23 Criminal procedure Crime
C-24 Softwood deal Softwood
C-26 Criminal interest rate Crime
C-27 Dangerous offenders Crime
C-30 Clean Air Act Environment
C-43 Senate Appointment Consultations Act Reform
Bills outlined in red are ones that face sizeable opposition resistance.
Government bills

In the fall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was critical of the opposition, who he said were stalling his crime bills.

"Canadians elected this Parliament — not just the Conservative party. They expected all parties to be tough on crime,'' Harper said in October.

"At some point, if the oppositions won't pass it, they'll have to answer to the Canadian people."

Sue Barnes, a Liberal MP who sits in the justice committee, said that her party is offering to fast-track many of the bills.

"I think reasonable bills will be supported by all of us in opposition," Barnes said. "But it's the philosophical difference of trying to go to an ideology of 'tough on crime' through without the flexibility of working with the other parties that is causing some difficulty."

For example, she says that the Conservatives have overreached in their proposals. She points to the mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes contained in Bill C-10.

"They go too far, the sentences are always too high," she said.

The bill is still in the House and has been referred to committee after second reading. The committee will hear evidence over the next two months.

The NDP says it will seek "significant" amendments on Bill C-10.

"I have to make it very clear that we have severe reservations about the adequacy of the bill in combating the specific problem of the use of illegal guns in crimes," the NDP's Joe Comartin said during a debate on the bill.

On the dangerous offender bill, C-27, opposition parties have concerns over the reserve onus that makes repeat violent criminals prove they are not dangerous. The bill has not yet made its way to second reading.

Barnes says that one part of that bill on peace bonds is worth investigating and she would have preferred if it had been separated from C-27.

Even bills that are close to being passed have not escaped the hands of the opposition. Justice Minister Vic Toews said that Bill C-9, which clamped down on the use of conditional sentences, was "gutted" so that it would apply only to serious violent crimes. Barnes points to this bill as how the government is using a "sledgehammer" approach to the issue, when only a "scalpel," or fine-tuning, is needed.

Environment

The environment really didn't become a big campaign issue in the last election, but it has emerged as one of the defining issues for Canadians, second only to health care, according to a poll conducted by CBC and Environics.

Even before the government introduced its Clean Air Act in October, it was widely expected to signal that it would drop support of the Kyoto Protocol and opt for a "Made-in-Canada" solution. There was no mention at all of Kyoto. The act, if passed, would regulate smog levels by 2010 and aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. The government said it wanted "intensity-based" emissions targets with no hard caps until at least 2020.

But the government faced criticism right away, and the NDP threatened to put a no-confidence motion before the House over the bill. Harper relented and agreed to send the legislation to committee even before second reading, a process that would allow the opposition to easily make changes to the act.

The NDP has called the bill "ineffective and inadequate" and says it wants absolute targets — including Kyoto commitments — to be legislated. It also wants to regulate the industrial sector much earlier than planned, including putting a hard cap on emissions.

Meanwhile, a private member's bill proposed by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, Bill C-288, calls on the government to respect its Kyoto commitments. It has passed second reading and is at the committee stage. The government recently sent one of its MPs to stall that bill.

Accountability and democratic reform

The government's first legislation was its wide-ranging accountability act, created to clean up government. By the time the Liberal-dominated Senate sent the bill back to the House months later, it had undergone 150 amendments. One of the items was increasing political donation limits to $2,000 from $1,000.

Treasury Board President John Baird says the government will reinstate the bill and send it back to the upper chamber. The back-and-forth on the bill between the government and the Senate has given Harper the opportunity to criticize the unelected Senators ignoring what he says is the will of Canadians.

Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale criticized a government decision in November to allow convention fees to be exempt from political donations. At the same time, he signalled that the Liberals aren't going to be cast as the killers of the ethics bill, saying the party would not "drag out" its objections to the legislation. The bill was passed by the Senate with about 90 of the 150 amendments proposed by Conservative and Liberal senators.

In mid-December, the government introduced a Senate reform bill that would give Canadians a say about who represents them. The bill, C-43, falls short of allowing full Senate elections, calls for voters to choose preferred candidates to represent their provinces and territories. The prime minister would then appoint the senators. Liberal Leader St�phane Dion has lashed out against the bill, calling it irresponsible.

Softwood

Bill C-24, which puts into force the softwood deal between Canada and the United States, has not made its way to the Senate yet. An NDP MP sought to delay its passage with amendments and a filibuster. But lumber firms have already started to get refunds, almost $1 billion by the end of October.

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