The House

Battle of the bills grips Senate and House of Commons

This week on The House, we recap a busy week in the Senate with the government representative's in the Red Chamber, Senator Peter Harder. Chris Hall also sits down with the German ambassador to Canada to talk about the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Finally, we ask former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand about the Liberals' new electoral reform bill.
Senator Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Red Chamber, says the Senate's job is not to kill legislation that has passed in the House of Commons.
Listen to the full episode49:59

The Senate could continue to sit into the summer to pass the two pieces of pot-related legislation currently being reviewed by Senators.

Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, told CBC Radio's The House he's made it clear to his colleagues that bills C-45 and C-46 need to be passed before the chamber breaks for the summer.

"We will sit 'til it's done," he said.

"We have an obligation as a Senate to deal with the legislation that's before us before we take a summer break."

Currently, both the main piece of legislation and the accompanying drug-impaired driving bill are in Senate committees.

The Government's Representative in the Senate Peter Harder says he will have the Senate sit as long as it takes to pass both government cannabis bills. 1:08

Earlier this week, Bill Blair, the Liberal government's point man on pot, said recreational cannabis use will become legal even if the impaired driving law is still being debated in the Senate.

Bill C-46 contains new offences for different levels of drug impairment and gives police the authority to use roadside saliva tests to determine if a driver has drugs in their system.

Harder said he doesn't think they'll have to face the ultimatum of passing Bill C-45 alone.

"I believe that both bills ought to be passed by the senate before we rise for the summer."

The drug-impaired driving legislation has been in committee since December, while the main bill was referred at the end of March.

However, there's a tight timeline to expedite getting the two bills to the floor. The upper chamber is only scheduled to sit for another six weeks and the final vote on C-45 is scheduled to occur on or before June 7, with legalization expected to follow eight to 12 weeks later.

What happens when a bill from the House arrives in the Senate? 0:28

Further delays could come, as the members of the Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee recommended last week that the Liberal government hold off on legalization for up to a year in order to address the potential harmful effects in Indigenous communities.

The committee's report on C-45 said that the government simply did not consult enough with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities before pushing ahead with its plan to legalize the drug.

But delays won't come from roadblocks on other bills, Harder stated.

Bill C-49, which proposes an overhaul of transportation regulations, was sent back to the House for a second time this week.

It was a close vote that Harder says undermines the goal of the Senate as "sober second thought."

Farmers have been eagerly awaiting a part of this transport omnibus bill which, if passed, will give the government the tools to help farmers with cash flow and compel railways to move grain or face penalties. Railways are opting these days to transport more oil — a more lucrative commodity — and in the process are often leaving grain farmers high and dry.

Harder said he doesn't think this indicates a pattern for the future, but he offered a word of caution.

"I think that a routine of ping-pong will undermine the credibility of an unelected chamber."

The Government's Representative in the Senate joins us to recap a busy week in the Red Chamber... and how it could impact the government's plan to legalize marijuana this summer. 11:15

Elections Canada unable to fully act before government passes elections bill

Canada's former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand has been critical of proposed changes to the electoral system in the past. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's former chief electoral officer says the government needs to pass its election legislation before Elections Canada can work on implementing it.

"We're running very short on time," Marc Mayrand told The House. "We're past midnight."

Last week, Scott Brison, the acting minister of democratic institutions, said he's confident it's possible to pass changes to elections regulations before the 2019 federal vote.

The Trudeau government tabled legislation proposing to limit the length of federal election campaigns, restrict the amount of spending allowed in the period immediately before a campaign and introduce new rules to regulate third-party political activity.

Brison said work to prepare for the changes in the bill can begin before it's passed because a significant portion of the legislation is based on Elections Canada's past recommendations.

That may be true, but it doesn't make the timeline realistic, Mayrand said.

Acting Democratic Reform Minister Scott Brison lay out some of the proposed changes in a new bill tabled on Monday 1:29

"They need the bill ASAP and they need the definite version of the bill."

Some of changes would require changes to IT systems, which requires extra time for integration and testing, he explained. Elections Canada is also likely hesitant to spend money now preparing for a bill that could morph if amendments are made.

Mayrand, who served as electoral officer from 2007 to 2016, isn't the only one calling attention to the government's timeline. Canada's acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault told a committee in April that major changes to election laws should have been enacted by April of this year if they were to apply in time for the next federal election.

If the government wants to stick to their timeline, Mayrand said some of the changes included in C-76 may have to wait until after the next federal election before they can be implemented.

Campaign spending limits, foreign influence and the role of social media platforms ... are all things the federal government is trying to address with its bill to modernize election laws. But does the bill go far enough? We ask Canada's FORMER chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand. 12:43

Iran nuclear deal to be a key topic at G7 summit

Iranian lawmakers burn two pieces of papers representing the U.S. flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S. at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (The Associated Press)

Germany's ambassador to Canada says the fallout over the U.S. announcement to leave the Iran nuclear deal will be a big topic at the upcoming G7 summit.

"There will be a lot of talk," Sabine Sparwasser told The House.

Donald Trump's announcement this week that the U.S. would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the 2015 deal signed by China, Russia, the U.S. and three European powers that provided economic incentives for Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions — was no surprise, she said. But it's still disappointing.

France, Germany and the U.K. have all professed their willingness to remain in the agreement even without the U.S.

While Canada isn't a direct player in the deal, its roll in leading the June G7 conference in Quebec and relationship with the other partners prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to weigh in.

Also burned was a copy of nuclear pact from which U.S. has withdrawn 0:38

"We regret that the United States has chosen to step out," he said Wednesday. "We will respect the capacity of individual countries to make their decisions about foreign policy."

Sparwasser agreed with Trudeau that it's key to respect jurisdiction and rules-based order in international relations.

But in her mind, Canada's position is clear.

"I think Canada has been very clear in its desire to see this nuclear deal continued," Sparwasser said.

Despite willingness from the remaining nations in the JCPOA to find a solution, the future of the deal is uncertain.

German officials will be meeting with their Iranian counterparts, Sparwasser said, as they try to convince Iran to continue to respect the agreement.

Much of the incentives for Iran to keep to the deal came from threats of hefty U.S. sanctions. Now that Trump has threatened to replace them, the other countries will likely have to find another way to sweeten the pot.

There's not a clear path forward, but she said Germany doesn't believe cutting the agreement gets anyone ahead.

The agreement was crafted to help prevent a nuclear disaster. But Donald Trump's announcement this week that the U.S. would leave the Iran nuclear deal is creating quite the fallout. While former Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused a stir but publicly backing the President's move, Justin Trudeau was critical of Washington's decision. European officials have made it clear that they intend to stick with the deal. What do they want from Canada? We ask Germany's ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser. 6:35

In House panel: Ontario election edition

Queen's Park reporters Rob Benzie and Mike Crawley talk to Chris Hall ahead of the Ontario election for a special edition of our In House panel. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

The Ontario election campaign feels like it started months ago, but this week was the official kick-off.

Key issues like carbon tax, safe injection sites, minimum wage, day care and drug coverage have already been discussed at length by the three main party leaders.

The CBC's Poll Tracker suggest the Progressive Conservatives are ahead with 41.1 per cent support and on track for a solid majority government. But for the first time, the New Democrats have moved into second place and ahead of Kathleen Wynne's Liberals. The NDP now stands at 27.2 per cent support, with the Liberals trailing in third at 25.7 per cent.

How will the official opening of the campaign change the playing field?

The House convened a special edition of our In House panel to break down what the final weeks before the election could look like for Andrea Horwath's NDP, Kathleen Wynne's Liberals and Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives. We ask the Toronto Star's Rob Benzie and the CBC's Mike Crawley what to expect as voting day approaches.

We bring in a special In House panel to break down the first few days of the contest featuring Andrea Horwath's NDP, Kathleen Wynne's Liberals and Doug Ford's PCs. 7:16