Several constituents in the Yorkton-Melville riding have recently called my office wondering what’s clogging due political process in Ottawa. “We elected a majority government to get things done,” they say. “Why is it taking so long?” They can be excused for their puzzlement.
In late November, I asked a simple question in the House of Commons: “Mr. Speaker ... I would ask the member (opposite) how many bills have been debated this fall and have received Royal Assent?”
When the member looked elsewhere, I answered that question myself. “None.”
And yet the opposition has repeatedly accused the Conservative government of ramming bills through Parliament.
At the time of the above comment, numerous bills were in the queue. The three best-known are legislation our party promised to Canadians who elected us, notably:
1. Bill C-19, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act
2. Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, and
3. Bill C-10, The Safe Streets and Communities Act
Before receiving Royal Assent and becoming law, every bill brought before the House of Commons makes a steady passage through several stages: three readings, debate in the House, and review by committee. A vote at each step moves the bill to the next stage. After the bill passes third reading in the House, it transfers to the Senate, where it follows an identical process. If the Senate amends a bill, it must go back to the House of Commons for approval. Following that process, Royal Assent transforms it into law.
For the entire fall session, our energetic opposition in the House did its level best to prevent the government from passing legislation. They succeeded in this tactic by extending debate and suggesting numerous reasoned amendments, many of them simply stalling tactics.
Each proposed amendment must be voted on by the entire Parliament. Allowing about fifteen minutes for each vote to adopt or reject the amendments, a bill’s passage through that system may be slowed to a crawl.
In the cases of each of the above bills, Bill C-18 has since received Royal Assent; Bill C-10 has been referred to a Senate committee for further study; and Bill C-19 awaits third reading in the House of Commons.
Many observers may find this frustrating, but one of the features of democracy is that all parties may give input into legislation. At the end of the day, however, it is the privilege and mandate of the government to proceed with the legislation at hand.
To limit debate and speed the passage of bills, either for reasons of immediacy or in the face of unreasonable opposition stalling tactics, any government may invoke time allocation motions.