This Too Shall Pass. Maybe.

3 minute read

Governments pass bills to create or change laws. They introduce bills to signal their intentions to voters. 

The urgency of passing legislation is a matter of opinion, in all but a very few cases. Spending bills are a matter of confidence and need to pass for a government to stay in power, but even those take time to work their way through parliament. Determining what other bills get passed before parliament rises is more a matter of political art than political science. With an election looming, observers are watching for signals and the stakes get higher by the day.

Justin Trudeau’s government has been roundly criticized for its inability to pass legislation since its first mandate. As a majority government, delays were caused by broad, long-term consultations and significant delays in the Senate. Now, with a minority of seats in the House of Commons and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have continued to struggle to move government legislation forward. 

Last week, however, Bill C-14 was passed. That bill implements provisions of the Fall Economic Statement that was put forward last November. The only other bill that is certain to pass before the House of Commons rises is the Budget Implementation Act 1, which could trigger an early election on its own if it fails. Unless the Senate hopes to trigger a constitutional crisis, there is no chance that it stands in the way. The rest is a matter of strategic prioritization by Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.  

Assuming the government wants to win the next election (spoiler: they do), they will use government legislation to make life as difficult as possible for the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. At the same time, they need one or the other to help them pass legislation. A few bills that have been introduced could help the Liberals coalesce progressive voters as an election looms.

Passing Bill C-30 is essential. If opposition parties do not let it pass before the end of June, millions of Canadians and thousands of businesses may lose critical financial support during the third wave of the pandemic.

Bill C-19 is intended to help the Chief Electoral Officer conduct a safe election during a pandemic. The messaging is clear that any party who opposes the bill is either against the safety of Canadians or will benefit from lower turnout at the polls. If it is on the order paper, it will be challenging for opposition parties to oppose without losing credibility.

Bill C-15, regarding the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has been slated for advanced study by the Senate. It is expected to pass and is important for the Liberals’ progressive credentials and will almost certainly have the support of the NDP. The signals point to a high probability this bill passes before the summer.

Others that are likely to remain at the forefront for the government are Bill C-21 (firearms), Bill C-22 (mandatory minimums), Bill C-6 (conversion therapy), and C-12 (Net-Zero Emissions Accountability).

This leaves a lot of pieces on the board for the government, with a number of government bills (maybe even more to be yet introduced) that won’t likely get beyond second reading. But with only up to five sitting weeks remaining after next week’s break, and staring down the barrel of an election that seems inevitable for 2021, at this point the parties are playing checkers – not chess.

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