Roundup: Cutting legislative corners

Concerns have been raised that private members’ bills are creating laws with less rigorous scrutiny, and that the government is using this to cut corners. Which is pretty much a big “well, yeah – obviously.” Private members’ bills are not drafted with the assistance of the Department of Justice, but rather by some underpaid clerks in the Library of Parliament, and the time allotted for debate is really limited – two hours per stage in the Commons, and maybe two committee meetings. And yes, the government has been taking advantage of this fact, but for a number of reasons. Sometimes that advantage is tactical – if it’s a PMB and not a government bill, it’s open for a free vote so you can get some opposition MPs onside as they (normally) won’t be whipped on it. If those free votes can sow some division, as with the long-gun registry bill in the previous parliament, so much the better. Sometimes it is genuinely an idea from the backbenches that the government likes, which I suspect the masked rioter bill was after it tapped into some good old-fashioned populist outrage after incidents like the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver. But this having been said, I doubt that it’s often being done for the sake of less oversight and debate considering the speed with which these bills proceed, and no, not every bill or motion from a government backbencher is a backdoor attempt by the government to do something (like the Woodworth abortion motion, so stop insisting that it is. Seriously – just stop). A large part of the problem, however, stems from the fact that MPs are conflating their own roles, and they like to think of themselves as American-style lawmakers, and certain opposition parties – like the NDP in particular – like to use their private members’ business to advance party goals rather than the personal policy hobbyhorses of their MPs, like PMBs are intended to do. We need to be mindful that MPs are not there make laws, but are rather to hold those who do to account, and that has been eroded. PMBs are supposed to be limited in scope and effect because it’s not an MP’s job to make laws.  When this role becomes conflated, problems like this one start creeping into the system.

The government’s support for the aforementioned PMB on banning being masked in a riot has now seen them double the proposed penalty to ten years in prison, and of course, since they are backing it with their majority, it will pass, never mind the fact that it’s unnecessary legislation designed to look like it’s getting tough on rioters.

This young man from Nova Scotia talks about how the government’s decision to make pardons harder to get is making it impossible for him to move forward with his life, which is what they were warned about, and showcases the illogic of such a move.

John Baird personally intervened on behalf of a Jewish group he’s close to and secured for them a million dollar grant to expand a social hall, even though federal bureaucrats said the project didn’t actually meet their funding criteria. Guess what will top Question Period for the next week.

What’s that? The Department of National Defence low-balled the true costs of the Libya mission? You don’t say!

Despite Harper’s unwavering pledge to defend the Arctic when he was first elected, the Canadian Forces continue to be plagued by critical equipment shortfalls for the region, including things as basic as parkas. This revelation after we find that the “slushbreaker” patrol vessels are being further delayed, and the government still hasn’t signed the contract to complete the RADARSAT constellation, which is about Arctic surveillance.

The trail of “Pierre Poutine” shows that the IP address he used wasn’t the one associated with the Marty Burke campaign in Guelph, for what it’s worth.

And the letter about Helena Guergis that was sent to the Ethics Commissioner that precipitated her political demise has been released, and says nothing about busty hookers and cocaine, but rather promises to advance some personal business interests, which isn’t nearly as sexy.