Five federal bills to watch

Bills on the legislative docket say a lot about the Conservative government’s priorities.

Here are five you should know about. 

1. Bill C-2 is at Second Reading in the House of Commons. The government calls it the Respect for Communities Act, but a more apt name is An Act to Use Drug Addicts to Fearmonger About Harm Reduction.

The bill requires "any potential applications for supervised drug consumption sites in Canada to meet clear criteria before such applications can be considered." The problem is the criteria would be so onerous that it would impossible for any safe injection site to operate. Despite all the evidence showing harm reduction works and saves lives, the Conservative government would be more than happy never to issue another exemption from Canada's drug laws.

The only silver lining is if the bill were to ever become law, it would likely be subject to a court challenge. The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2011 decision set a precedent by ordering the health minister to grant an immediate exemption from drug laws to allow Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site to operate. Not allowing the clinic to operate under an exemption would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the top court ruled. 

2. Bill C-4 has passed Second Reading and is now at committee. The Economic Action Plan 2013 Act is the budget implementation bill. It should be called Let’s Cram as Much Stuff in This Bill so There Isn’t Proper Scrutiny Act. The 308-page bill contains a slew of things that have nothing to do with budget implementation.

These include amendments to the Labour Code to redefine "danger" -- dramatically weakening health and safety protections in the workplace. It also attacks collective bargaining rights by proposing to give the government the exclusive right to declare services "essential" so public-sector employees can't strike.

Of note is a similar law in Saskatchewan was struck down by the provincial court.

3. C-10 is now at committee after passing Second Reading. It’s called the Tackling Contraband Tobacco Act, but could go by An Act to Create More Mandatory Minimum Sentences Even Though the Courts are Striking Them Down.

After slashing tobacco control funding at Health Canada, the government decided instead to focus on Big Tobacco’s priority (contraband tobacco) instead of doing two things at once. The bill would create a new Criminal Code offence with mandatory penalties of imprisonment for repeat offenders of trafficking and cross-border smuggling of contraband tobacco.

This is just the latest area in which the Conservative government is proposing mandatory minimum sentences. Earlier this month, the constitutionality of a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession, in effect since 2008, was struck down by Ontario’s top court as "cruel and unusual punishment." 

4. Bill C-377 is back in the House of Commons after the Senate gutted it earlier this year, to the dismay of the Conservative government. It’s a private member’s bill authored by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, but it has the full backing and support of the government. The bill, though, never got the branding treatment of government spinners, so it’s called An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations). It should be called An Act to Hold Unions to Different Standards than the Private Sector to Attack Good Jobs.

The bill would require just labour unions – not professional associations, charities, non-profits, crown corporations or other groups – to disclose detailed financial information, including any expenses over $5,000, to the Minister of Labour.

In addition to violating Canada’s privacy law, it’s also potentially unconstitutional, interfering with provincial jurisdiction over labour relations; five provinces have already objected to the bill.

5. Bill C-525 is now at Second Reading. Like C-377, it’s a private member’s bill, but the government has the back of author MP Blaine Calkins, a Conservative MP from Alberta. The bill is called Employees' Voting Rights Act, but the intention is actually the opposite. It could be called An Act to Make Unions A Thing of the Past by a Minority Vote.

The bill is all about making it harder for unions to organize by changing certification and decertification procedures in the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The changes would shift the current majority process to minority rule, where a threshold of 45 per cent could dissolve a union.

Bonus: Earlier this week, the Conservative government introduced the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, and Justice Minister Peter MacKay focussed on an important feature of the bill: to protect young people from cyberbulling.

C-13 has just been introduced for First Reading, so it hasn't undergone any parliamentary scrutiny yet. But privacy experts have combed through the bill, and say the Tories are using the bill to resurrect draconian features of its controversial online spying bill. That bill (C-30) went nowhere last year after it was attacked from all sides. "Legal experts are telling OpenMedia.ca that the bill consists of 2.5 pages about cyberbullying, and 65 pages of lawful access (online spying) legislation," says Open Media, the lobby group on digital policy.

Photo: mcdemoura. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.