Parliament prorogued as Harper focuses on economy over other legislation

  • January 8, 2010
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to press the reset button and ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament has postponed the vote on a number of pieces of legislation.

It has postponed debate on a controversial private member’s euthanasia bill, guaranteed Conservative MP Joy Smith’s anti-human trafficking Bill C-268 will not become law before the Vancouver Olympics and stalled Liberal MP John McKay’s mining accountability Bill C-300, which had reached the committee stage in the House of Commons. 

When the Conservative government returns with a new throne speech March 3, followed by a budget, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will set a new agenda likely to focus on economic recovery. Any legislation, such as the government’s ambitious anti-crime agenda, will have to be re-introduced. But private member’s business will pick up where it left off.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg said Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde’s Bill C-384 could come up for a vote in late March. But Lalonde has delayed a vote three times so far, probably hoping for a groundswell of public support, he said.

“There’s a chance there may be an election in May or June, and if this happens it may never go to a vote,” he said. “Which I think is bad. We want this bill to go to a vote; we want this bill to be defeated.”  

Lalonde has been successful in garnering support in Quebec, where that province’s College of Physicians has come out in support of euthanasia as a form of “treatment” in some circumstances. The Quebec government is also launching a series of consultations on the issue. Schadenberg said there is a lot of pressure on Quebec MPs to support euthanasia.

Though Schadenberg is confident Lalonde’s bill will be defeated if it comes to a vote in March, he worries about slippage. The longer the vote is put off, the stronger outside forces grow, especially around issues concerning health care, he warned.

Smith is disappointed her bill — which had overwhelming support from both Conservatives and the Liberals in the House and Senate — won’t pass before the Olympics Feb. 12-28. It would impose mandatory minimum sentences on those convicted of trafficking persons under 18 years of age.

Smith does not blame her leader, however. She said independent Senator Anne Cools delayed speaking on the bill and prevented its going to a Senate committee. 

“It could have been passed before Christmas,” Smith said. Cools told the Senate she believed the bill needed more study. She also had objected to the equation of human trafficking with slavery.

McKay’s mining bill will go to the beginning of the committee stage in the House. Bill C-300 has received support from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and KAIROS because it would strengthen the accountability of Canadian mining companies operating overseas. McKay’s bill had squeaked through second reading with the support of the Bloc and the NDP, but is opposed by the Tories.

Pundits and politicians have criticized Harper as undemocratic for requesting prorogation while opposition parties were raising the issue of the treatment of Afghan detainees in Question Period and a parliamentary committee was trying to review evidence that some detainees may have been tortured.

McKay accused Harper of a pattern of stifling dissent.

“The happy benefit for Harper is the parliament shut down,” he said. “He can continue to do his dastardly work without pesky MPs shining flashlights on his activities,” McKay said. 

A Harper spokesman has said the prime minister wanted the extra time for consultations on the budget as Canada enters into a fragile economic recovery. 

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