The government’s motion to cut off Bill C-11 debate will head to a vote on Monday as it seeks to wrap up submission of amendments, voting on all amendments, the House of Commons report stage, and third reading within a week. Liberal MPs argue that Conservative filibustering at committee necessitates the motion, yet with Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez acknowledging that a Senate review of the bill will likely have to wait until the fall, there is no deadline and no obvious need to curtail proper review of amendments and House debate. Indeed, by rushing through the amendment review of the bill, the government undermines the credibility of the committee process and makes a full Senate review even more essential.
Liberal MPs have shown little interest throughout the committee process in engaging with criticisms and concerns associated with the bill. The vast majority of their questions were directed toward supportive witnesses with softball requests to explain why the Broadcasting Act or Bill C-11 is important. The so-called equivalent of “five weeks” of hearings is a gross exaggeration, reflecting dubious claims that four days of hearings with multiple sessions is equivalent of five typical weeks of committee hearings. In fact, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather let slip during debate on Friday that even that was more than the government wanted (the committee plan for witnesses was held in camera and was not public), stating:
Originally, three of the four parties at the committee thought that a certain number of hours would be sufficient to hear from witnesses. The Conservative members then proposed 20 hours, which was more than the other parties thought needed to be given to witnesses, given that many of these witnesses had already been there for Bill C-10. However, the rest of the members of the committee agreed to accede to the request from the Conservatives and provide 20 hours to hear from witnesses.
In other words, the government that now wants to cut debate, wanted fewer hearings on the bill from the very outset of the committee process.
While there is a case for a motion to set a deadline for submission of amendments and to begin clause-by-clause review, the government’s motion extends to the entire remaining House of Commons process. The submission deadline will come just hours after the motion is passed on Monday and clause-by-clause review will start the following day, leaving little time to actually assess the proposed amendments. The clause-by-clause process is only given a maximum of nine hours, which is simply an unreasonably short period of time to review each amendment, ask questions of department officials, propose potential sub-amendments, and vote on each one. The government knows this, hence it requires that after nine hours, the committee simply vote on each remaining amendment with no discussion, questions or debate. Those amendments will not even be read aloud, meaning that the public will not know what is being voted on. This form of secret law making is an astonishing abuse of law making transparency norms. After clause-by-clause review, the government then limits the time available for report stage and third reading, meaning many MPs may not have the opportunity to put their views on the public record in the House of Commons.
What makes the approach indefensible is not only the curtailing of democratic debate and review, but the fact that it is entirely unnecessary given that there is no deadline for passing Bill C-11 and nothing turns on the bill passing through the House of Commons before the summer recess. The decision to dispense with debate and rush through Bill C-11 is entirely a political decision designed to allow Minister Rodriguez to claim victory in ushering the bill through the House of Commons. Even if the bill passes the House this month, it will require extensive review at the Senate in the fall, need an accompanying policy direction, and will be the subject of years of hearings at the CRTC before it takes effect. As far as political victories go, this is pretty thin gruel and a massive price to pay for sacrificing the democratic governance principles that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised would guide his government.