The government’s desperate attempt to pass Bill C-10 took another turn yesterday as the Speaker of the House of Commons declared many amendments “null and void”. The ruling came after the committee studying the bill voted on them despite a ruling from committee chair Scott Simms that doing so was a violation of the gag order limiting debate. As a result of MPs overruling the chair, the committee proceeded to vote on dozens of undisclosed amendments without any debate or discussion. The secretive law making process attracted considerable attention and once the bill returned to the House – complete with another attempt from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault to limit debate – Conservative MP Blake Richards challenged those amendments on a point of order. The Speaker of the House agreed and declared the amendments null and void.
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Guilbeault’s Gag Order, the Sequel: Time Running Out as Government Seeks to End Debate on Bill C-10 in the House of Commons
Fresh off imposing a five-hour gag order on committee debate on Bill C-10 and rushing through a secretive process in which dozens of amendments were passed without any debate, discussion or even disclosure of the amendments, the government is back for a gag order sequel. Yesterday, the Liberal government introduced another motion, this one designed to limit debate even further: one hour for debate at the report back stage and 75 minutes at third reading. In other words, less than 2 1/2 hours total for debate on the bill in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced before the updated Bill C-10 was even posted online, though it is now available.
The move led to hours of discussion on the motion last night, leading to a consistent drumbeat from Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs, who kept asking what was in the bill that presented a concern for a freedom of expression. Left unsaid, is that at least part of the answer is what is not the bill:
Secret Law Making: Liberal, Bloc and NDP MPs Unite to Back Undisclosed Bill C-10 Amendments Without Discussion or Debate
The Liberal government’s push to pass Bill C-10 took a disturbing turn at the Canadian Heritage committee yesterday as the Liberal MPs overruled the committee chair to allow for dozens of undisclosed amendments to be voted on without any debate or discussion. While the MPs on the committee have access to the amendments, they are not made available to the public until after the committee completes its review. In normal circumstances, an amendment is introduced by an MP (the amendment may not be posted but it is often read into the record by the MP and its intent is discussed), there is an opportunity to ask questions of department officials on the implications of the amendment, MPs engage in debate and can propose sub-amendments. Once all MPs are satisfied that they understand the implications of the amendment, it comes to a vote. All of this takes place in a transparent, public manner.
Not with Bill C-10, however. For example, yesterday the committee approved amendment LIB-7N. The only thing disclosed during the committee meeting was that it amends something in clause 8 in the bill. The specific amendment was not publicly disclosed, there were no department officials to comment or answer questions, there was no debate, and no opportunity for sub-amendment. The amendment was simply raised by number and MPs were asked to vote on it. The amendment passed with the support of Liberal, Bloc, and NDP MPs. This form of secret law making is shocking and a complete reversal from a government that claimed to prioritize transparency. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more secretive law making process in a democracy than passing amendments to a bill that are not made available to the public prior to the vote nor open for any discussion or debate.
Yesterday was not a good day for those who still believe that democratic ideals matter. The day began with an iPolitics-sponsored debate featuring MPs who have played a starring role at the Canadian Heritage committee review of Bill C-10: Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, Conservative MP Rachael Harder, NDP MP Heather McPherson, and Bloc MP Martin Champoux. The substantive discussion largely mirrored the committee debate, but far more dispiriting was Housefather seeking to justify the Bill C-10 gag order by arguing that it was the democratic right of the government to use whatever legislative tools are available to it (even if that tool had not been used for two decades) or Champoux talking about the need to respect democracy while simultaneously supporting the gag order.
While the MPs presumably thought that they would not be meeting again to discuss Bill C-10 until Friday (the usual committee meeting day), hours later they were back in committee for a four hour marathon secretly negotiated by the party whips for the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc. The meeting had so little notice that committee chair Scott Simms opened by making his displeasure with the party whips very clear:
Several weeks after Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault introduced Bill C-10, I started a 20 part blog post series called the Broadcasting Act Blunder (podcast edition here). The series examined many of concerns with the bill, including issues such as over-broad regulation and discoverability requirements that would only garner public attention many months later. I thought about that series yesterday as I watched Guilbeault try in the House of Commons to defend the indefensible: a gag order on committee review of the bill, the first such order in two decades. While the bill is in dire need of fixing, what occurred yesterday was far worse than a blunder. It was a betrayal. A betrayal of the government’s commitment to “strengthen Parliamentary committees so that they can better scrutinize legislation.” A betrayal of the promise to do things differently from previous governments. A betrayal of Canada’s values as a Parliamentary democracy.