Trudeau defends slow pace of his government’s legislative activity

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. The Canadian Press

The Trudeau government‘s fall legislative activity last year was the slowest of any government going back to at least 2001 with just eight bills introduced between September and December of 2017, according to a Global News analysis of a database published by the Library of Parliament.

On top of that, the Trudeau government, just over halfway through its mandate, has turned just 34 pieces of legislation into law while its predecessor, the Stephen Harper majority government, had turned 61 pieces of legislation into law at its halfway point.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the slow pace of his government’s legislative activity by arguing his record should be judged on the quality, not the quantity, of bills introduced and bills signed into law.

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“If people actually compared the impact of what we’ve done with what the previous government actually got done, people are really feeling the difference,” Trudeau said Tuesday in an interview with CBC Radio in Halifax. Trudeau will be in Nova Scotia Tuesday night for a town hall-style meeting at a high school in Lower Sackville.

“We’ve done really, really big things and we’ve done them in ways that respect Parliament [and with] a more independent Senate,” Trudeau said. “Yes, perhaps [this may] pose certain challenges in terms of the pace of things through the House [of Commons] but the size of the things we’ve done have made a deep and lasting impact in the opportunities that Canadians and their families have.”

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen dismissed the prime minister’s conclusion about the government’s legislative activity.

“The Liberals’ woeful legislative record in the last session of Parliament shows yet again how the Trudeau government is all style and no substance,” Bergen said.

“The prime minister’s and [Finance Minister] Bill Morneau’s ethical lapses and the finance minister’s mismanagement of the finance portfolio derailed any focus the Liberals should have had on providing good government for Canadians, including their management of the House.”
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WATCH: Opposition continues to attack Morneau’s integrity

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Of the eight bills tabled in the House of Commons by the Trudeau government from September to December, four have been signed into law. The other four are at various stages in the parliamentary legislative approval.

The highlight of the government’s fall activity was, arguably, Bill C-66, introduced by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Nov. 28.

C-66 is a historic piece of legislation which will expunge the records of Canadians convicted of crimes because of consensual same-sex activity.

The bill was tabled on the same day Trudeau apologized in the House of Commons for “the unjust arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of Canadians” simply because of their sexual orientation.

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READ MORE: Trudeau apologizes to LGBTQ community for ‘devastating’ government discrimination

That bill quickly made it through the required three readings in the House and was referred to the Senate on Dec. 14.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill in its winter/spring sitting which begins on Jan. 30.

As in the House of Commons, the Senate reads and votes on a bill three times. A bill must clear both houses of Parliament before it gets royal assent from the Governor General (or the Queen, if she happens to be in Canada) before it becomes law.

READ MORE: From the Library of Parliament: How Laws Are Made

The Trudeau government was much more active through the fall sitting in its first year. In the fall of 2016, it introduced 14 bills in the House of Commons and three government bills in the Senate for a total of 17.

The Trudeau government did not introduce any bills in the Senate in the fall of 2017.

The average for all governments from 2001 to 2017 is to introduce about 19 bills each fall in the House of Commons.

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“The objective wasn’t just to count the number of new bills being introduced for first reading during those 11 weeks in the fall, but rather to ensure that there was movement on the full and ambitious agenda of bills in the Commons,” said Mark Kennedy, the director of communications for the Government House Leader Bardish Chagger. “On that point, we are pleased with the results.”

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Kennedy said Canadians should also take note that, in the fall sitting, the House of Commons gave third reading to the legislation that will legalize recreational cannabis use as well as to bills modernizing the Access to Information Act and one which will create a “bill of rights” for air passengers.

The Trudeau government might have had more legislation for the fall of 2017.

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A document obtained by Global News through a federal access-to-information request indicates that the Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) department, formerly known as Industry Canada, may have had a fall legislative plan consisting of perhaps two items.

Briefing Note: September to December 2017 Legislative Plan by David Akin on Scribd

That document was a memo, dated June 22, written by the department’s deputy minister John Knubley for ISED Minister Navdeep Bains titled “September to December 2017 Legislative Plan.”

Almost all the text in the memo has been redacted by government censors but a section titled “Summary” does contain two bullets suggesting that redacted section contained two items as part of ISED’s legislative plan.

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Until the Trudeau government’s low-water mark of eight bills introduced in the fall of 2017, the previous slowest fall from a legislative standpoint belonged to the Stephen Harper government of 2012 and the Jean Chretien government of 2003, both of which introduced nine bills in the House of Commons.

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The fall sitting tends to be a slower period in any event so far as legislation goes.

Since 2001, the average number of bills tabled in the House of Commons by any government in the winter/spring sitting from late January to early June has been about 25 compared to an average of about 19 in the fall.

Still, the Trudeau government is below average in that regard as well with just 22 bills introduced last spring and 20 bills introduced in its first spring, in 2016.

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The data for this article was drawn from the Library of Parliament’s LEGISinfo website, which includes a searchable database of all legislation tabled in either the House of Commons or the Senate going back to January 2001.