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Here are the hot topics set to dominate the fall political agenda as Parliament Hill returns

Unpacking the politics of the fall agenda on Parliament Hill
Unpacking the politics of the fall agenda on Parliament Hill

The weather might soon be cooling down but on Parliament Hill, things are about to heat up.

MPs head back to Ottawa for the start of the fall legislative sitting on Monday and will kick off the countdown until the next federal campaign.

Eleven bills are currently at various stages before the House of Commons and there are another 12 before the Senate, many of them major policy pieces for the government as it prepares to head into an election.

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, the question now is whether they can get all of those changes — plus any other bills they might table — through both chambers before the end of the session in June 2019.

So what bills are set to dominate the agenda as Parliament resumes?

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Guns, election interference, trade among big topics

Expect to hear a lot more about several key bills over the next few weeks.

Of those, some of the most pressing will be legislation to implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a bill to amend federal elections rules and crack down on foreign interference ahead of the next election, and a bill that will place new responsibilities and rules on firearms owners and vendors.

The bill to implement the CPTPP, in particular, will be significant given the ongoing NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. and the growing need for Canada to diversify its trading partners.

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Canada officially signs Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement
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That bill also expands access to the Canadian dairy market for Asian producers and will likely raise more intense questions about how much dairy market access should be granted to American farmers in NAFTA talks given the impact of that additional access under the Pacific trade deal.

It will be one of the first up for debate on Monday.

The firearms bill, known as C-71, is one of the bills on the fall agenda that is further along in its path to becoming law.

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That will likely pass through the House of Commons and head to the Senate, where it will face more expert review and likely be amended by the Conservative senators opposed to many of the new rules it places on firearms owners, before the winter.

However, it will likely not be implemented until next year, meaning the requirements for gun vendors to keep a record of the licence numbers of their buyers are unlikely to go into effect until the spring.

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One of the biggest topics of debate right away will be C-76, the bill to amend elections rules.

That’s because the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is shortly expected to call witnesses to testify about whether the bill will actually help crack down on things like foreign interference, probably by the end of the month.

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Critics of that bill have repeatedly said one of its gaping holes is not making political parties and the personal information they hold on voters subject to the same federal privacy laws that companies must comply with, and also that it does not give powers to the privacy commissioner to require subjects under investigation to comply with their requests for information.

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A private member’s bill from Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith was tabled in June to fix that but it faces an uphill battle to get room in a packed agenda.

The same holds true for a controversial bill from Liberal MP Anthony Housefather that aims to decriminalize payments to surrogates.

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Pay equity legislation will also likely be tabled within the next several weeks.

That is expected to mandate that men and women in federally regulated workplaces be paid the same amount for doing the same job.

The details of that are not yet known.

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Also a priority will be C-75, a major package of changes to the Criminal Code, which was introduced in March following the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of a Cree man, Colten Boushie.

That bill will end the process of eliminating potential jurors without cause known as peremptory challenges, cut back on the use of preliminary inquiries, reverse the onus at bail hearings in cases where an accused is facing charges of domestic violence and is a repeat offender, and require domestic violence to be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing decisions.

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It is set to be studied for the first time by committee on Monday afternoon.

A major piece of government legislation overhauling the Canadian national security framework is also expected to become law late this year or early next.

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That’s C-59, which is currently in the Senate.

It not only authorizes the Canadian military to conduct offensive cyber operations but also weaponizes the Communications Security Establishment and creates the position of an Intelligence Commissioner tasked with reviewing authorizations for warrants issued to intelligence agencies.

Expect to hear a lot about that bill as the Senate proposes amendments to try to change it this fall.

What about NAFTA?

The elephant in the room with all of this is NAFTA.

More specifically, the question will be not just whether the Liberals can get a deal but also whether they can get an implementation bill passed before June 21, 2019, which is when the spring sitting is scheduled to rise.

The bill to implement the CPTPP, for reference, was introduced back in March and is only now at first reading.

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Negotiations are ongoing with both teams working towards a deadline of Sept. 30.

However, past deadlines have consistently flown by and the American midterm elections are scheduled for Nov. 6.