National Column: Deadlines undermine Liberal legislation

by Tim Harper

Deadlines can focus the mind and sharpen our work. For some, however, the ticking of the deadline clock can overwhelm the substance of our work.

This week, the Liberal government is expected to hand in its homework on two pieces of legislation that were expedited by deadlines imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

They have let the clock get the better of their political instincts.

They inherited unfinished business in both cases from the former Conservative government and the two bills are radically different and their impact on our daily lives cannot be compared.

C-14 will establish the legislative parameters for assisted death while C-7 will provide the framework for a first union agreement for the RCMP.

In both cases, the Liberals asked the court for six months more to craft legislation and in both cases the court gave them four months.

In both cases, the Liberals limited debate, sped through committee hearings that largely ignored substantive opposition amendments and emerged with both bills flawed.

The assisted dying legislation crafted by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould falls short of responding to the historic court decision which tossed the issue back to the government, according to most respected judicial opinions.

The RCMP union bill misses an opportunity to try a fresh approach to workplace harassment, at a time when the issue has been rightfully thrust into the spotlight through the legal travails of Jian Ghomeshi and the sexual harassment cases in the RCMP itself.

Neither of these issues may pack the emotional froth of Sophie GrÈgoire Trudeau’s potential need for a bigger staff which we so love to debate, but they substantively speak to the legislative craftsmanship of a young government.

On assisted death, legal experts and some thoughtful Parliamentarians do not believe it would allow assisted death for Kay Carter, the courageous plaintiff who brought the case to the highest court.

They believe this legislation will almost immediately be subject to court challenges, adding more suffering in the legal forum for those already suffering from grievous illnesses.

It is now entangled in unseemly partisan wrangling in the Commons and a June 6 court deadline looms.

On the other piece of legislation, the Liberals have already missed the Monday deadline.

Collective bargaining is an opportunity to tackle an old problem in a new way and many unions in Canada give workers the right to negotiate discipline and education when it comes to workplace harassment.

According to internal polling, the RCMP members wanted that right, but it would be denied to the union under C-7.

“I think the RCMP is really missing an opportunity to change its image,” says Winnipeg New Democrat Daniel Blaikie, who fought for the right of unionized members to have a role in dealing with harassment.

“Their (RCMP) rejection of that says they are first and foremost committed to doing things the way they always have.”

RCMP Supt. Bob Paulson has argued that any effort to negotiate on harassment would hurt his ability in dealing with the harassment problem as he is now, hampering a direct path to external review.

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The Liberals have bought that argument. Paulson has said cultural change at the RCMP will not come overnight and the number of misconduct investigations spiked 158 per cent in 2015 over the year previous. Paulson says internal action has been expedited and the rise in the number of cases could be attributed to greater awareness of harassment in the workplace.

Still, a prohibition on workers having a greater say on workplace harassment in the force is an image failure, at very least.

Happily, the story is not finished on either piece of legislation and there is promise for those who like sagas rich in irony.

The government ignored the work of senators who teamed with MPs on an assisted dying committee.

On this issue, there is obvious discomfort and opposition to the government bill in the Senate and a determination to properly study the legislation sent its way.

On the RCMP union bill, this is a Senate that has fought against previous anti-labour legislation sent its way by the Stephen Harper Conservatives.

Liberals do not have a majority in the Senate and Justin Trudeau has worked hard to remove partisanship from the chamber. Of course, government legislation carrying a June 6 deadline for assisted dying is an argument for traditional partisanship.

The Senate has been granted its independence. We’ll see if it is sufficiently independent to fix a couple of flawed bills.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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