The Super Awesome Act of 2014

How to properly convey the greatness of your own legislation

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has announced his intention to table a new bill this fall, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. Never mind what the legislation will entail. Unless the opposition parties have something against common sense, they will surely be compelled to agree to pass it unanimously at all stages as soon as the House convenes in September.

If passed by both the House and Senate, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act will join the Fair Elections Act, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, the Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act, the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada’s Economy Act, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the Keeping Canada’s Economy and Jobs Growing Act, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, the Fair Representation Act, the Canada–Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, the Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, the Protecting Air Service Act, the Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act, the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, the Helping Families in Need Act, the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, the Northern Jobs and Growth Act, the Safer Witnesses Act, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act and the Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1, among the 41st Parliament’s contributions to the field of adding verbs, adjectives and notions to bill names to more precisely convey the fantastic quality of the legislation in question.

Each of those names is officially the “short title” of a government bill that has received royal assent in the current Parliament.

If we expand our survey to include bills that haven’t received royal assent, we could include the Respect for Communities Act or or the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Neatly named private members’ bills include the Poverty Elimination Act (sponsored by NDP MP Jean Crowder), the Cell Phone Freedom Act (Green MP Bruce Hyer), the Protecting Canadians Abroad Act (Liberal MP Irwin Cotler), the Strengthening Fiscal Transparency Act (NDP MP Peggy Nash), the Providing Support to Grandparents Act (NDP MP Claude Gravelle) and the Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act (Conservative MP John Williamson). (Though at least private members’ bills are comparatively straightforward in substance.)

Each of these bills also has an official “long title” that sets out what legislation the bill will amend, replace or create, as well as a letter-number signifier (C-38 or some such). But the short title allows for a bill’s sponsor to clarify the righteousness to be accomplished.

This phenomenon of messaging via title has been a bit of a thing in the United States—American legislators particularly enjoy coming up with acronyms—and a couple years ago the Walrus’ Alina Konevski explored this emerging brand of nomenclature here and the linguistic and political considerations of it (The Post’s Scott Stinson had previously mocked the practice). It doesn’t seem to have always been like this and it still occurs that bills are given straightforwardly bland names (the act to establish the Canadian Museum of History, for instance, was simply called the “Canadian Museum of History Act,” not the Strengthening Pride In Our History Act).

But budget implementation acts, as opposed to simply being called budget implementation acts, are now given short titles that promise growth, prosperity or action plans (the Conservatives, of course, have stopped referring to an annual “budget” and instead present an annual “economic action plan” each spring). Similarly, acts to implement free trade agreements aren’t described as such, but as acts of jobs and growth. The “Respect for Communities Act” concerns safe injection facilities for opiate addicts. The “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” is the government’s prostitution legislation.

The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act might break new ground though—the bill’s particular use of descriptive terms seems to open up new territory for future attempts to convey the wisdom and utility of a bill. If we can have the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, we could have the Blessed and Generous Employment Act or the Super Awesome Immigration Act or the Wise Budget Act of Pure Intent.

Why, for that matter, stop at referring to budgets as “Economic Action Plans”? Does that really fully convey the depth and breadth of the greatness contained therein? If I were prime minister, I’d go with An Annual Tiding Of Comfort And Joy And Reasonably Principled Fortitude For The Future.

The implementation bill would be An Indisputably Perfect Act Descended From The Heavens Upon A Magic Unicorn For The Strengthening And Protection Of Everything That Is Good And Just, Particularly Grandmothers and Adorable Animals.

Granted, those are a bit wordy. Probably my handlers would have me settle on something simpler like affixing the phrase “Brilliant Leadership” to every bill. So the Brilliant Leadership on Immigration Act or the Brilliant Leadership on Health Care Act or the Brilliant Leadership on Pork Subsidies Reform Act and so on.

Or possibly that would be ridiculous, a silly, infantilizing practice that polluted our debate, corrupted our legislative process and cheapened us all—a cartoonish approach to public policy that we should not tolerate. We could then establish some system for the straightforward naming of bills.

The Brits, for instance, seem to somehow satisfy themselves with straightforward names. Then again, just imagine how much better off Britain would be with more bills of Common Sense.




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The Super Awesome Act of 2014

  1. Britain has a “Bat Habitats Regulation Bill”? Not fair!

  2. Well I’m not sure Ontarians will be conned by any further misuse of the phrase ‘common sense’ after that horrible episode with Mike Harris.

    But this does explain why Harp gets called ‘Dear Leader’

  3. LOL Canadians have clued into the fact that the Conservatives name for a bill is diametrically opposed to what is actually in it.

  4. Thank you Aaron for articulating so brilliantly what I’ve been saying fro a while. I find this trend so offensive – I particularly agree with ” … possibly that would be ridiculous, a silly, infantilizing practice that polluted our debate, corrupted our legislative process and cheapened us all—a cartoonish approach to public policy that we should not tolerate.”

    Well written!

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