Law-making made easier

Tonda MacCharles notes the government’s recent enthusiasm for private member’s bills.

Sponsored by backbenchers, not ministers, private member’s bills can make significant changes in areas of federal public policy, yet because they are drafted with the help of Library of Parliament counsel they do not go through the usual justice department scrutiny. They are not subjected to the department’s analysis for constitutionality, regulatory impact or cost versus benefit. Nor are they subject of memoranda to cabinet for consideration by the full ministry — a process that may flag important regional, departmental or political concerns.

The Star has learned that although the government is publicly backing the bills, it does not allow Department of Justice lawyers to appear to publicly testify about the constitutionality of those bills.

Here is the Library of Parliament’s list of private member’s bills that have been passed by Parliament, 235 in all since 1910. Since 2006, there have been five amendments made to the Criminal Code via private member’s business and a related amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Three of those originated with Conservative backbenchers.

Twenty-seven private member’s bills passed during the last period of Liberal majority government (1994-2004). Only two of those were Criminal Code amendments. (Seven of them were for the purposes of renaming electoral ridings.)

Last year, Evan Sotiropoulos reviewed recent trends in private member’s business.