Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What's in the Grinder?

I thought for this post, I'd look at a part of the sausage factory I don't usually pay much attention to, the bills which are actually in the House of Commons (or the Senate), potentially on their way to becoming legislation.

Here is a summary of bills introduced by the government and their current status. If you don't like that summary, here is another one. Don't like that summary, this one (scroll down a little), from Politics Watch, is pretty good. Finally, this list from 'How'd They Vote' is good as well. The lists from Politics Watch and How'd They Vote are more user friendly, but the government summaries are good because they link to the text of the bill itself and they are regularly updated.

Since it came up, I should mention that How'd they vote is an interesting site. As you might expect it tracks the votes in federal parliament so you can see who voted in favour of or against a particular bill and also look at the voting record of individual MP's.

For a more partisan summary of what's been going on, check out this this NDP session report, where they review the last sausage-grinding session to highlight areas where the NDP chefs added spice and seasoning to various sausages. It's a little vague, but it's still a good summary of what was going on last session of parliament.

Anyway, some of the highlights of what is in progress:

C-11 An Act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.

This bill has been passed by the House of Commons, but hasn't received royal assent yet because it is still in the Senate.

Here, the Hill Times reports on how when the bill was first released, the NDP and Bloc felt it was so bad it might have been 'set up to fail' because it needed so many revisions to be considered tough enough.

Here, from Hansard, everyone's favourite attempted whistle-blower, Gurmant Grewal speaks (in typical long winded parliamentary fashion) about the Conservative party's position on the bill,
"I do not want anyone to get me wrong. The bill is still far from perfect but thanks to the pressure applied by the Conservative Party, the government has relented and tabled amendments to create an independent commissioner to hear and investigate disclosures of wrongdoing. This was an essential change to the proposed legislation.

Other amendments have not been forthcoming, including: having the commissioner report directly to Parliament instead of to a minister; prohibitions of reprisals against those who make disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, media, police or anyone outside the narrow process prescribed in the bill; elimination of provisions to change the Access to Information Act to allow departments to refuse to release information about internal disclosures of wrongdoing for five years; and, the bill would still allow cabinet to arbitrarily remove government bodies from protection under Bill C-11.

The bill represents an improvement over the status quo but it remains clear that the government is more interested in managing whistleblowing than protecting and encouraging public servants who uncover evidence of wrongdoing.

It would be interesting to know if there could have been a better way to protect whistleblowers. Like the members for New Brunswick Southwest and Winnipeg Centre, as well as Senator Kinsella, I have for years been lobbying for a strong whistleblower protection. In October 2000, I introduced Bill C-508, the whistleblower human rights act, which was probably the first bill introduced in that session about whistleblowing protection.

My legislation, drafted with the help of actual whistleblowers, including Joanna Gualtieri, Brian McAdam, Robert Reid and many others, would have given people the confidence to come forward but the Liberals could not muster up the courage to support an opposition member's bill.

When the bill finally came to a vote in February 2003 as Bill C-201, because I had reintroduced the same bill, government members refused to lend their support to my initiative. If the government had been sincere about whistleblowing, Liberal members would have voted differently that day. We know the government did not want to pass the bill at that time. Instead, it revealed how phoney its promise had been.

The last time I participated in the debate on Bill C-11, I highlighted a good comparison of my bill, which was drafted by whistleblowers, to Bill C-11 at that stage. There was a big contrast. Many members on the Liberal side were nodding their heads in favour of some of the things that I was proposing in my bill.

The government needs to do more to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing and should stress that it is an important civic responsibility. In fact, it should be the stated duty of every employee to disclose any wrongdoing that comes to their attention.

Based on the experiences of the whistleblowers I have met, their careers and personal lives have been devastated. I believe an employee who has alleged wrongdoing and suffers from retaliatory action as a consequence should have a right to bring a civil action before a court. As well, allegations of wrongdoing should be rewarded like in California where whistleblowers are entitled to 10% of the money government saves as a result of their vigilance.

It is vital that the threat of employer retaliation be eliminated to encourage government employees to speak up. This will assist in curtailing the misuse of taxpayer dollars. Every day there seems to be new reports of corruption and scandal with the government that could be eliminated.

When I blew the whistle on whistleblowing, the Liberals had their ears plugged. Four years ago, in the face of government opposition, I introduced legislation which the Liberals refused to support at that time. Now is the time they should be serious about making this bill effective. Since it was first introduced some important amendments have been made but it is still flawed. I think we will let it pass so that a Conservative government will have the opportunity to make it stronger."

From How'd they vote, we can see that in the end, for Bill C-11 (Whistleblower legislation), voting was strictly along party lines with all parties voted in favour except the Conservative party, who decided not to support it after all.


C-37 An Act to amend the Telecommunications Act. This is the 'do not call list' to provide some relief from telemarketers. It was passed by the House of Commons yesterday with all party support. Let's just hope it gets through the Senate before we have an election!


C-50 An Act to amend the Criminal Code in respect of cruelty to animals.

I've talked about the long history of this overdue bill before, so I won't get into it again. I'll just say I'd be surprised to see it get passed before the next election call. The Liberals have shown that they don't really care enough about this bill to get it passed.


C-55 An Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was pushed on the Liberals by the NDP and it's a good example of how a combination of Liberal legislation and NDP motivation can yield positive results. The main purpose of the bill is to ensure that workers wages are protected in the case that their employer declares bankruptcy (basically the government pays the workers and then tries to recoup its payment by going after the company's assets). Other benefits would be a slight easing of restrictive rules on students declaring bankruptcy (they only have to wait 7 years after graduating instead of (I believe) the current 10). I get the impression the opposition parties (especially the Bloc and the NDP) are going to try and whittle this number down further in committee.

The bill also contains some streamlining of the CCAA program (a restructuring program many companies (especially big ones) use as opposed to declaring bankruptcy and the Liberals tacked on some measures to allow them to go after people who declare bankruptcy just to avoid paying large tax bills. The government's summary of the bill (in bureaucratese) is here.


C-60 An Act to amend the Copyright Act

This is probably one of the most controversial pieces of legislation kicking around at the moment and the 'background' section of the bill describes (in detail) the (typically) long and winding road that brought us to our current position. The main point is that many years ago (in 1997), Canada signed the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties but we can't ratify the treaties (which are generally tilted in favour of copyright holders and against users of copyright (i.e. the general public)) without modifying 'The Copyright Act', hence, legislation. Plus, the government generally needs to update it's laws to keep up with the changing digital times.

The best resource on this issue is Michael Geist, especially this column he wrote for the Toronto Star. Says Geist,
"The most disheartening aspect of Bill C-60 is that there is so little in it that unifies technology with culture and education to the benefit of all. Rather, the potential of the Internet is viewed as a threat, leading to legislative provisions that will leave Canada looking on enviously at other countries that courageously put the public interest first.

After introducing Bill C-60 in the House of Commons last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla proceeded to conduct an interview at the venue she undoubtedly thought best reflected the priorities of the legislation -- a nearby HMV music store. While music is important, it is only when government leaders conduct such interviews at schools, libraries, and research labs that we will know that Canadian copyright policy is headed in the right direction."


C-67 An Act respecting the allocation of unanticipated surpluses and to amend the Income Tax Act

Or as I like to call it, an Act respecting the intellectual bankruptcy of the current government. This is the Liberals pre-election ploy of pre-allocating any future surplusses to be distributed 1/3 refund, 1/3 new spending, 1/3 debt relief. Here is the government press-release on the topic for a favourable viewpoint. It will be interesting to see what the opposition parties do with this legislation.


C-68 An Act to support development of Canada's Pacific Gateway. As Ian noted over at Tilting at Windmills, Paul Martin is moving to expand Canada's trade with Asia, which is a good idea, both because increased trade is generally good for prosperity and also because it is important for Canada to diversify its trade away from the U.S. and increased trade with Asia is best way to do that. This act is a first step in this process, and does little in itself other than set up a "Canada Pacific Gateway Council" whose role will be to oversee the whole process of trying to increase trade.


There's a lot more going on, but this post was long enough and I only wanted to cover some highlights. I didn't really have a point, but I did find in looking at some of the laws and reading some of the debates that when you take a closer look at what is going on, without it being filtered through blogs and the media, you get a much more positive impression of what our politicians are up to. Of course, that could be misleading!


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