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Private Members Bills: The New Tool in the Arsenal

While anecdotal, it sure seems to me that substantive private members bills are coming into law a lot more than they did a few years ago. This is a fantastic development for good government and for those that would like to see small but significant legislative changes.  It is also something which we predicted several years back; Private Members Bills Get A Little More Important

Government is increasingly inclined to large, complex and sometimes “omnibus” legislation and this sometimes makes it difficult for advocates to achieve small stand-alone legislative changes. Why? Well the fact is with large complex and over-arching pieces of legislation, there may be sections of the large bill that make it difficult for the legislation to pass, particularly in a minority parliament. Those other sections which might have the support of a number of parties and parliamentarians cannot pass as a result. Private Members Bills can provide an alternative.

When Canada’s eye care professionals wanted to bring cosmetic contact lenses into the Food and Drugs Act as medical devices, they managed to achieve government support for this measure (based on an independent risk assessment). However, the government was unprepared to make this change unless it was a part of an omnibus bill amending the Food and Drugs Act and other statutes. The controversies surrounding other aspects of the bill prevented the contact lens portion from going ahead. Private Members Business was the option deployed by Hillwatch in advocating for this change. With the support of an influential government MP, we achieved all-party support for the measure and a Parliamentary Motion to that effect. Subsequently, the MP used her advantageous position in the Private Members Bill lottery to put forward legislation. The Bill has recently passed the House and the Senate and the eye care community is extremely pleased.

A very interesting Private Members Bill (PMB), advocated for by the Canadian wine industry, is another important case in point. This Bill will make it legal for Canadian consumers to transport Canadian wine across provincial boundaries. This supports wine tourism where Canadians visiting wineries can now purchase the wine for home consumption and ship it or transport it across provincial borders.  The Bill recently passed the House prior the summer recess.

While the contact lens issue is an example of how a PMB can be used to break the omnibus bill straightjacket, the wine bill is an example of how a PMB can be used to overcome provincial government intransigence. It creates an interesting dynamic where a targeted federal law can be created to break down artificial provincial government barriers to commerce.  In both cases, advocates should take note. There is a tool in the legislative arsenal that has now been in place for several years and is finally starting to be used.

Hillwatch Inc., 45 O’Connor St. Suite 1150, Ottawa ON K1P 1A4 tel: (613) 238-8700 fax: (866) 310-4955