2nd Session of the 30th Legislature
Lois E. Mitchell, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Alberta, opened the Second Session of the 30th Legislature on February 25, 2020. In the Throne Speech, Her Honour highlighted the Government’s plans for job creation, a three per cent overall reduction in government spending, protection of critical infrastructure, and democratic reforms including recall legislation.
In the first two weeks of session, the government introduced six Bills:
- Bill 1, Critical Infrastructure Defence Act – provides for new offences related to trespassing, damaging or obstructing the use of essential infrastructure.
- Bill 2, Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act, 2020 – intention is to simplify and modernize existing legislation.
- Bill 3, Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Amendment Act, 2020 – permits tenants and landlords of mobile home sites to use the dispute resolution service available to renters and landlords of apartments.
- Bill 4, Fiscal Planning and Transparency (Fixed Budget Period) Amendment Act, 2020 – proposes a fixed budget period to occur in February of each year.
- Bill 5, Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, 2020 – implements amendments from Budget 2020, including changes to education funding and the application of the tourism levy to online hospitality services such as AirBnB.
- Bill 6, Appropriation Act, 2020 – authorizes funding for the Legislative Assembly, independent Officers of the Legislature, and the Government of Alberta for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
At the time of writing, of these six Bills, only Bill 5 and Bill 6 have completed the legislative process and received Royal Assent.
Two Private Members’ Public Bills have also been introduced and referred to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills for review. Bill 201, Strategic Aviation Advisory Council Act, 2020 was reviewed on March 3, 2020, and the Committee has reported its recommendation that the Bill proceed. Bill 202, Conflicts of Interest (Protecting the Rule of Law) Amendment Act, 2020, has been referred to the Committee; however, the deadline for the Committee to report back to the Assembly on the Bill has been postponed until October 2020 pursuant to the provisions of a Government Motion passed on March 17, 2020.
On February 14, 2020, the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices released its report on the review of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, 2018-2019 Annual Report. This is the first review of the Advocate’s report conducted pursuant to recent legislative changes that require the annual reports of this Office to be reviewed by a committee of the Legislative Assembly. Then, on February 26, 2020, the Committee tabled reports recommending the reappointment of Del Graff as Child and Youth Advocate and Glen Resler as Chief Electoral Officer. Both reappointments have proceeded.
Main Estimates 2020-21
The Government presented Budget 2020-21 on February 27, 2020, and consideration of the main estimates by the Legislative Policy Committees (LPCs) was scheduled to occur over the weeks of March 2, 2020, and March 16, 2020, with the final vote in Committee of Supply on March 19, 2020. The first week of consideration proceeded as scheduled; however, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required adjustments to many of the Assembly’s procedures.
During the week of March 9, 2020, a “constituency week” scheduled to enable Members to tend to local matters in their constituencies, the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta grew significantly from single digits to nearly 100 confirmed cases. On March 15, 2020, the Government announced the immediate closure of all K-12 schools and post-secondary facilities; two days later the province declared a public health emergency and instituted additional virus containment measures.
The Legislative Assembly responded quickly to the rapid changes occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, 2020, the remaining consideration of the main estimates by the LPCs was cancelled and the Government introduced revised estimates which included an additional $500 million for the Ministry of Health to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regular business of the Assembly was also set aside that day in favour of an emergency debate regarding COVID-19. Notice was also given for Government Motion 10 (GM10) which proposed broad, temporary changes to the rules governing the procedures of the Legislative Assembly in order to permit greater flexibility throughout the pandemic. GM10 passed, with amendments, the following day.
GM10 included measures to allow the Government House Leader to inform the Speaker that it is in the public interest for the Assembly to be adjourned or for an adjournment to be extended. Additionally, after consulting with the Official Opposition, the Government House Leader may also advise the Speaker that it is in the public interest for the Assembly to reconvene. The motion also brought in immediate changes to the way the remaining main estimates were to be considered. Responsibility for considering the main estimates was transferred from the LPCs, which had already completed 35 hours of consideration, to the Committee of Supply. In Committee of Supply, the estimates of the remaining nine ministries received a combined total of three hours of consideration.
Bill 6, Appropriation Act, 2020, was introduced immediately following completion of the estimates process and, under GM10, it was able to proceed through all stages of consideration that day. The new rules also permitted Bill 5, Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, 2020, to advance two or more stages in one day. Having received First Reading on March 3, 2020, Bill 5 proceeded through all remaining stages of consideration on March 17, 2020. Both Bills received Royal Assent three days later on March 20, 2020.
With funding authorized for the 2020-21 fiscal year ,the Government proceeded to introduce multiple Bills to address the urgent matters facing the province as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- Bill 9, Emergency Management Amendment Act, 2020 – ensures local governments can maintain responsibility for emergency management within their communities and permits both a local state of emergency and a provincial state of emergency to be in place at the same time.
- Bill 10, Public Health (Emergency Powers) Amendment Act, 2020 – increases fines and enforcement measures available to discourage violations of public health orders.
- Bill 11, Tenancies Statutes (Emergency Provisions) Amendment Act, 2020 – prohibits retroactive enforcement or implementation of rent increases and late fees after the state of public health emergency ends.
- Bill 13, Emergency Management Amendment Act, 2020 (No. 2) – permits local state of emergency periods for up to 90 days from 7 days, broadens available enforcement measures for a broader range of orders, permits the Minister of Municipal Affairs to override local decisions to protect the public interest.
At the time of writing, Bills 9, 10, and 11 have received Royal Assent.
Demonstrations and the Spring Sitting
Throughout much of February and early March, a number of demonstrators gathered on the parliamentary precinct in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their opposition to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project in northwest BC. The demonstrators congregated in the steps and archway of the ceremonial entrance used by the Lieutenant Governor, including camping overnight at times. Demonstrators also lit a ceremonial fire which affected air quality for offices in the front of the Parliament Buildings at times.
Demonstrators blocked entrances to the Parliament Buildings on February 11 when the House was scheduled to prorogue the Fourth Session of the 41st Parliament and open the Fifth Session, preventing some Members and staff from entering the buildings.
The demonstration also postponed the prorogation ceremony, which had been scheduled for 10:00 am that morning but continued in the afternoon. The Fifth Session commenced approximately 45 minutes later at its originally scheduled time of 2:00 pm with a Speech from the Throne delivered by Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin.
Due to security concerns, the Legislative Assembly first closed public access to the Parliament Buildings on February 6. Following the events of opening day, the Legislative Assembly sought and was granted an anticipatory injunction on February 13. The injunction prevented further impeding protests, including actions interfering with and obstructing access of Members and staff at the Parliament Buildings and surrounding buildings and grounds within the Legislative Precinct. The injunction did not prohibit peaceful and lawful protest in the traditional protest area, being the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Public access briefly resumed from February 19 until the afternoon of February 24 and then was closed again until March 6 after demonstrators vacated the precinct.
On February 18, the Minister of Finance, Carole James, presented the provincial 2020-21 budget. The budget proposed additional capital infrastructure spending, increased investments in health care and education, the creation of a needs-based grant for post-secondary students, a new benefit for low and middle-income families with children, a new tax bracket for individuals making more than $1 million, and the application of the provincial sales tax to sweetened carbonated beverages.
In her response, Shirley Bond, the Official Opposition Co-Critic for Finance, expressed concerns with respect to new taxes and increases in spending. She questioned the government’s efforts to foster a competitive business environment and encourage growth, drawing specific attention to challenges in the forestry and resource industries. The Leader of the Third Party, Adam Olsen, expressed his overall support for the budget, highlighting progress on shared priorities, such as early childhood education and post-secondary education, while also expressing disappointment that some measures and investments, particularly with respect to climate change, did not go further.
The first confidence vote of the Fifth Session was held on February 27 on the motion “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair” for the House to go into Committee of Supply. The motion passed by a vote of 44 to 39.
In the first few weeks of the Fifth Session, the Legislative Assembly considered and passed four pieces of legislation. Bill 3, Environmental Management Amendment Act, 2020, enhances oversight of soil relocation. Bill 7, Arbitration Act, modernizes BC’s domestic arbitration regime and harmonizes it with international practice. Bill 8, Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2020, amends two statutes to achieve several objectives, including supporting reconciliation in BC’s school system and implementing a funding review. It also enables boards of education to directly offer before- and after-school child care, and, in order to support policy decisions around capacity for enrolment, authorizes the issuance of personal education numbers to children before they formally start school. Finally, Bill 10, Municipal Affairs and Housing Statutes Amendment Act, 2020, creates an interim business property tax relief program that enables municipalities to adopt bylaws to relieve eligible commercial properties from higher property taxes resulting from paying taxes on the potential of the land value.
At the beginning of the Fifth Session, Raj Chouhan and Spencer Chandra Herbert were re-appointed Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole respectively. Simon Gibson was appointed Assistant Deputy Speaker.
In January, Andrew Weaver stepped down as Leader of the BC Green Party and later stepped away from the Green Party caucus to sit as an Independent Member. Adam Olsen was named Interim Leader and serves as Leader of the Third Party in the House, while the party conducts a leadership campaign. The current party standings are: 41 BC NDP, 42 BC Liberal, two BC Green Party, and two independents.
While no longer part of the BC Green Party caucus, Mr. Weaver indicated he will continue to support the Confidence and Supply Agreement signed between the BC NDP and BC Green Party.
COVID-19 Special Sitting
Following a scheduled two-week constituency break in March, during which the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and BC declared a provincial state of emergency, the Legislative Assembly resumed for a one-day sitting on March 23 to consider and adopt urgent budgetary and legislative measures to address the pandemic.
House leaders from all three parties worked collaboratively in advance of this one-day sitting to manage proceedings in a manner that respected physical distancing requirements while also allowing Members to fulfill their parliamentary responsibilities to debate and scrutinize the business before the House. Only 14 Members were present (quorum in BC is 10) with the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole, Spencer Chandra Herbert, taking the Chair as Speaker; the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker were both unavailable due to self-isolation. Seating was adjusted to ensure Members were at least two metres apart from one another, and the House adopted a motion for the sitting permitting Members to speak and vote from a seat other than their assigned place.
During the sitting, the House unanimously approved 2020-21 supplementary estimates of $5 billion to support the government’s COVID-19 action plan. The plan includes: a one-time, tax free $1,000 emergency benefit to anyone who has been laid off, is sick or is quarantined, or who has to stay home to care for sick family members; investments in critical health services; housing, shelter, and rental support; increased income and disability assistance; and an increase in the Climate Action Tax Credit.
The House also considered and adopted two bills. Bill 15, Supply Act (No. 2), provides funding for ministry operations for the first nine months of the 2020/2021 fiscal year; the previously introduced Bill 12, Supply Act (No. 1), which would have provided funding for ministry operations for three months, was withdrawn with unanimous consent.
Bill 16, Employment Standards Amendment Act (No. 2), allows workers to immediately take unpaid, job-protected leave if they are unable to work due to COVID-19. This covers people who are sick, need to self-isolate, or need to take care of a child or dependent, and is retroactive to January 27, 2020. The bill also implements three days of unpaid sick leave for all workers in the province. Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin granted Royal Assent to both bills that day.
At the end of the sitting, the House adjourned until further notice. The adjournment motion included provisions allowing for the location of sittings and the means of conducting sittings of the House to be altered due to an emergency situation or public health measures by agreement of the Speaker and the House Leaders of each recognized caucus. The motion further provides that other presiding officers or another Member so designated by the House Leaders of each recognized caucus may act in the Speaker’s stead if the Speaker is unable to act owing to illness or other cause for the purposes of the order.
Following the sitting, Premier John Horgan, Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Wilkinson, Interim Leader of the Third Party Adam Olsen, and Independent MLA Andrew Weaver released a joint statement with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the statement, they described how all Members are united in working together to support British Columbians affected by COVID-19, and encouraged all British Columbians to do their part to stop the spread of the virus.
At the time of writing, the Legislative Assembly was adjourned for the foreseeable future and was exploring opportunities to facilitate parliamentary proceedings by alternative means, including potential remote sittings. Parliamentary committees have shifted to using Zoom videoconferencing technology for their meetings, and to date, five parliamentary committees have held meetings using the technology.
Legislative Assembly Governance
Since 2012, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee has had one advisory subcommittee: the Finance and Audit Committee. While initially intended to focus on financial management and audit-related matters, the Finance and Audit Committee’s role and work had expanded considerably in recent years to also cover administrative oversight including operational, policy, and human resources matters.
As part of the ongoing review of governance matters, on February 13, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee adopted a new subcommittee advisory structure to separate the two oversight roles with a subcommittee on finance and audit, and a second subcommittee on administration and operations. Membership on both subcommittees includes: the Speaker (as Chair), at least one Member of the Government Caucus, at least one Member of the Official Opposition Caucus, the Member of the Third Party Caucus, and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly (ex-officio).
At their March 31 meeting, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee adopted a motion to withhold the statutory increase to Members’ basic compensation that was to come into effect on April 1, notwithstanding section 2(2) of the Members’ Remuneration and Pensions Act. The motion effectively negates the statutory cost-of-living increase to Members’ salaries until such a time as the Legislative Assembly considers a statutory amendment in this regard and was adopted in recognition of the financial challenges currently confronting the province in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Appointment of Clerk of the Legislative Assembly
On March 2, the Legislative Assembly unanimously appointed Kate Ryan-Lloyd Clerk of the Legislative Assembly following the recommendation of a special committee. Ms. Ryan-Lloyd has served the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia for many years, beginning in the Legislative Library, then the Parliamentary Committees Office and had served as Acting Clerk since November 2018.
This was the first time a special committee was appointed to select and unanimously recommend a candidate for the position of Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. The special committee appointment process is typically used for statutory officers in accordance with statutory provisions and established practice.
Ms. Ryan-Lloyd is the first woman in British Columbia’s history to be appointed to the role.
Appointment of Auditor General
On March 23, the Legislative Assembly appointed Michael A. Pickup Auditor General of British Columbia for a term of eight years commencing July 27, 2020. Mr. Pickup’s appointment was unanimously recommended by a special committee tasked with selecting and recommending a candidate for the position following former Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s resignation at the end of December 2019. Mr. Pickup has been serving as Nova Scotia’s Auditor General since 2014.
Parliamentary Practice in BC 5th Edition
In February, the Legislative Assembly published the fifth edition of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, the primary procedural authority for BC. The new book captures 12 years of developments in parliamentary practice and procedure and is organized thematically with content and commentary significantly expanded (previous editions had been organized numerically by Standing Order). It is available for purchase from Crown Publications and the Legislative Assembly Gift Shop.
Senior Research Analyst
2nd Session of the 42nd Legislature – Spring Sitting
The Second Session of the 42nd Legislature resumed on March 4th, 2020.
The Government introduced nine Bills in the first week of the sitting in order to meet the criteria for obtaining Specified Bill status. These Bills, together with the Bills introduced during the past November sitting, were on track to have guaranteed passage in June, but the cessation of sittings due to the pandemic has moved the deadline dates from June.. As of the March 18 deadline, a total of 29 Specified Bills were introduced in the House.
On March 11, Finance Minister Scott Fielding was scheduled to deliver the 2020/2021 budget for the Province of Manitoba. However, starting immediately after the Prayer, Members of the Official Opposition raised a consecutive series of Matters of Privilege which prevented the House from reaching Orders of the Day. The Government House Leader then announced in the House the Government’s decision to schedule the delivery of the Budget in the House for the following day.
In interviews after the House raised for the day, the Leader of the Official Opposition, Wab Kinew, announced to the media that it was their intention to hold up the House for several days. As stated by Mr. Kinew, the goal of his party was to prevent the government from introducing all of its legislative packages prior to the March 18 deadline, thereby rendering those Bills ineligible for guaranteed passage by the end of the Session. In the following four sitting days in the House, Members of the Official Opposition continued to raise Matters of Privilege, which the Speaker took under advisement, with a total of 27 Matters of Privilege raised during the course of five days. This prevented the House from reaching Routine Proceedings and also from reaching Orders of the Day. Not only were no Bills introduced, but due to the House not reaching Orders of the Day, the government was prevented from presenting its budget for a week.
Prior to the start of the sitting day on March 19, 2020, the Government, the Official Opposition, and the Independent Liberals reached an agreement in order to complete certain business by the end of the day and to suspend the sitting of the House indefinitely, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Early in the sitting day, Government House Leader, Kelvin Goertzen sought and received leave to skip some of the steps of the Budget Procedure to allow Members to speak to the motion immediately after the Minister of Finance concluded his speech. Due to this agreement, Finance Minister, Scott Fielding, was able to present his budget address.
The Budget debate lasted less than 30 minutes. During the debate, the Leader of the Official Opposition, Wab Kinew, moved an amendment to the budget speech motion, followed by a sub-amendment moved by the Member for St. Boniface, Dougald Lamont, during his speech. Both the sub-amendment and the amendment were defeated on division, while the main motion passed on a recorded vote of yeas 31, nays 17.
At the beginning of the sitting day on March 19, the Government House Leader also obtained leave to consider Interim Supply, and for the House to not see the clock until the Interim Appropriation Act, 2020 had received Royal Assent. The passage of this Bill is required by the end of the fiscal year on March 31 to provide interim funding for operating and capital expenditures effective April 1, until the budget processes and the main supply Bills are completed later in the session.
In a short time and with reduced debate the House went through the consideration and passage of the resolutions respecting the Interim Supply Bill and through all the steps to pass the Interim Appropriation Act, 2020. The unusual sitting day concluded with Royal Assent of this Bill granted by Lieutenant Governor Janice C. Filmon. In these unprecedented times, the Lieutenant Governor decided to depart from usual practice and addressed the Assembly as follows:
“I’m going to break protocol right now. Apparently, I have that opportunity. In unprecedented times, as they are, I think the reset button has been pushed. The question has been asked. How will we respond? There will be new ways of doing and being. It’s a transformative time and we are being asked to care for other people before ourselves. I want to, on behalf of all Manitobans and myself, thank you for the role that you play in giving the leadership that you give, the thoughtfulness and the care, because there is no good reason for not caring, and you do. Thank you.”
Suspension of the House
On March 16, the Government House Leader introduced in the House the following motion as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
“THAT during any sitting of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly called under the sessional calendar, or by government emergency recalls, or by agreement of the House Leaders to sit outside of sessional calendar periods, the Speaker, the Government and Opposition House Leaders and the Honourable Member for River Heights, as a group, are authorized to vary the sitting hours, days and location of sittings of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly as required by emergency public health measures, with the authorization to be in effect until rescinded by the Legislative Assembly.”
The motion unanimously passed after a brief debate where the Government House Leader, the Opposition House Leader Nahanni Fontaine, and the Member for River Heights Jon Gerrard briefly explained the reasons for this agreement among the parties represented in the Legislative Assembly.
On March 19, the House agreed by leave to suspend its sittings indefinitely after the end of the sitting day. Members also agreed, despite the motion passed a few days earlier on March 16, to adjourn until the call of the Speaker. The agreement also encompassed that the Speaker would call the House back upon the request of the Government House Leader, or on the request of the collective group of the Government House Leader, the Opposition House Leader and the Member for River Heights (acting as representative of Independent Members).
Special Sitting – April 15th 2020
The House resumed on April 15th with the agreement that only one-third of all parties’ members would be sitting in the Chamber, several seats apart to respect physical distancing. Twelve Members from the Government, six from the Official Opposition and one Independent Member were present in the Chamber. When the public galleries closed on March 16 the Assembly switched from video broadcasting only Routine Proceedings, to broadcasting the entire sitting day. Accordingly, on this unusual sitting day all other members were able to follow what was happening in the House. In accordance to the agreement reached by the three MLAs noted above, the House sat for three two-hour periods starting at 10:00 am, with cleaning staff disinfecting the Chamber during each break period. The Government sought to pass a number of COVID-19 related Bills, as well as some other Bills previously introduced.
Considerable thought and planning were needed to create the conditions for a sitting of the House that was both safe and productive. The Speaker also consulted with Manitoba’s Chief Medical Officer of Health for the safety measures to be taken. Among the various agreements reached for the day, some of the most interesting aspects included:
All Bills introduced were not distributed directly to Members but were instead placed on a table on the west side of the Chamber for Members to pick up copies for themselves. This measure reduced the number of hands touching each document to minimize the risk of transmission.
Usually Question Period lasts 40 minutes; however, on this day it was agreed to a limited Question Period. Opposition parties asked a total of 12 questions, with no follow-up questions. The Official Opposition asked 9 questions while three questions came from Independent Members. This special version of Question Period lasted about 20 minutes
Leave was granted to waive Rule 92(7) for any Bills with individuals registered to present at Committee Stage. Usually, two day’s notice of the meeting would be required in the presence of registered presenters. By waiving the rules, committee consideration happened immediately after second reading in the Committee of the Whole House rather than in Standing Committee. Registered presenters were also allowed to provide a written submission to be included in the day’s Hansard transcript, provided they could submit their document before 4:30 p.m., April 16.
During committee consideration of bills, staff from Legislative Counsel present to help drafting possible amendments. However, in the rare events when a bill is considered in the Committee of the Whole, only the Law Officer attends the meeting in the Chamber. Due to the number of bills considered on this particular sitting, Legislative Counsel needed to be fully prepared to assist all MLAs with questions or amendments. Accordingly, when the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole, additional staff from Legislative Counsel was seated on two tables placed near the east Loge along with their laptops and equipment.
The following bills received Royal Assent on that day:
- Bill 4 – The Manitoba Hydro Amendment Act, amending The Manitoba Hydro Act to increase the borrowing authority granted to the crown corporation for temporary purposes from $500 million up to $1.5;
- Bill 15 – The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Amendment and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation Amendment Act, allowing the holder of a specified type of liquor service licence to sell beer, wine, cider and coolers to customers who order food for delivery or takeout from the licensed premises;
- Bill 30 – The Fisheries Amendment, Forest Amendment and Provincial Parks Amendment Act, amending The Forest Act, The Provincial Parks Act, and The Fisheries Act to enable licences and permits under these Acts to be issued using the Internet;
- Bill 54 – The Emergency Measures Amendment Act, giving the Lieutenant Governor in Council the power to make three types of orders when a state of emergency is declared: Emergency Orders, Temporary Suspension Orders, and Reporting Deadline Variation Orders;
- Bill 55 – The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act, adding a temporary job-protected leave for employees who are unable to work due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Bill 56 – The Family Maintenance Amendment Act, enabling maintenance enforcement officials to make more frequent inquiries to determine if a maintenance obligation for an adult child remains eligible for enforcement;
- Bill 57 – The Regulated Health Professions Amendment Act, allowing a regulated health profession college to re-register former members, without complying with the usual registration requirements;
- Bill 58 – The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, freezing rents at the amount payable immediately before April 1, 2020; limiting evictions to specific circumstances that infringe, interfere with or adversely affect the security, safety, health or well-being of other tenants, such as engaging in unlawful activity; prohibiting late fees for failure to pay rent;
- Bill 59 – The Public Health Amendment Act, allowing for the implementation of new prohibitions or requirements in a public health emergency order to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. The bill also added measures to assist in the enforcement of public health emergency orders and increased fines for failing to comply with public health emergency orders;
- Bill 62 – The Fuel Tax Amendment and Retail Sales Tax Amendment Act, which amends The Fuel Tax Act to suspend, for the duration of the 2020 public health emergency, the requirements that a carrier who is not licenced under the International Fuel Tax Agreement pay a tax and obtain a single-trip permit upon entering Manitoba. The bill also amends The Retail Sales Tax Act to eliminate retail sales tax on premiums payable for insurance related to real property.
During this unprecedented sitting day, the House also passed two financial bills, which received Royal Assent before the House rose. The Loan Act, 2020 (COVID-19 Response) will increase the Provincial Government’s borrowing authority up to $5 billion, while The Appropriation Act, 2020 (COVID-19 Response) provides spending authority to government of up to $1 billion in additional funds beyond those in the Budget 2020 Estimate of Expenditures. The spending authority is divided into three parts: Health, Seniors and Active Living at $500 million, Enabling Appropriations at $400 million, Emergency and Other Appropriations at $100 million.
100th anniversary of the first session of the Manitoba Legislature held in the current Chamber
January 22, 2020, marked the 100th anniversary of the first session of the Manitoba Legislature held in the current Chamber. At the beginning of the first sitting day following the winter break, copies of the Votes and Proceedings from that first sitting day on January 22, 1920, were provided to Members. This allowed all 57 MLAs to see what issues Members were considering in the same exact place 100 years ago.
Madam Speaker read part of the announcement for the opening:
“A cordial invitation is extended to all Citizens to take advantage of this opportunity to inspect the New Parliament Building; and the Civil Service of the Province are specially invited to attend in the evening and bring their friends.
An orchestra will attend on both occasions, and light refreshments will be served during the evening. The Premier and Executive Council are desirous that the Citizens should take advantage of the invitation issued on this occasion.”
Madam Speaker also shared with the House some interesting figures related to the history of the room and all that it signifies;
Since January 1920, the Chamber has experienced 121 Legislative sessions for a total of 6,709 sitting days;
Six Clerks of the House, along with many Deputy Clerks and Clerk Assistants, expertly managed each of these sessions. Seventeen Sergeants-at-Arms have carried the same Mace and placed it on the same Table before all Members;
548 citizens, including 65 women and one non-binary person, have served in this same room as Members of the Legislative Assembly. Of those MLAs, 17 have served as Speaker of the House and 12 as Premier.
Since the last submission, the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs met on January 14, 2020, to undertake the hiring process of a new Auditor General. During the meeting, a motion was passed to strike a sub-committee to manage the process. The sub-committee consists of four Government Members, two Official Opposition members, and one Liberal Party member and has the authority to call their own meetings and meet in camera. The sub-committee must report its unanimous recommendation to the Standing Committee.
On January 20, the Legislative Affairs Committee met to consider annual reports and to hear from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.
Finally, on March 11, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts held a training session for its members, some of them newly assigned to this committee following the Fall 2019 General Election. This session saw a presentation from representatives of the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation, within attendance members of the Committee, the Deputy Auditor General and some of his office staff, as well as procedural staff.
Current Party Standings
The current party standings in the Manitoba Legislature are: Progressive Conservatives 36, New Democratic Party 18, and three Independent Members.
The House is currently suspended, but may be called back for special sittings over the coming months. As well, there have been some preliminary discussions and arrangements made to allow the House to meet virtually, but at the time of publication, this has not yet been implemented. The next submission will provide a further update on this development.
Clerk Assistant/Clerk of Committees
Official Languages Commissioner
The new Official Languages Commissioner for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean, was sworn-in on January 22, after being recommended by the Legislative Assembly and appointed by government in November. The swearing-in and reception were hosted by Speaker Daniel Guitard and held in the Legislative Council Chamber.
The Standing Committee on Economic Policy, chaired by Gary Crossman, considered various government bills in January. In February, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, chaired by Roger Melanson, reviewed Auditor General report sections and the annual reports of various government departments, Crown corporations, and other provincial entities.
Also, in February, the recently created Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship, chaired by Bruce Fitch, met with representatives from various government departments and NB Power regarding their use of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, in the province and to receive updates on their progress towards the implementation of New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan. The Committee was expected to hold public hearings in March on herbicide and pesticide use; however, based on the recommendation of New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, the public hearings were postponed indefinitely.
Resignation and Changes to Cabinet
On February 14, following the announcement of a government initiative for the nightly closures of certain hospital emergency rooms, Robert Gauvin announced his resignation from Cabinet as Deputy Premier; Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture; and Minister responsible for La Francophonie. He also left the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent Member. He was first elected to the Legislature in the 2018 provincial election to represent the riding of Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou.
On February 21, Premier Blaine Higgs announced two additions to Cabinet. Bruce Fitch became Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture. He has held various Cabinet positions since he was first elected to the Legislature in the 2006 provincial election to represent the riding of Riverview. Glen Savoie became Minister responsible for La Francophonie in addition to his role as the Government House Leader. First elected in the 2010 provincial election, he now represents the riding of Saint John East. The new Cabinet members were sworn-in to the Executive Council on February 24 by Lieutenant-Governor Brenda Murphy.
The Third Session of the 59th Legislature adjourned on December 20 and resumed on March 10, when Finance and Treasury Board Minister Ernie Steeves tabled the 2020-2021 Budget. This was the second budget of the Progressive Conservative minority government.
New Brunswick’s $10.2 billion 2020-2021 Budget was balanced with a projected surplus of $92.4 million. The net debt was expected to be reduced by $129.3 million. Revenues were projected to grow by 3.4 per cent, while spending was expected to grow by 3.5 per cent. The Department of Finance and Treasury Board projected the New Brunswick economy to expand by 1.2 per cent during the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Highlights of the Budget included a 3.9 per cent increase in health care funding with $5.5 million going toward mental health programs in social development, health care, and education and $5 million for a rural incentive program to maintain physician resources for the future; $7.1 million to hire more teachers for the upcoming school year; $6.1 million to address the growth in demand for educational assistants in schools; a wage increase of 75 cents-per-hour for early childhood educators; $36 million for investments in climate change initiatives; $1.6 million to the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission to improve access to legal services for those who need the support; a 25 per cent increase in the rates paid to foster caregivers to assist them in providing a safe and secure home to children under their care; $800,000 to ensure core funding for resource development consultation co-ordinator positions within First Nation communities; and as part of the made-in New Brunswick carbon plan, effective April 1, 2020, the gasoline tax would decrease by 4.63 cents per litre and the motive fuel (diesel) tax would decrease by 6.05 cents per litre.
On March 12, Finance Critic, Roger Melanson, delivered the Official Opposition’s Reply to the Budget. Melanson argued that the government’s approach to health care spending reduces health care access for rural New Brunswickers; the tax decreases were in fact increases; and despite social assistance rates going up, there was less funding in the income security budget overall compared to the 2018 budget. In summation, the Official Opposition argued the projected surplus was based on unrealistic assumptions about the province’s economic growth rate.
After three days of debate, it was agreed by unanimous consent to conclude the Budget debate. The Main and Capital Estimates were subsequently adopted by the Legislature on March 13, as well as the Appropriations Act 2020-2021. After the debate was concluded and the estimates were adopted, Premier Higgs addressed the House and expressed his appreciation to the Members for their cooperation in expediting the business of the House due to the evolving situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further Sittings and Precautions
The Legislature met again, briefly, with only a quorum present to maintain social distancing, on March 17 and April 17. On both days, Routine Proceedings were dispensed with and certain necessary legislation was introduced and quickly passed second and third reading without committee consideration. The April sitting also involved enhanced screening, including temperature checks of Members and staff by a health professional, limited staffing, and restricted access to the building.
During the abbreviated Spring sitting, noteworthy legislation introduced included:
- Bill 33, An Act Respecting Security for the Legislative Assembly, introduced by Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart, seeks to broaden security measures at the Legislative Assembly to include the utilization of deputy sheriffs and the possession of firearms.
- Bill 35, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act, introduced by Green Party House Leader Megan Mitton, would ban conversion therapy in New Brunswick, making it illegal for regulated health professionals to practice conversion therapy on a minor. The bill would also prevent any organizations that provide or advocate for conversion therapy from receiving government funds.
- Bill 38, An Act Respecting Elections in 2020, introduced by Environment and Local Government Minister Jeff Carr, postpones the dates for various spring elections, including provincial by-elections and municipal, district education council, regional health authority, and local service district elections, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Bill 40, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, introduced by Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder, protects the employment of private and public sector workers requiring leave due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Bill 41, An Act to Amend the Emergency Measures Act, introduced by Minister Carl Urquhart, provides emergency childcare services and suspends limitations and deadlines related to court and tribunal proceedings.
Adjournment and Standings
The House stands adjourned until May 5, 2020. The standings in the House are 20 Progressive Conservatives, 20 Liberals, three Greens, three People’s Alliance, two vacancies, and one Independent Member.
Alicia R. Del Frate
Parliamentary Support Officer
Newfoundland and Labrador
The House of Assembly convened on March 3, 2020, for the continuation of the First Session of the 49th General Assembly, a day later than scheduled owing to inclement weather.
Further to the resolution adopted by the House on December 5, 2019, the Member for St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows began serving the two-week suspension ordered by that resolution.
The Member for Humber-Bay of Islands raised a point of privilege regarding a matter which was first raised as a point of privilege on March 3, 2019, and ruled not to be prima facie privilege.
The Member stated in raising the matter again that he had become aware of new evidence bearing on the case which had to do with an investigation carried out by the Commissioner for Legislative Standards. The Speaker took the matter under advisement.
On March 5 the House passed unanimously a resolution standing in the name of the Government House Leader striking a Select Committee on Democratic Reform. This followed from a Private Member’s resolution moved by the Leader of the Third Party and adopted by the House on December 5, 2019, urging Government to disband an All-Party Committee on Democratic Reform established in February of 2019 and support instead a Select Committee of the House of Assembly comprising two members from each of the three caucuses and one independent Member.
On the same day, the House passed amendments to the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity And Administration Act to give legal effect to the Legislature-Specific Harassment-Free Workplace Policy Applicable To Complaints Against Members recommended in the Report of the Privileges and Elections Committee adopted by the House in December 2019. The new policy comes into effect on April 1, 2020.
On March 11, the Minister of Natural Resources gave notice of a resolution that the House support the referral of the Report of Commissioner Justice Richard D. Leblanc regarding the Muskrat Falls hydro development project, Muskrat Falls: A Misguided Project, ; to the RCMP and RNC for potential criminality and the further referral of the report to the Department of Justice and Public Safety for potential civil litigation.
On March 11, the House passed Bill 26 the Interim Supply Act, 2020, which as introduced would have provided sufficient funding for Government needs for six months rather than the traditional three. The Bill was amended and sub-amended to provide for an amount sufficient for three months.
Before the House adjourned for constituency week on March 12, the House adopted a motion permitting the extension of the adjournment if it became necessary to do so in light of the COVID-19 situation. In the event the House did extend the adjournment to March 26, rather than March 23, the date when the House would have reconvened in accordance with the parliamentary calendar.
The sitting on March 26, was unprecedented in that it was conducted in accordance with the public health requirements occasioned by the COVID – 19 Pandemic. There were 10 Members in the Chamber, three Table Officers, and the Sergeant-at-Arms. The public galleries were closed. The purpose of the sitting was to pass several measures including two Interim Supply Bills, one to address contingencies, the other to provide funding for an additional three months as proposed in the first Interim Supply Bill. The House also passed a Loan Act to provide funding required to deal with COVID-related expenditures.
The House also passed an omnibus Bill amending three statutes and creating a new statute:
- The Hydro Corporation Act, 2007, was amended to increase the Corporation’s borrowing authority and the Crown’s debt guarantee to address a reduction in revenues anticipated as a result of COVID-19;
- The Labour Standards Act was amended to provide job protection for individuals who miss work as a result of the public health emergency; and,
- The Residential Tenancies Act, 2018, was amended to extend the time period in which a tenant is required to vacate a residential premises after notice is served on a tenant where the tenant suffers a loss of employment or a reduction in work hours as a result of the pandemic.
- The Temporary Variation of Statutory Deadlines Act, which will allow a minister, the Premier, the Speaker or the Lieutenant-Governor in Council to vary a statutory deadline or time period for not more than six months, effective March 14, 2020. The Act shall cease to have effect at the end of the next sitting of the House.
The House then adjourned to the call of the Chair.
It is expected that the House will meet again in the near future.
The Second Session of the 19th Legislative Assembly began on February 5, 2020. This sitting was scheduled to conclude on April 2, 2020; however, in response to the developing COVID-19 pandemic the house was adjourned on March 16, 2020.
On February 25, 2020, the Minister of Finance, Caroline Wawzonek, delivered her inaugural Budget Address and tabled the Main Estimates 2020-2021. Conclusion of these estimates was not possible prior to the March 16, 2020 adjournment, and, as a result, on March 16, 2020, the Minister of finance tabled the Interim Estimates (Operations Expenditures) April 1 to June 30, 2020.
The interim estimates provide the necessary appropriation authority to support the government’s operations for the three-month period of April 1 to June 30, 2020.
On February 27, 2020, the Government House Leader, R.J. Simpson, raised a Point of Order per Rule 24 suggesting that comments by the Member for Monfwi seriously violated the rules of order and decorum in this House.
On March 10, 2020 the Speaker ruled there was indeed a Point of Order and called upon the Member for Monfwi to apologize to the House. Due to the unexpected absence of the Tłı̨chǫ interpreter, the ruling was deferred until the next day, when a Tłı̨chǫ interpretation was available.
On March 11, 2020, the Speaker returned to his ruling on the Point of Order and again directed the Member for Monfwi to apologize and withdraw his remarks. The Member for Monfwi refused and was named by the Speaker and asked to leave the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day pursuant to Rule 26(2).
On February 27, 2020, the Member for Monfwi raised a Point of Privilege suggesting that the Premier acted beyond her authority when terminating the appointment of the president of Aurora College. It was suggested that the Premier had breached the collective privileges of the House and acted against the dignity and authority of the Assembly as per Rule 20. The Member also suggested that the Premier obstructed the ability of the Legislature in carrying out its lawmaking functions. On March 10, 2020, the Speaker ruled there was no prima facie breach of privilege, and the point of privilege is dismissed.
On March 10, 2020, when the Speaker delivered his ruling on the aforementioned Point of Order, the Member for Monfwi raised a point of privilege regarding the lack of Tłı̨chǫ interpretation due to the unexpected absence of the Tłı̨chǫ interpreter. On March 11, when Tłı̨chǫ interpretation was available the Speaker permitted debate on this Point of Privilege and subsequently found that there had been a prima facie breach of privilege. Following this ruling, the Member for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh moved that the Speaker’s ruling be referred to the Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures for their consideration.
During the February-March sitting, the following appropriation acts were considered and received Assent:
- Bill 1, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 3, 2019-2020;
- Bill 2, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 4, 2019-2020;
- Bill 4, Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 1, 2020-2021; and
- Bill 5, Interim Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2020-2021.
- Bill 3, An Act to Amend the Public Highways Act received second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment for review on March 13, 2020.
Prior to the COVID-19-related adjournment of the Assembly on March 16, 2020, Standing Committees were active. Following the adjournment, the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight remained active via video-conference and tele-conference, meeting several times per week, in accordance with the Committees’ Policy on Attendance and Participation by Video and Phone Conference.
The First Session of the 42nd Parliament resumed for the spring meeting period on February 18, 2020. The return of the House and resumption of legislative business was noteworthy, as several new Standing Orders came into effect at 12:01 a.m. Among the changes to the Standing Orders, the Speaker is now authorized to alter the application of any Standing Order or practice of the House in order to permit the full participation in proceedings of any Member with a disability. In addition, there is now written authorization for Members to use electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones in the House and committee rooms. Previously, the use of electronic devices in these spaces was technically prohibited. However, it had been a longstanding unwritten practice that Speakers ignored them, provided they operated silently. The House adopted these and other changes to the Standing Orders in December 2019.
Two by-elections were held on February 27, 2020, to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of Liberal MPPs Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde. The Ontario Liberal Party held onto both seats with the election of Lucille Collard in the riding of Ottawa-Vanier and Stephen Blais in the riding of Orléans.
With the addition of MPP Amanda Simard, who joined the Liberal caucus in January 2020 after sitting as an Independent Member, the Liberals now hold eight seats in the Legislature.
Ontario Liberal Party Leadership
The Ontario Liberal Party held its leadership convention on March 7, 2020, to choose a successor for Interim Leader John Fraser. Former MPP and Cabinet Minister Steven Del Duca was elected as leader on the first ballot. He does not currently hold a seat in the Legislature.
Response to COVID-19
The House has taken a number of measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 12, 2020, the last sitting day before what was scheduled to be a constituency week, the House adopted a motion moved by Government House Leader Paul Calandra. The motion indicated that during any time the House is adjourned for the remainder of the spring sessional period, the Government House Leader may give written notice to the Speaker that the Assembly shall not meet; and the Assembly will therefore remain adjourned until written notice is given to reconvene the Assembly. The provisions of the motion will expire at 11 : 59 p.m. on June 4, 2020.
On March 19, 2020, the House was reconvened through Order in Council to conduct government business in response to the pandemic. With unanimous consent, it was ordered that Members present for the proceedings were permitted to speak and vote from any Member’s desk in the Chamber in order to observe recommended physical distancing guidelines. Similarly, only the minimum number of required legislative staff were present in the Chamber for the proceedings.
Also with unanimous consent, the House ordered that all standing committees remain adjourned until the Government House Leader indicates to the Speaker that it is in the public interest for committees to meet again.
The Government introduced two bills on March 19, 2020: Bill 186, An Act to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000, and Bill 187, An Act to amend the Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006.
With the unanimous consent of the House, it was ordered that both bills be expedited through the three readings required for passage. For Bill 186, the House agreed to allocate 45 minutes to debate at Second Reading divided equally between the Government, Official Opposition, and Independent Members as a group. After passing Second Reading, the Bill immediately proceeded to a vote at Third Reading without any further debate.
A similar process was followed for Bill 187. In this instance, 15 minutes were allotted to the debate at Second Reading of the Bill, followed by the votes on Second and Third Reading. Both bills carried on a voice vote.
After the bills passed, the House adjourned until March 25, 2020 and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell granted Royal Assent to the bills in her office at Queen’s Park.
March 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update
On March 25, 2020, Minister of Finance Rod Phillips delivered an economic and fiscal update as part of Ontario’s Action Plan in response to COVID-19. This date had originally been slated for the release of the 2020 Budget, but the changing circumstances of COVID-19 led the Government to postpone the release of a full Budget to a future date.
The Economic and Fiscal Update was preceded by the introduction of Bill 188, An Act to enact and amend various statutes. With the unanimous consent of the House, 55 minutes were allotted to the debate at Second Reading of the Bill, with 20 minutes allotted to the Government, 20 minutes allotted to the Official Opposition, and 15 minutes allotted to the Independent Members as a group. After passing Second Reading, the Bill immediately proceeded to a vote at Third Reading without any further debate, and carried on a voice vote. The Bill was granted Royal Assent later that day.
The House also agreed with unanimous consent that the leaders of parties represented in the Legislative Assembly, as well as Independent Members, could file letters with the Speaker regarding Bill 188. The letters would contain recommendations made to the Minister of Finance with regards to the economic and fiscal measures each thought should be included in the Bill. Any letters filed with the Speaker will be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs when committee meetings resume, and the Committee will be authorized to consider the letters together with the provisions enacted by the Bill. The first witness to appear before the Committee is to be the Minister of Finance.
After passing Bill 188, the House adjourned until April 14, 2020, the date the House would be required to meet in order to consider a motion to extend the declaration of a provincial emergency, and other orders concerning COVID-19, pursuant to provisions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Standing committees were busy in the early months of 2020, with some committees traveling to hold public hearings during the winter adjournment in January and February.
Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs conducted Pre-Budget Consultations in January 2020. The Committee held public hearings in Toronto, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Belleville, Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara. On March 9, 2020, the Committee tabled its final report on the Pre-Budget Consultation 2020.
Standing Committee on Justice Policy
On December 11, 2019, Bill 159, An Act to amend various statutes in respect of consumer protection, was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy after First Reading.
In January, the Committee travelled to Brampton, Windsor and Ottawa for public hearings on the Bill. The Committee then met for clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill on February 27 and reported the Bill back to the House, as amended, on March 2, 2020.
The Bill focuses on various consumer protection issues, making amendments to the Condominium Management Services Act, the New Home Construction Licensing Act, the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act, and the Technical Standards and Safety Act, among others.
Standing Committee on Social Policy
The Standing Committee on Social Policy met to consider Bill 141, An Act respecting registration of and access to defibrillators. The Committee held public hearings in Sudbury and Toronto before meeting for one day of clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill on February 25, 2020. The Bill was reported back to the House, as amended, the following day.
Bill 141 would impose certain requirements respecting the installation, maintenance, testing and availability of defibrillators on designated premises or public premises. The Act would also create a provincial registry for the defibrillators at such premises.
Standing Committee on General Government
The Standing Committee on General Government met to consider Bill 145, An Act to amend the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002. The Committee held one day of public hearings and one day of clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill before reporting the Bill back to the House, as amended, on February 20, 2020. The Bill carried at Third Reading on February 27 and received Royal Assent on March 4, 2020.
The Bill makes various amendments to the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002. Among other measures, the Bill renames the Act as the Trust in Real Estate Services Act, 2002, and updates the Real Estate Council of Ontario’s regulatory powers.
Standing Committee on Public Accounts
In February 2020, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts tabled two reports in the House: Public Accounts of the Province (Chapter 2 of the Auditor General’s 2018 Annual Report), and Metrolinx—LRT Construction and Infrastructure Planning (Section 3.07 of the 2018 Annual Report).
The Committee also held hearings on the location of GO Train stations (GO Transit is the regional public transit service for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area), which was covered in a section of the Auditor General’s 2018 Annual Report. In addition, hearings were held on two sections of the Auditor’s 2019 Annual Report pertaining to climate change and the Food Safety Inspection Program.
Proceedings of the National Assembly
Early adjournment of proceedings
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, at the March 17, 2020 sitting the parliamentarians agreed that the proceedings would adjourn until 1:40 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 and that they would remain adjourned if the President received notice from the leaders of the four parliamentary groups that it was in the public interest that the Assembly remain adjourned until a later date or until further notice was given to the President by the leaders of the four parliamentary groups.
In addition, on March 12, 2020, after consulting the Premier and the leaders of the parliamentary groups, François Paradis, President of the National Assembly, announced that the National Assembly would be closed to visitors as of March 13, 2020 and that only activities related to parliamentary proceedings and administration would be maintained.
At the request of Premier François Legault, the Assembly met for an extraordinary sitting on Friday, February 7, 2020 to introduce an exceptional legislative procedure in order to conclude consideration of Bill 40, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act with regard to school organization and governance. The Bill was passed on the following vote: Yeas 60, Nays 35, Abstentions 0.
On March 10, 2020, Éric Girard, Minister of Finance, delivered the Budget Speech, and the estimates of expenditure for 2020–2021 were tabled. At the next sitting on March 11, 2020, interim supply was granted, and Bill 57, Appropriation Act No. 1, 2020–2021 was passed. The Assembly’s 25-hour debate on the Budget Speech began the next day, but it was shortened by the motion moved by Simon Jolin-Barrette, Government House Leader, to adjourn the proceedings until April 21, 2020 due to the exceptional circumstances resulting from COVID-19. The motion was carried unanimously. The motion moved by the Minister of Finance that the Assembly approve the Government’s budgetary policy was therefore carried at the March 17, 2020 sitting.
The National Assembly passed eight bills after proceedings resumed on February 4,2020. Five of them were passed at the March 17, 2020 sitting after the motion by the Government House Leader was carried unanimously, which resulted in their consideration being shortened:
Bill 31, An Act to amend mainly the Pharmacy Act to facilitate access to certain services (title modified a second time);
- Bill 37, An Act mainly to establish the Centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec;
- Bill 40, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act with regard to school organization and governance;
- Bill 41, An Act respecting mainly the implementation of certain provisions of the Budget Speeches of 17 March 2016, 28 March 2017, 27 March 2018 and 21 March 2019;
- Bill 43, An Act to amend the Nurses Act and other provisions in order to facilitate access to health services;
- Bill 48, An Act mainly to control the cost of the farm property tax and to simplify access to the farm property tax credit;
- Bill 57, Appropriation Act No. 1, 2020–2021; and
- Bill 58, Appropriation Act No. 3, 2019–2020.
Tabling of proposals for parliamentary reform
On February 20, 2020, Mr. Jolin-Barrette, Government House Leader and Minister Responsible for Laicity and Parliamentary Reform, tabled a document entitled Réforme parlementaire – Cahier de propositions (“Parliamentary Reform – Proposals”).
The proposals are grouped under four objectives: (1) Fostering enhanced collaboration, (2) Strengthening transparency and accountability, (3) Making Parliament more effective and more attentive, and (4) Modernizing the National Assembly. Acknowledging the changes in political dynamics over the last few years, particularly with increased number of recognized political parties, the proposals aim to “encourage […] the Members to engage in new discussions in order to respond not only to criticism of [the National Assembly], but also to the key challenges of our times on both the political and institutional levels.” [TRANSLATION]
Tabling of the Office of the National Assembly’s report on the independent process for determining Members’ conditions of employment
On February 20, 2020, the President of the National Assembly tabled the report of the Office of the National Assembly on the independent process for determining Members’ conditions of employment. The report followed a motion on the process for determining the employment conditions of Members and Ministers that was carried unanimously on June 14, 2019, and that was mandated the Office of the National Assembly to set up a committee for that purpose.
The Committee on Members’ Working Conditions and Allowances examined how other parliaments determine the employment conditions of their Members and Ministers. The Committee also considered other committees created by the National Assembly in the past. On that basis, it was determined that the process should involve setting up an independent committee responsible for analyzing Members’ conditions of employment and making recommendations as needed.
At the end of its mandate and following the proceedings of the Committee on Members’ Working Conditions and Allowances, the Office of the National Assembly established that it would be best to set up a fully independent committee with a mandate to perform a regular, comprehensive assessment of Members’ working conditions and make recommendations.
The discussions within the Committee and the Office on Members’ conditions of employment and allowances led to a consensus on an independent process for determining Members’ conditions of employment. In particular, the consensus covers the mandate, composition and completion schedule of the independent committee, consultations to be held by the committee within its mandate, consideration of certain indicators and, lastly, the procedure for adopting and implementing recommendations. Those provisions correspond to best practices applied in other parliaments and comply with the guidelines set out in the motion carried unanimously by the National Assembly.
Ruling from the Chair
February 11, 2020 – Statements by the Minister of Health and Social Services on tabling an action plan to address the shortage of orderlies
On February 11, 2020, the President ruled on the point of privilege or contempt raised by the Official Opposition House Leader on December 7, 2019 concerning certain statements made by the Minister of Health and Social Services to the effect that she would eventually table an action plan and concerning a motion carried unanimously at the November 29, 2019 sitting asking the Minister to table such a plan before the end of the fall sessional period.
Parliamentary jurisprudence has established that deliberately misleading the Assembly or its committees can constitute contempt of Parliament. To reverse the presumption that a Member’s word must be accepted, the Member in question must have misled the Assembly or a committee when speaking and subsequently acknowledge having done so deliberately. Jurisprudence has also established that, in the context of parliamentary proceedings, giving two contradictory statements regarding the same facts may result in misleading the House and give rise to contempt of Parliament. In this case, the question was whether the statement the Minister made during question period constituted an acknowledgment of her having deliberately misled the Assembly during the division on the motion, or whether it was a case of there being two conflicting statements regarding the same facts.
None of the Minister’s statements quoted by the Official Opposition House Leader could be considered as an admission that she intended to mislead the Assembly by voting in favour of the motion. Nor was it a case of two contradictory statements on a specific fact. Moreover, the Minister’s vote on the motion could not be construed as a statement that was allegedly contradicted the following week, and the facts brought to light did not suggest that the Minister intended to mislead parliamentarians when she cast her vote.
The motion of November 29, 2019 provided that the Assembly “request” that the Minister table her action plan. Under Standing Order 186, every motion becomes either an order or a resolution once it has been carried. However, the motion as drafted cannot be likened to an order of the Assembly: it must rather be considered as a simple resolution on which the Government was not strictly required to follow up. The Assembly may ask the Minister to explain herself, but a point of privilege or contempt is not the appropriate means to do so. Points of privilege or contempt are intended for serious breaches and violations of the rights of the Assembly and its Members, and not for parliamentary oversight.
When a motion is carried unanimously, there is a legitimate expectation that it will be complied with. In this respect, Members can rightfully expect a certain degree of government consistency. However, this facet is not within the purview of the Chair. When the Government does not follow up on a moral commitment, it falls on the Government to explain itself in the aftermath. The Chair concluded that the point of privilege or contempt raised by the Official Opposition House Leader was inadmissible.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif awarded the Medal of Honour of the National Assembly of Québec
The President of the National Assembly, François Paradis, and the parliamentarians paid tribute to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif by awarding him the Medal of Honour of the National Assembly at a public ceremony. Mr. Duvernay-Tardif played for the Kansas City Chiefs in the National Football League (NFL) championship game, in which his team defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31–20 and won the 54th Super Bowl (LIV). He was the first Quebecer and first medical school graduate to win this major championship and raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
28th Legislature of the Student Forum
On January 13 to 17, 2020, the National Assembly hosted the 28th Legislature of the Student Forum, chaired by Vice-President Marc Picard. This parliament simulation made it possible for some 145 college students to put themselves in the shoes of a Member or journalist for a few days. The Student Forum has been held at the National Assembly annually since 1992. Over the years, more than 3,000 college students have attended the Forum to learn about parliamentarism and experience, for the time of the simulation, what it is like to work at the heart of Québec’s foremost democratic institution.
Here are some committee proceeding highlights for January to March 2020:
From the end of January to early February 2020, the Committee on Culture and Education (CCE) continued its clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 40, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act with regard to school organization and governance. The purpose of the Bill is to change the organization and governance of school boards, which will become school service centres administered by a board of directors composed of parents, comm hours of clause-by-clause consideration in Committee, the Bill was made the object of an exceptional legislative procedure and passed by the Assembly on February 8, 2020.
At the end of January and in early February 2020, the Committee on Institutions (CI) held special consultations and public hearings on Bill 39, An Act to establish a new electoral system, which is intended to replace the first-past-the-post system by a mixed electoral system with regional compensation. The total number of seats will remain 125, with 80 division seats allocated by majority vote, and 45 regional seats allocated on a proportional basis. The Bill also includes provisions relating to election expenses and promoting gender parity at the National Assembly. The new electoral system will not come into force unless it receives a majority of votes through a referendum during the next general election.
In January and February 2020, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment (CTE) held special consultations on Bill 44, An Act mainly to ensure effective governance of the fight against climate change and to promote electrification. The Bill puts the Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change in charge of coordinating governmental and ministerial measures for the fight against climate change. It also entrusts the Minister with governance of the “Electrification and Climate Change Fund,” which would replace the Green Fund and abolish its management board. Clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill began on February 19, 2020.
In February 2020, the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Energy and Natural Resources (CAPERN) held special consultations on Bill 48, An Act mainly to control the cost of the farm property tax and to simplify access to the farm property tax credit. The Bill amends the terms governing registration of agricultural operations, empowers the Government to determine by regulation the maximum taxable value of the land of an agricultural operation that is included in an agricultural zone, and establishes measures to facilitate the exchange of information between the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation and La Financière agricole du Québec. After four sittings, clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill ended on March 11, 2020.
On February 20, 2020, the Committee on Planning and the Public Domain (CAT) heard the interested parties and undertook clause-by-clause consideration of Private Bill 209, An Act respecting Ville de SaintTite. The Bill grants the town certain powers for regulating the holding of special events in its territory, in particular the Festival western de Saint-Tite. Unusually, consideration was not concluded after one sitting, and it was agreed that Ville de Saint-Tite, in collaboration with the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Habitation, would provide the Committee with additional proof that the community endorses the Bill before the Committee would continue its clause-by-clause consideration.
Order of initiative
After special consultations and a study mission to Europe within the framework of the order to examine the impact of pesticides on public health and the environment, as well as current and future innovative alternative practices in the agriculture and food sectors, with due regard for the competitiveness of Québec’s agri-food sector, the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Energy and Natural Resources (CAPERN) was required to table its report. For want of agreement on the content of the report, the parliamentary groups forming the Official Opposition and the Second Opposition Group made public a “shadow report” containing 50 recommendations at a press conference on February 6, 2020. After holding a deliberative meeting, the Committee members reached a consensus on 32 recommendations to be integrated into the order of initiative report tabled in the Assembly on February 19, 2020.
Select Committee on the Sexual Exploitation of Minors
The Select Committee on the Sexual Exploitation of Minors, created by the National Assembly on June 14, 2019, continued its public hearings. The Committee travelled to Montréal and Val-d’Or to hold hearings on January 20 and 21, 2020 and on January 23, 2020, respectively. It was an opportunity for the Committee members to get closer to the Indigenous and community stakeholders. The Committee must table its report in the fall of 2020.
Sittings and Parliamentary Procedure Directorate
Parliamentary Committees Directorate
Prince Edward Island
On February 21, 2020, Natalie Jameson, MLA for Charlottetown-Hillsborough, was appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Change. This portfolio was previously held by Brad Trivers alongside his role as Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning, which he retained upon Ms. Jameson’s appointment. The Cabinet now stands at 10 members.
Suspension of the First Session of the 66th General Assembly and Other Measures in Response to Pandemic
On November 28, 2019, the First Session of the 66th General Assembly adjourned to the call of the Speaker. The session was set to reconvene on April 7, 2020. However, on March 18, 2020, Speaker Colin LaVie announced that the Assembly would not reconvene on that date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the session was suspended. The Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island permit the Speaker, in urgent or extraordinary circumstances, to waive the requirement that the House open for a spring sitting during the first week of April and that 60 days’ notice of the opening be provided by the Speaker or Executive Council. Waiving the 60 days’ notice requirement will allow the House to reconvene at shorter notice if necessary, but as of this writing no date has been set for the session’s resumption.
In keeping with public health measures, the buildings of the Legislative Assembly were closed to the public in mid-March. Personnel of the Assembly began working from home whenever possible at that point.
The standing and special committees of the Legislative Assembly had been meeting regularly throughout early 2020, but committee Chairs cancelled all meetings after March 13, 2020.
Clerk Assistant – Research and Committees
The winter 2020 sitting of the 2nd Session of the 5th Legislative Assembly convened on February 18, 2020, and concluded on March 12, 2020. The proceedings of the Committee of the Whole during the winter 2020 sitting were dominated by the consideration of the government’s proposed 2020-2021 main estimates. Five bills received Assent during the winter 2020 sitting:
- Bill 39, Appropriation (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2020-2021;
- Bill 40, Supplementary Appropriation (Operations and Maintenance) Act, No. 3, 2019-2020;
- Bill 41, An Act to Amend the Guardianship and Trusteeship Act;
- Bill 42, An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act; and
- Bill 43, An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act Respecting Consultation Periods.
New Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
On February 24, 2020, Speaker Simeon Mikkungwak announced his decision to resign his seat as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the constituency of Baker Lake. In his announcement, Mr. Mikkungwak reflected on the importance of focusing on the needs of his family.
The Nunavut Leadership Forum, which consists of all Members of the Legislative Assembly, gathered on the morning of February 26, 2020, to select a new Speaker. Two Members accepted nominations. Aggu MLA Paul Quassa was declared elected following one round of balloting. Mr. Quassa was subsequently dragged to the Chair following the passage of a formal motion of appointment when the House convened that afternoon.
On March 5, 2020, the date of the Baker Lake by-election was announced for April 27, 2020.
Appointment of Languages Commissioner
On February 18, 2020, the Legislative Assembly unanimously adopted a motion to recommend the appointment of Karliin Aariak as Languages Commissioner of Nunavut.
Resignation of the Member for Kugluktuk
On March 31, 2020, Kugluktuk MLA Mila Kamingoak declared, by way of correspondence to the Speaker, her decision, for personal reasons, to resign her seat as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, effective April 3, 2020. The by-election is scheduled be held on August 24, 2020.
Impact of COVID-19 (as of April 16, 2020)
A formal public health emergency, under the territorial Public Health Act, was declared for Nunavut on March 18, 2020.
On March 20, 2020, the Legislative Assembly announced a number of measures in response to COVID-19, including the suspension of public tours and restricted access to the Precinct.
Following a formal request from the Municipal Council of Baker Lake, the date of the by-election for the constituency of Baker Lake was rescheduled to August 24, 2020.
Beginning on March 23, 2020, the Government of Nunavut’s regular COVID-19 public updates by Premier Joe Savikataaq (Arviat South) and Health Minister George Hickes (Iqaluit-Tasiluk) have been broadcast from the floor of the Chamber. The updates have been televised across the territory on local community cable stations and direct-to-home satellite service on the Bell and Shaw networks. The use of the Legislative Assembly’s broadcast infrastructure for this purpose was authorized by Speaker Quassa, pursuant to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Broadcasting Order 2012-349, which was issued on June 26, 2012. The Order amended the Parliamentary and Provincial or Territorial Legislature Proceedings Exemption Order to provide that “the programming service provided by the undertaking may be used to transmit video, audio and text information to the general public concerning emergency situations, the content of which may originate from itself or be accessed from other authorized sources.”
Office of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut
Spring Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Twenty-Eighth Legislature
The Fourth Session of the Twenty-Eighth Legislature resumed on March 2, 2020. Typically, the spring sitting focuses on the presentation of the budget, budget debate, and the scrutiny of the estimates in the standing committees. Based on the parliamentary calendar as outlined in The Rules and Procedures of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, the budget presentation was planned for March 18, 2020.
As the spring sitting proceeded, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the attention of the Legislative Assembly and executive government. On March 12, 2020 Premier Scott Moe announced Saskatchewan had its first presumptive COVID-19 case. The following day, March 13, 2020, the chief medical health officer issued his first order under The Public Health Act, 1994 of Saskatchewan restricting the number of people that can gather in one location. In accordance with the order, the premier announced that the presence at the budget day events scheduled for March 18, 2020 would be limited to Members of the Legislative Assembly, authorized employees, and accredited media.
That same day, Speaker Mark Docherty , announced that visitor access to the Legislative Building would be suspended effective March 13 at 5:00 p.m. All tours, educational events, and public events in the building were cancelled until further notice. Only Members of the Legislative Assembly, authorized employees, accredited media, authorized service contractors, and the public service conducting parliamentary and ministerial work would be permitted access to the building.
The following week, the gravity of the pandemic impacted the mood and the regular transaction of the business of the Assembly. On March 16, Royal Assent was given to 13 bills and the regular business under routine proceedings and orders of the day for the remainder of the week was either shortened or dispensed with.
On March 17, the government and opposition passed Bill No. 207, The Saskatchewan Employment (Public Health Emergencies) Amendment Act, 2020 through all stages. This Act ensures employees can access unpaid leave during a public health emergency while maintaining their employment. Upon adoption of third reading, Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty returned to the Assembly and gave Royal Assent to the bill. Furthermore, he took the opportunity to address the Assembly and offer words of encouragement during this unprecedented time.
On March 18, 2020, the planned budget presentation, was cancelled, and the Assembly adjourned to the call of the Chair. The recess is considered a break in the parliamentary calendar, and the rules for the completion of session will apply when the Assembly reconvenes.
After the proceedings, the government declared Saskatchewan in a state of emergency and publicly released their spending plans for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, including the estimates.
2020 Spring Sitting
The 2020 Spring Sitting of the Third Session of the 34th Legislative Assembly began on March 5. Although it was anticipated that the 2020 Spring Sitting would comprise 30 sitting days, in light of the evolving coronavirus pandemic situation, on March 19 the House considered and carried a special adjournment motion. The special adjournment Order, adopted notwithstanding a rule stipulating that a Sitting must be a minimum of 20 days, provided for the House on its rising that day to stand adjourned until October 1, 2020.
Pursuant to an Order of the House adopted last November, the Assembly had been scheduled to stand adjourned during what would otherwise have been a sitting week (March 16-19, 2020) due to the Arctic Winter Games (to have been held in Yukon this year). However, following the cancellation of the Arctic Winter Games on March 7 due to coronavirus concerns, on March 10, the House rescinded that Order.
Eight government bills were introduced during the 2020 Spring Sitting (no private members’ bills were introduced):
- Bill No. 8, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2020;
- Bill No. 9, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act;
- Bill No. 10, Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (2020);
- Bill No. 11, Act to Amend the Land Titles Act, 2015;
- Bill No. 12, Act to Amend the Wills Act (2020);
- Bill No. 201,Third Appropriation Act 2019-2020
- Bill No. 202, Interim Supply Appropriation Act 2020-21; and
- Bill No. 203, First Appropriation Act 2020-21 (the bill, providing for a record budget of over $1.6 billion, was introduced by Yukon’s Premier and Finance Minister, Sandy Silver)
Four bills – the budget measures implementation bill (as amended) and the three appropriation bills – were assented to by Yukon Commissioner Angélique Bernard during the 2020 Spring Sitting.
Within the context of the pandemic, consideration of the main appropriation bill in Committee of the Whole took place over four sitting days. On March 19, Bill No 203, First Appropriation Act 2020-21 was reported by the Committee without amendment, passed third reading (10 yea, 7 nay) in the House, and was granted assent before the Legislative Assembly adjourned at 9:29 p.m. (the normal adjournment time is 5:30 p.m.) until October 1, 2020.
While Bills No. 9, 10, 11 and 12 were not further considered during the abbreviated 2020 Spring Sitting, they remain on the Order Paper.
The Sitting also marked the first time since 2003 that the government did not invoke the guillotine clause (Standing Order 76) to clear government bills on the final day of a spring or fall sitting.
Motion of Urgent and Pressing Necessity
On March 9, Stacey Hassard, Leader of the Official Opposition (and Acting Yukon Party Leader), received unanimous consent to move a motion of urgent and pressing necessity under Standing Order 28 to establish a Select Committee on the Economic Effects of COVID-19, “to examine and address adverse economic effects in Yukon” of the coronavirus disease.
Speaking to the motion, Kate White, Leader of the Third Party, stated that the Yukon NDP supported the motion to establish the committee. In his remarks, Premier Silver (the Yukon Liberal Party Leader), said that while supportive of the principle of working together in a non-partisan way, hasty decisions were not advisable. The Premier stated that the government was actively monitoring the global economic effect of the coronavirus and “working closely with our partners inside and outside the territory…to mitigate potential economic concerns as well as medical concerns.”
The motion to establish the select committee was defeated along party lines (8 yea, 10 nay).
On the first day of the 2020 Spring Sitting, Speaker Nils Clarke introduced Terry Grabowski, the new Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms. The Speaker noted that Mr. Grabowski had served in the Canadian Armed Forces and continues to serve as a Canadian Forces Ranger and a Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron instructor.
House of Commons
This account covers events in the continuing First Session of the 43rd Parliament from January to the end of March 2020.
Having considered the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne during the few sittings in December, the government called it for debate on January 27. The House adopted the Address without amendment later that day.
On January 29, Chrystia Freeland (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs) introduced Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States, after the House adopted Ways and Means motion No. 2. The Bill went through second reading and to the Standing Committee on International Trade, which reported it back to the House without amendment on February 27. Debate on the Bill at third reading, however, was overtaken by events surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (see below). It received Royal Assent by written declaration on March 13.
Procedure / Privilege
On December 13, 2019, Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby) rose on a question of privilege to allege that the government was in contempt of the House by failing to comply with an opposition motion adopted by the House that called on the government to comply with a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision.
On January 27, the Speaker ruled that the motion had been worded in such a way as to constitute a non-binding resolution rather than an order. He further ruled that the House does not have the power to compel the government to act in this area.
In his ruling, the Speaker also outlined how he envisioned hearing from Members when a question of privilege has been raised. He noted that, in the interests of timeliness, Members should refrain from citing precedents already available in the authorities. He also reserved the right to cut off interventions when he felt he had heard enough. He further noted his desire to rule on questions of privilege as quickly as possible so that matters would not be left in abeyance.
On February 19, 2020, following Routine Proceedings, Earl Dreeshen (Red Deer—Mountain View) rose on a question of privilege to allege that Seamus O’Regan (Minister of Natural Resources) had misled the House in his response to a question on the Order Paper. He asserted that the government’s statement regarding contracts awarded to the Pembina Institute were inconsistent with statements made by the government in other public documents.
The next day, Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons) rose to respond to the question, saying that the question concerned contracts, not grants, made to the institute, that there was a clear difference between a contract and a grant, and that the government had responded appropriately to the question as put. Later that same day Mr. O’Regan rose to apologize, admitting that the government’s response was incorrect and stating that he would prepare a corrected response for tabling in the House. He also apologized to Mr. Dreeshen.
On February 21, Mr. Lamoureux tabled a revised response to the question and extended his personal apology to Mr. Dreeshen. Following that, the Speaker announced that he considered the matter closed.
On February 25, 2020, Rob Moore (Fundy Royal) rose on a question of privilege concerning the premature disclosure of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). According to Mr. Moore, press reports showed that details of the Bill were made public before it was introduced in the House. He noted that the reports explicitly stated that the source of the information was not authorized to reveal details of the Bill before its introduction, which Mr. Moore suggested was proof that a contempt had occurred. The Speaker took the matter under advisement.
On February 28, Mr. Lamoureux apologized for the premature disclosure and noted that no one from the government had been authorized to speak publicly on the Bill before its introduction.
On March 10, the Speaker ruled that there were sufficient grounds to conclude that there was a prima facie breach of the privilege of the House. The Speaker noted that it seemed clear that the content of the Bill was disclosed prematurely while it was on notice and before it was introduced in the House, and that everything indicated that the act of premature disclosure was deliberate. The Speaker then asked Mr. Moore to move the appropriate motion, namely, “That the matter of the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying) be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.”. The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Carol Hughes, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing) put the question and the House agreed to the motion.
On February 27, Mr. Lamoureux raised a question of privilege that Bob Saroya (Markham—Unionville) was attempting to do indirectly what he could not do directly by placing a bill on notice, making public the content of the bill, then placing another bill on notice with a slightly different title to avoid a charge of premature disclosure of the content of a bill, using this approach to subvert the principle that Members should be the first to see the contents of a bill.
On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the Speaker delivered his ruling. He reminded members that, on February 28, Mr. Saroya had apologized and admitted that he had indeed discussed the contents of the Bill with fellow Members and journalists and that he had been ignorant of the rule prohibiting the disclosure of contents of bills on notice. Noting that it did not matter that the bill was subsequently withdrawn and never introduced in the House, the Speaker nevertheless gave the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Saroya, saying that he believed that the member’s remarks were sincere and that the Member believed he was advancing his cause in a legitimate fashion. Consequently, the Speaker ruled that this had not constituted a prima facie case of privilege.
On February 28, the sixth of seven days in the supply period ending March 26, Candice Bergen (Portage—Lisgar) moved an opposition motion that three additional allotted days be added for a total of 10, and that, if necessary to accommodate the additional days, the supply period run until April 2, 2020. The House adopted the motion on March 9 and began to follow the revised procedure.
On March 11, during Oral Questions, Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, requested that an order of the day be designated for the consideration of a budget presentation on March 30. The usual financial processes, however, would subsequently be altered as the House responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 13, the House adopted by unanimous consent a motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier), to adjourn until April 20. Among other measures included in the motion, the House agreed to regard the eighth allotted day (March 10) as the final allotted day; to concur in Supplementary Estimates (B) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, and interim supply for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021; to increase to 10 the number of allotted days for the supply period ending on June 23, 2020; to adopt at all stages Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (special warrant); to cancel any scheduled committee meetings; to un-designate March 30, for the budget presentation; to grant the Speaker the authority to extend the date the House stands adjourned (following notice of agreement from the House leaders of all four recognized parties); to deem Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States read a third time and passed; to permit the deposit of any special warrants issued with the Clerk of the House during the period the House is adjourned and to refer those special warrants to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for their consideration within 20 sitting days; and finally to call on the Auditor General of Canada to conduct an audit of special warrants issued and present his findings to the House no later than June 1.
Pursuant to Standing Order 28(3), the Speaker recalled the House to sit on March 24. That day, the Deputy Speaker (Bruce Stanton, Simcoe North) took the Chair and informed the members present that, in accordance with physical-distancing best practices, Standing Order 17 would be suspended from the duration of the sitting, meaning that members could speak or address the Chair from any seat in the House, that the sitting would be suspended every 45 minutes in order for staff supporting the sitting to substitute safely, and that members who were tabling a document or proposing a motion should sign the document and bring it to the table themselves.
The House adopted by unanimous consent a motion moved by Mr. Rodriguez to, among other measures, concur in Ways and Means motion No. 4, notice of which Mr. Morneau laid upon the table earlier that day; and to deem introduced, read a first time and ordered for consideration at Second Reading later in the day Bill C-13, An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19. Pursuant to the same order, the House went into Committee of the Whole to consider matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic for an hour. The Chair presided from the Speaker’s chair and called Members in a fashion consistent with the practices observed during Oral Questions.
After the Committee of the Whole rose, again according to the order adopted earlier that day, the House began second reading debate of Bill C-13. The Bill was then read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.
The House again adjourned until April 20. The House’s order again included the provision that empowered the Speaker to prolong the adjournment following notice of agreement from the House leaders of all four recognized parties to that effect.
To deal with current events, the House’s committees began their work by various means as soon as the House resumed in the new year. It established its Standing Committees on Finance, on International Trade, and on Health by special order on January 27, ordering the whips to provide the committee clerks with the names of their parties’ members and the committees to meet to organize on January 29. The finance committee was to proceed with its pre-budget consultations; the international trade committee was expected to consider a bill to implement the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement; and the health committee was ordered to proceed directly to a briefing from officials on the Canadian response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reported to the House the proposed membership of the remaining standing committees on February 5, in which the House then concurred.
In the motion adopted by the House on March 24, the House ordered that the Chairs of the Standing Committee on Health and of the Standing Committee on Finance each convene a meeting of their respective committee at least once per week (unless the whips of all four recognized parties agreed that a meeting should not be held) or within 48 hours of receipt by the committee clerk of a request signed by any four members of the committee, and that during such meetings, committee members attend and witnesses participate via either videoconferencing or teleconferencing. The order restricted the committees to meeting for the sole purpose of receiving evidence concerning the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting the week of March 30, the Minister of Finance (or his delegate) was to provide the Standing Committee on Finance with a bi-weekly report on all actions undertaken pursuant to parts 3, 8 and 19 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act and was ordered to appear before the committee to discuss the report. The House also instructed the Standing Committee on Finance to review of the provisions and operation of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act (Bill C-13) within six months of the day on which the Act received Royal Assent and to report its findings to the House no later than Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on March 24, the Standing Committee on Health met by teleconference on March 31, and its audio feed was webcast via the House of Commons website. This was the first time ever a House of Commons committee had met virtually.
Andrew Bartholomew Chaplin
Table Research Branch
On the evening of March 12 the Speaker of the Senate issued a memorandum indicating that the public interest required that the Senate meet earlier than, March 24, as had been provided in the order of adjournment adopted earlier that day. The Senate was recalled the following morning.
On March 13, Bills C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States; C-10, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020; C-11, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021; and C-12, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (special warrant), were introduced and read a first time, adopted at second and third reading stages, without being referred to committee, and received Royal Assent by written declaration. The latter was enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for a special warrant, authorizing payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, to be issued while Parliament is not sitting and a payment is urgently required for the public good.
The Speaker recalled the Senate again on March 25 to pass Bill C-13, An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19. Prior to the second and third reading stages of the bill, the Senate resolved into a Committee of the Whole for consideration of the subject matter of the bill and heard from the Minister of Finance. The bill was then passed at second and third reading, and received Royal Assent by written declaration the same day. While awaiting the declaration of Royal Assent, the Senate resolved into a second Committee of the Whole to consider the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This second Committee of Whole allowed the Senate to hear from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Minister of Health, as well as the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
Prior to these recalls, the Senate had last been recalled on June 26, 2011, during the First Session of the Forty-First Parliament, in order to pass Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.
A motion permitting senators to speak and vote from a seat other than their own was passed at the start of the sitting on March 13 to accommodate for physical distancing. The same motion was adopted when the Senate was recalled on March 25, as well as additional measures to ensure the health and safety of senators and staff involved in the Senate’s operations. Attendance was coordinated by the recognized parties and parliamentary groups to ensure a balanced representation while allowing most Senators to respect the direction of public health authorities to avoid travelling. The sitting took place with the minimum number of employees required to work on-site to support the sitting.
Chamber, Procedure and Speaker’s Rulings
On February 5, the Senate adopted a sessional order respecting the time of adjournment of sittings on Wednesdays and the start time of Thursday sittings, which depart from the Rules of the Senate. This reflects practice in previous sessions.
On March 10, the Speaker ruled on a point of order in relation to the receivability of a motion. The motion proposed changes to the Rules of the Senate, particularly concerning to the leaders and facilitators of recognized parties and recognized parliamentary groups, but also proposed changes to the definition of “Critic of a bill.” The main concern raised was that the changes would be so far-reaching that they would undermine basic principles of the constitutional architecture of our parliamentary system of government, including provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act. The Speaker recognized that the motion proposed significant changes to the Rules of the Senate, but also outlined that the Senate’s Rules have evolved over many years. The Speaker noted that the need for careful reflection when considering such changes does not, however, mean that the Senate cannot make them if it so wishes, and ruled the motion to be in order. The motion remains on the Order Paper and has not yet been adopted.
The Senate adopted separate motions to place three committee reports from the First Session of the Forty-Second Parliament on the Orders of the Day in the current session for consideration: the nineteenth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry entitled Made in Canada: Growing Canada’s Value-Added Food Sector; the thirteenth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages entitled Modernizing the Official Languages Act: Views of the Federal Institutions and Recommendations; and the thirty-second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce entitled Open Banking: What it Means for You. The reports were subsequently adopted and government responses for all three were requested from the relevant ministers.
On February 25, the Senate adopted a motion to temporarily appoint senators to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance in order to study the Supplementary Estimates (B). A similar motion was adopted on March 11 for the committee to study the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020.
On February 20, the Senate adopted a motion to temporarily appoint senators to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in order to examine the subject matter of Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.
The Senate adopted a motion on March 11 to appoint the Committee of Selection with the objective of nominating the Speaker pro tempore and the senators to serve on most standing committees. At the time the Senate adjourned on March 25, the Committee of Selection had not yet reported back to the Senate.
On January 30, Judith Keating of New Brunswick and Brent Cotter of Saskatchewan were appointed to the Senate. They were introduced and took their seats on February 4.
Senator Keating is a lawyer and accomplished senior public servant, with over 30 years of experience in the Government of New Brunswick.
Prior to being appointed to the Senate, she served in a variety of roles, including as Chief Legislative Counsel, Chief Legal Advisor to the Premier, New Brunswick’s First Nations Representative, and a provincial chair of the working group on Truth and Reconciliation. She was the first woman to serve as Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of New Brunswick.
Senator Keating received the 2015 Muriel Corkery-Ryan Q.C. Award, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the legal profession and significant role as a mentor to women.
Senator Cotter is the former dean of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the original professors and writers in the field of legal ethics in Canada. He is a member of the Law Society of Saskatchewan and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.
Prior to pursuing his academic career in Saskatchewan, he served as the province’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General. He also served as Saskatchewan’s Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs, leading the development and implementation of a nationally recognized, government-wide program of services for First Nations and Métis peoples.
For his ongoing dedication to public service and his community, Senator Cotter was awarded the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal, the Canadian Bar Association of Saskatchewan’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.
Senator Nicole Eaton retired from the Senate on January 20. She was appointed to the Senate in 2009 on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to represent Ontario. Senator Eaton served as Speaker pro tempore from 2015 until her retirement. She served as a member of the Standing Senate Committees on National Finance and Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament.
Senator Joseph Day retired from the Senate on January 23. He was appointed to the Senate in 2001 on the advice of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to represent New Brunswick and the Senatorial Division of Saint John-Kennebecasis. A lawyer and engineer, Senator Day had a career as a private practice attorney prior to being appointed to the Senate. Senator Day was the Leader of the Independent Senate Liberal Caucus from June 15, 2016, to November 14, 2019, and the interim leader of the Progressive Senate Group from November 14 to 18, 2019. Senator Day served as Deputy Chair and then as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance for many years.
Senator Serge Joyal, retired from the Senate on February 1. He was appointed to the Senate in 1997 on the advice of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to represent the district of Kennebec in Québec. Prior to being appointed to the Senate, Senator Joyal practiced law and was a Member of Parliament from 1974 to 1984. During his tenure at the House of Commons, he held such positions as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board (1980-1981), Minister of State in the cabinet of Pierre E. Trudeau (1981-1982) and Secretary of State for Canada (1982-1984). Among his roles on Senate committees, Senator Joyal was the Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and the Deputy Chair and then Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators. He was also Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament.
Senator David Tkachuk retired from the Senate on February 17. He was appointed to the Senate in 1993 on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to represent Saskatchewan. Senator Tkachuk served on a number of committees, including as Chair of the Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, and the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.