A lot has been said about and a lot of ink has recently been spilled over the idea of the independence of MPs and the ability of individual MPs to make a difference. The narrative that’s been put out there is that MPs just don’t have that independence or have avenues to demonstrate it. Unfortunately, it’s a narrative that’s just flat out incorrect and wrong. MPs have avenues and venues to strike out on their own, to represent their constituents and to make a big difference, it’s just that they aren’t so well known by the public.
One of the best tools that individual MPs do have is Private Members legislation. Every MP who is not a cabinet minister has the right to introduce Private Members Bills on whatever topics that they wish. They can introduce as many as they like and do their part to influence the debate out there. And while it’s true that few PMBs get passed and come law, PMBs don’t need to pass to change the debate and effect change.
I look at this current Parliament and I personally have had a hand, small or big, in four different pieces of Private Members legislation either becoming law or being adopted into public policy. Included in that is Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262 on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is in the Senate now, and Richard Cannings’ Bill C-354, promoting the use of Wood in public infrastructure projects, which is also in the Senate. But while those two both passed the House to get acceptance, those aren’t the only ones that have become the law of the land. A motion on the creation of a day remember British Home Children passed the House, a motion that was very similar to another one Mr. Cannings brought and the subject and intent of another bill of Mr. Cannings, Bill C-363, to make an important improvement to the Species at Risk Act, was adopted by the Liberal government and made the changes it suggested through regulations, in concert with Mr. Cannings. And those are just the examples I can point to in this Parliament.
But with any tool, it’s effective doesn’t come down to just having it; it’s all about how you use it. Some MPs make better use of their PMBs than others and while some see them for the opportunity that they present, others scoff at the idea. It’s about making the best use of your opportunity. So it was with that in mind that I saw something that came out today about what happened in the House of Commons Monday morning, when an interesting Private Members Bill came before the chamber, or at least was supposed to:
Wow, what a story folks. This is something I can’t remember ever happening in my time in Parliament. The rules around PMBs are simple; the person moving the bill has to be in the chamber for the start and end of debate on the bill itself. So if the MP doesn’t show, the members slot and their chance to debate their bill goes away. It’s not unheard of for an MP to “miss” their spot, but that usually has happened when they are bringing forward a very controversial bill that their leadership wants to die, and they are “convinced” to not show up, allowing the bill to die.
But this story isn’t that. Mr. Baylis’ bill is one that has caught a lot of attention in the run up to this first hour of debate, as policy geeks like me have pondered the ideas that he was proposing, all built around the procedures of the chamber itself. Ironically, this bill was about trying to give MPs more of that independence I was referring to. So to now show up for this, watching it die through procedure, is a very tough blow. Thankfully outgoing New Democrat David Christopherson, one of the most collegial MPs you’ll ever meet, convinced the Procedure and House Affairs committee to study the ideas that Baylis was bringing forward in his bill, so his proposal will get a hearing of sorts, even if his bill never sees a vote.
For me though this story, while not malicious, does make me think about how MPs can’t waste their chances. In this case, the fault wasn’t with the tool but with the person wielding it. And even though it seems like it was an honest mistake, this bothers me because due to the number of MPs and relative lack of time to debate PMBs, more than half of MPs won’t even have a chance to bring their PMBs to the floor to be debated. More than half won’t get the chance that Mr. Baylis threw away, which must be a hard pill to swallow for them. But in the end, as I said at the start, the opportunities for MPs to represent their constituents are there and the chances to be more independent exist, but those chances can’t be wasted. Sadly, Monday represented a wasted chance for Mr. Baylis and we shouldn’t lose sight of that fact.