Senate rises for summer without passing broadcasting, conversion therapy bills

The Senate adjourned for its summer break at midnight on Tuesday, without passing two pieces of priority government legislation: a bill to stamp out the harmful practice of LGBTQ2S+ conversion therapy, and a contentious broadcast regulation update.

Despite both bills being passed by the majority of MPs and the federal Liberals pushing for the legislation to be rapidly considered, senators said the bills merit a more fulsome study in the fall.

There had been some hope that an agreement across Senate leadership would allow for summer meetings so that both the conversion therapy legislation Bill C-6, and Broadcasting Act changes in Bill C-10 could be studied by Senate committees.

However, as of midnight when senators rose or logged off from their hybrid sitting until late September: "No agreement has been reached for summer committee meetings at this time," according to Chloe Fedio, a spokesperson for Government Representative in the Senate, Sen. Marc Gold.

That means both bills are set to languish in the upper chamber, and makes their fate subject to a much-speculated late summer or early fall election call.

Any bills left in either the House or Senate will die if they have not passed when a Parliament is dissolved. They would have to be re-tabled and work their way through all legislative stages again before becoming law.

Even if committee studies were completed this summer, the entire Senate would then need to be recalled to vote on the bills. If any amendments were made, the bills would have to go back to the House, potentially kicking off a back-and-forth between the two chambers.

Bills C-6 and C-10 were among the four priority bills the Liberals passed into the Senate with the support of the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats at the eleventh hour of the House of Commons sitting last week.

Following an extension of the Senate's sitting calendar by two days, Bill C-12, which will put into law Canada's greenhouse gas emissions targets, passed its third and final reading on Tuesday afternoon, and Bill C-30, which implements the 2021 budget commitments, including pandemic aid extensions, followed suit Tuesday night.

Both had received a "pre-study" in which senators were able to assess the legislative proposals in general, in advance. Some senators raised concerns the federal government was asking them to "rubber stamp" wide-spanning bills in a short timeframe.

MAJOR HESITATION OVER C-10

Bill C-10 passed into committee on Tuesday afternoon, putting it in the hands of the senators who make up the Senate Transport and Communications Committee to decide how to proceed.

Senators have been signalling for some time that they want to dive deeply into the contentious broadcasting bill to be able to propose amendments of their own, and rejected calls from Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault to fast-track it, setting up the expectation that it could stall out over the summer.

During debate, Senators spoke about how "imperative" it is for the Senate to hear from those who this bill will impact directly and assess for themselves the effects of the proposed legislation, with some support for the idea of sitting over the summer to accelerate that process.

However, committee chair and Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday that at this point, the earliest that the committee may try to resume study of Bill C-10 would be the week before the House is scheduled to resume in September, if an election isn't called.

"We inquired a few weeks ago, about the potential of holding some sort of an earlier study, and we weren't given the green light. So as of now, we don't have the green light," he said.

While MacDonald said as chair he will follow the will of the committee when it comes to the study, he personally has strong concerns about the freedom of expression implications of the bill. "This thing has to be stripped back and looked at," he said.

The legislation tabled by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is aimed at web giants and regulating Canadian content, but became embroiled in questions over free speech and the regulation of users' content, further fuelled by a series of opaque amendments that were made last-minute.

"The substance of Bill C-10 has raised many important and high-level questions, including whether and how the internet should be regulated and whether this really is the best way to do that… There is much of substance for our Senate committee to examine," said Independent Senators Group Sen. Donna Dasko during debate on Monday.

Dasko went on to add that further questions have been raised as a result of the extensive procedural wrangling surrounding this bill in the House.

"Senators, 30 meetings and over four months at committee stage might be unheard of, but I stand here today to say that this legislation still needs further study," she said.

CONSERVATIVES DENY SUMMER STUDY ON C-6

After sitting late into the night on Monday, the Senate passed Bill C-6 from second reading into the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee where it will be studied before advancing any further.

Late Tuesday night, Sen. Gold unsuccessfully sought unanimous consent to allow the committee to study the bill during the summer.

"I think it is a shame, because conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice, and it needs to be banned now," he said in a statement.

According to Justice Minister David Lametti, who is responsible for the bill, Conservative Senators denied the request despite members of that caucus expressing a desire for a study so they could suggest potential amendments.

In a tweet, Lametti said he was "disappointed" by the Conservatives in the Senate. "Canadians believe conversion therapy should be banned. Conservatives apparently disagree," he said. 

While the government pushed the argument that LGBTQ2S+ folks should not be subjected one day longer to efforts to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, the bill and its aims have faced roadblocks before, including from the government.

Speaking against the bill on Monday, and suggesting it go to committee to examine how the "issues" with the bill can be resolved, Conservative Sen. Don Plett sought to revive the main argument against the bill espoused by numerous Conservative MPs. That is, that the definition of conversion therapy within Bill C-6 casts too wide of a net and may criminalize "conversations" about gender or sexual identity.

However, as Progressive Senate Group Sen. Jane Cordy noted during her remarks in support of Bill C-6 on Monday, the legislation explicitly states that the definition of conversion therapy within the bill "does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration and development of an integrated personal identity without favouring any particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."

Facing questions about the fate of these bills with just hours left in the Senate's sitting on Tuesday, the minister whose portfolio includes Senate engagement, Dominic LeBlanc told reporters that the Liberals "recognize the obligation of the Senate to do its job." He blamed the last-minute passage of these key bills in the House of Commons on Conservative obstruction and decried the idea that Conservatives in the Senate would "frustrate the clear will of the majority of elected representative in the House of Commons and certainly the Liberal government."

Asked about the prospect of the conversion therapy bill not passing at the hands of his Senators earlier on Tuesday, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole — who was in the minority of Conservative MPs who supported Bill C-6 — said the federal minority government's legislative mismanagement and decision not to heed Tory amendments was to blame, not obstruction from his caucus.