Recently Private Member’s Business has been the subject most frequently raised by a large number of constituents here in Okanagan-Coquihalla. For those of you unfamiliar with Private Member's Business, better known in Ottawa as PMB, all Members of Parliament (with the exception of Government Ministers, Parliamentary-Secretaries and the Speaker) have the ability to introduce either a Private Member's Bill or Motion into the House of Commons. I have also noted that there is often a misunderstanding about PMB’s and how they differ from Government Bills in many significant ways that can often lead to further confusion. A private members Bill is different from a motion in that a Bill contains actual proposed legislation that if ultimately passed would potentially change a law. As a result Bills are very time consuming and often complex documents to construct and require an immense amount of background research and resources as would be expected for any change to the law. For an individual member it can be very challenging to propose a PMB without having the availability of large scale resources that Government has at its disposal. There are often multiple potential solutions to any single issue, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. A potential Bill might seek to amend more than one statue, increasing its complexity and potential unintended consequences. Drafting can also be an issue that an individual parliamentarian may have to wrestle with.
The alternative to a Private members Bill is a motion. Private member’s Motions are essentially a draft resolution that if passed by a majority vote in the House of Commons, will form the opinion of the House and in turn can require the Government to take action on an issue as directed by a motion. There are also a few additional points to be aware of with Private Member’s Business. Although the process of debate for a Private member’s Bill follows the same pattern as a Government Bill, the Government does not have any standing in the selection or approval of private members business. Often I find that there can be confusion between a private member sponsored bill or motion as compared to a Bill proposed by government. It should be noted that ALL Members of Parliament (with the exception of Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentary-Secretaries and the Speaker) have a right as
Parliamentarians to submit a Bill or motion on virtually any subject they choose, even topics that the Government is not in support of. The one caveat is that if a Bill or Motion ultimately proposes an additional expenditure by Government, that Bill or Motion in turn requires the sponsorship of a Government Minister. It should also be noted that a lottery process is used in order to determine the order that MP’s can see their Bills and Motions debated in the House of Commons.
As I am a strong believer in accountability, I always encourage citizens to contact me directly to speak about any private members business that comes before the House that is of concern. Although there may not always be agreement on the outcome of a particular vote and many citizens may have differing points of view even on the same topic, increased information can in my view always lead to a better understanding. There are also times where a subject we may be generally supportive of will end up being opposed if a Bill is not properly constructed in a way that will achieve the proposed outcome.
As an example, I have recently heard from a large number of local citizens regarding last week’s introduction of a Private Member's Motion that proposes to condemn sex selective abortion practices. For the record I believe that almost all citizens in principle condemn the idea of terminating a pregnancy for reasons solely pertaining to sex selection. However the subject of pregnancy termination is also one that our Prime Minister made a commitment during the campaign period to not introduce into the House of Commons if elected into Government. It is also a commitment that I shared in response to questions that I was asked in all candidates’ forums. Although there are times when new information arises and situations may change that require elected
officials to reconsider a previous position, in this case I believe that the commitment made to oppose the introduction of this issue into the House of Commons must prevail. As the Member for Okanagan-Coquihalla, I publicly condemn the practice of gender based termination of pregnancy without reservation and would suggest that the majority of citizens in our riding and country would as well. In this instance I believe we can publicly condemn this practice without the further need to do so within the House of Commons and while I do continue to condemn this practice I will not be supporting this issue moving forward should it appear before the House of Commons. I welcome your views on this or any subject of concern.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.