When many Canadians think of Parliament Hill from a political perspective, one of the most common images is that of Question Period.
While Question Period is an important part of our democratic process, it is also the most adversarial and partisan activity within the House of Commons.
Question Period alone, does not reflect some of the other very important Parliamentary activities that occur.
One of those important Parliamentary activities occurs after a bill passes second reading and moves on to committee stage review.
Committee stage review is one of the most important parts of the process where a Parliamentary Committee representing members from all of the major political parties will scrutinize every aspect of a proposed bill on a clause by clause basis.
It is also during this committee review where expert witnesses and other affected individuals can provide input that may or may not lead to amendments to the proposed legislation before it returns to the House of Commons for third reading debate.
An example of the importance of Committee Stage review can be evidenced by a recent meeting of the Finance Committee that was scrutinizing the Liberal Governments Budget Implementation Act (BIA), Bill C-74.
Despite Prime Minister Trudeau’s election promise to not use omnibus budget legislation, the Finance Committee has been studying a 560 plus page BIA that is, very clearly, another broken promise from the Prime Minister.
One controversial measure that was discovered by the Finance Committee was buried so deeply in this BIA bill, that even Liberal members on the Finance Committee were unaware it existed.
What was this measure?
It has been summarized as legislation that will ease penalties for corporate crime.
Division 20 of the bill proposes that prosecutors can suspend criminal charges against companies in certain cases of corporate wrongdoing.
Ultimately, as this clause proposes an amendment to the criminal code, many view it as a measure that has no business being in a budget related bill and is better suited to be examined by the Justice Committee, where more appropriate examination can occur.
So why propose these changes?
To date the Liberal Government has not indicated the reasons why this legislation has been hidden inside the BIA however other interests have suggested this approach to suspend criminal charges could encourage more companies to come forward to self-report corporate crimes.
These are important proposed changes that on the surface are alarming and as a result deserve further scrutiny.
Because of this, I have encouraged all Parliamentarians at Finance Committee to support having this clause examined separately by the Justice Committee.
It is important to hear constructive arguments from both sides.
It can be argued that the opportunity to reach a remediation agreement may offer restitution to victims without litigation in cases where wrongdoing may have occurred but the chances of a successful conviction are slim.
However, critics believe this approach could actually increase corporate crime and undermine public confidence in the system.
I remain of the view that while this proposal involves important criminal code amendments, it does not belong within a budget implementation bill.
My question this week:
Should large scale criminal code amendments be restricted to bills that come before the Justice Committee or do you agree with the Liberal Government these can be part of a budget bill, as part of an overall plan?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.