The predicted timeline for the passage of the Liberals’ new-gun control legislation in the Senate is raising concerns it will not become law before the next federal election.
Bill C-71, introduced in the House in March as part of the Liberal government’s delivery of gun-control promises from the last election, finally made it through second reading in the Senate last week.
A majority of Independent and Liberal senators voted the bill into committee for detailed scrutiny after the legislation had crawled at a snail’s pace through the Senate for more than two months.
Sen. Peter Harder, the leader of the government in the Senate, told reporters on Friday he expects the bill could make it through the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence in April.
Asked whether he had a target date to get Bill C-71 passed, Harder said the committee had two significant bills on its plate, once Parliament resumes after the holiday recess.
In a rush of Senate votes last Tuesday, the firearms bill was sent to the Senate defence committee. Bill C-59, one of the Liberal government’s most complex and sweeping pieces of legislation, had already been sent to the committee earlier the same day.
C-59, an Act respecting national security matters, contains a massive overhaul of Canada’s national security regime, including the removal of elements passed by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
The defence committee could hold witness hearings for the the 148-page security bill before it takes up the 16-page gun-control bill. Harder appeared to suggest the committee might deal with both bills at the same time, alternating hearings.
“In terms of target dates, let me simply say the work is beginning,” Harder said. “I would hope that the Senate deliberations can bring the study of the bills and third reading to fruition some time in April.”
The Conservative Party, backed by an aggressive assortment of gun owners and advocates who opposed the firearm legislation, is readying itself to make the bill, along with Liberal musings about a possible handgun ban, a central part of its campaign for the election that is currently set for Oct. 21 under fixed-date election law passed by the Harper government.
Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault has stated he wants Elections Canada to be election-ready by this coming April — the same month Harder said the gun bill and the national security legislation might pass.
A fixed-date election section of the Canada Elections Act, passed by Parliament under a former Conservative government in 2006, sets the 2019 election at Oct 21 — the third Thursday in October four years after the previous election.
But the same section preserves the Governor General’s power to dissolve Parliament for an election at an earlier date, which, by convention, would be on the advice of the prime minister.
On Monday, Heidi Rathjen, spokeswoman for a prominent Montreal gun-control advocacy group, PolySeSouvient, said the government schedule for C-71 is concerning.
“That the government would consider delaying the process until it’s too late to get Royal Assent for C-71 is not unrealistic, and certainly an ongoing concern for gun-control supporters,” she said, adding she’s especially worried because of “the reluctance with which the government has dealt with the entire gun-control issue so far.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview with Evan Solomon broadcast on CTV last Sunday that the election will take place on Oct. 21 under the Elections Act schedule.
Nicolas Johnson, a prominent opponent of both the Liberal gun bill and a related government study of a possible ban on handguns and military-style semi-automatic rifles, said the Liberals could benefit from passing Bill C-71, even if it were six months before an election.
“They could point to it … as an achievement and still make new promises of how they plan to crack down on honest hunters and sport shooters while pretending to fight criminals,” said Johnson, publisher of TheGunBlog.ca. “Whatever happens, everything I’ve heard suggests gun policy will be a key issue in the next election.”
Conservative MP Glen Motz, the lead critic for the party of C-71, declined a request for comment.