Will proroguing kill Gatineau Park bill, or was it DOA anyway?

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by Mark Burgess on January 14, 2010

After 41 proposed amendments and with only one meeting remaining before being sent back to the House of Commons, the bill designed to protect the Gatineau Park is among the 36 legislative casualties of Parliament’s prorogation.

Bill C-37, introduced last June by Pontiac MP and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Transport Minister John Baird, was under the scrutiny of the Commons Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the weeks leading up to Parliament’s pre-Christmas recess.

Although NDP MP for Ottawa Centre and committee member Paul Dewar said the bill was only one meeting away from being sent back to the House of Commons, it will have to reintroduced when Parliament’s new session begins March 3.

Many MPs working on the committee, including Dewar and Hull-Aylmer PM Marcel Proulx, expressed frustration at having to start the work all over again, complaining of government waste. Most, including Cannon, are hoping the bill will be reintroduced promptly and expedited through committee work.

“We will seek Opposition agreement to proceed expeditiously with Government legislation, including the NCC bill,” Natalie Sarafian, a spokesperson for Cannon, wrote in an email.

“Our government also had very productive meetings with Members from opposition parties in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the bill… We look forward to working with opposition parties in the new session on this important Bill in order to ensure that the (National Capital region) remains a world-class destination for all Canadians and visitors alike.”

But there is evidence that not everyone was on the same page with regard to Bill C-37, even within Conservative ranks. Of the 41 proposed amendments, 14 came from Conservatives, 14 from the Bloc Quebecois, eight from the Liberals and five from the NDP.

On the bill’s second reading in the Senate Dec. 14, Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin addressed this cleavage.

“Some people’s first instinct was to say that the government’s position had not been clearly thought out, but I am among those more inclined to believe that the committee process showed the government just how badly major changes are needed,” he said.

Andrew McDermott, co-chair of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee, said he had never seen this kind of dissension within a party over one of its own bills.

“Notwithstanding Parliament’s prorogation, it seems that this bill was pretty much dead on arrival in the committee process.” He added it was “clear the bill hadn’t achieved its objectives.”

McDermott criticized the bill for only addressing the interests of the park’s private landowners and said the consensus necessary to reintroduce the bill and rush it through committee when Parliament returns simply isn’t there.

NCC spokesperson Kathryn Keyes said her organization couldn’t comment on Bill C-37′s fate, saying they “were in wait-and-see mode to find out the next steps.”

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