OTTAWA — In a show of backbencher strength, NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson could become the first MP in history to force her colleagues in the House of Commons into a secret ballot to save a piece of legislation.
Malcolmson plans to appeal directly to House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan today hoping he’ll let her private members’ bill to establish a national strategy on abandoned vessels proceed to debate.
The bill, first introduced in 2016 and then updated last spring, was deemed earlier this month to be “non-votable” by the House of Commons procedural committee because it deals with the same issue now being dealt with by a government bill.
That legislation, C-64, was introduced by Transport Minister Marc Garneau in October, more than six months after Malcolmson’s bill. Although they both deal with abandoned vessels the bills are not identical.
In order to ensure all private members’ bills are eligible to be considered by the House of Commons they go through a review process. Malcolmson’s bill didn’t survive that process, with the Liberals on the House procedural committee deeming it to be non-votable and the NDP and Conservative MPs voting to allow it to proceed.
In the past this has been the end of the line for legislation but Malcolmson and the NDP have found a 14-year-old rule introduced to give backbenchers more power. It has never before been used.
Under the rule a sponsor can appeal a non-votable ruling from a committee to the entire House of Commons. All Malcolmson needs is the backing of five other MPs who represent a majority of parties in the House.
In Malcolmson’s case that means she needs at least one Conservative or one Liberal. She would not say yet who is with her but told The Canadian Press on Friday she has the requirements and will file the appeal with Regan as early as today.
If Regan believes she has the requirements in place, he will hold a vote by secret ballot. That could make it impossible for the Liberals to whip the vote and ensure Malcolmson’s legislation doesn’t proceed.
Malcolmson says her bill and Garneau’s can complement each other and that not letting her bill proceed is wrong.
“They are not in conflict,” she said.
Her legislation calls for regulations to be established regarding the removal and disposal of abandoned vessels and the development of a national strategy on the matter. It would also require the Canadian Coast Guard to become the single point of contact when dealing with the need to have an abandoned vessel removed.
Garneau’s bill implements an international convention seeking to establish uniform rules for getting abandoned ships out of international waters, and makes it illegal to abandon a ship in Canadian waters. It adds penalties for those who do and gives the government more power to go after those who abandon their ships.
Malcolmson said because the two bills are not identical, but somewhat complementary, the House committee erred when it listened to advice from the House administration that her bill be deemed non-votable.
A spokesman for Garneau said last week the biggest difference between the two bills is that where Malcolmson’s calls for the creation of a national strategy on abandoned vessels, Garneau’s bill is the national strategy.
Malcolmson argued before the committee that Garneau’s bill does not use that term.
She also said the elements of her bill were developed in concert with municipal leaders across the country who are dealing with this problem every day, and that it has the endorsement of more than 50 local governments.
It’s estimated there are more than 600 derelict vessels – ranging from giant commercial ships to small recreational boats – already polluting Canadian waterways. Currently it’s not illegal to abandon them and the government has a hard time even tracing these abandoned boats to their owners.