In March 2005, the Ontario government passed into law Bill 132, resulting in the new Dog Owners’ Liability Act (known colloquially as DOLA) and paving the way for thousands of dogs to be confiscated and killed based on looks alone.
Since that time, there have been two elections in Ontario, both of which returned the ruling Liberal Party to power, guaranteeing the continued persecution of dog owners province-wide.
Also, since that time, there have been four attempts by members of opposing parties to introduce bills that would eliminate the breed-specific portions of DOLA.
First it was Conservative MPP Julia Munro in 2004, introducing Bill 161 immediately after the second reading of the government’s bill. Unfortunately, Julia’s bill never made it to the second reading, simply because the government was too busy pushing through their own version.
Then, in 2009, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced Bill 222 which was designed to completely eliminate all mention of breed in DOLA while still keeping the sections that focused on owner responsibility and dog behaviour. Again, this bill didn’t make it to second reading, this time simply because the Legislature started a new session, which wiped out all existing bills, requiring them to start all over again.
So, in 2010, Cheri tried again with Bill 60. Again, it never made it to second reading. Are we sensing a pattern here?
Now, we have Bill 16, also known as “Hershey’s Bill”, which is basically identical to the last two.
So, what’s different this time? Why’s everyone getting so excited about this one?
There are three reasons why this bill is different from the others:
- This bill has three names attached to it instead of just one, and not just any three names. One from each of the parties, including the government! This bill is a three-party co-operation from Randy Hillier (Conservative), Cheri DiNovo (NDP), and, in my opinion, a very brave Kim Craitor (Liberal). By supporting this bill, Kim has opened the door for other members of the Liberal party to thumb their noses at their unpopular and tyrannical leader, Dalton McGuinty, and vote with their conscience instead.
- This bill is the only one of these attempts to reach second reading, which will happen on — you guessed it — February 23! I believe this has much to do with the fact that all three parties have their names on the bill.
- The government of Ontario is now a minority government. This means that, for the first time since Bill 132 was passed in 2005, the Liberal government has less seats than the other two parties combined. Yes, the Liberals are still the government but, on any particular bill, if all members of the opposing parties vote one way and all members of the governing Liberal party vote the other way, the government would lose! This is very important because it means that they can’t just steamroll their votes through like they did before.
So what’s the reality here? Does this bill have any chance of actually passing?
Well, that’s a bit of a tough one. In theory, yes, if this bill were to come up for third reading (i.e., final vote), there is the potential for it to pass, unlike any of the other dog bills that were introduced when the Liberals had a majority government.
The problem , as I see it, is this: The government controls which bills get voted on! Yes, you heard me! They’re still the government, even if they’re a minority. They still get to schedule everything, so they choose to schedule or not schedule every bill.
They’ve already shown that they’re willing to use this power to scrap bills that were voted through by the Legislature. They did this with Bill 4, introduced by Michael Mantha of the NDP. The bill made it past second reading. In other words, it was voted on by the Legislature and it passed 54-50. It has now been referred to a committee for further debate and analysis. But deputy premier Dwight Duncan is quoted in the Toronto Star indicating that the government will simply block the bill from reaching third reading! End of bill, despite the fact that the majority of the members of the Legislature passed it! How’s that for democracy?
So,considering that the government is willing to block bills that it doesn’t agree with and considering the closed-mindedness of the government in 2004 and 2005 when every* expert worldwide was telling them not to pass Bill 132 and considering the time and expense that the government was willing to incur to take this fight to the highest courts in Canada, I cannot see any way that this government would VOLUNTARILY allow Bill 16 to go forward. It just wouldn’t make sense for them to do that. It would re-open the door to the most controversial, most expensively fought, and most intensely debated piece of legislation they ever introduced. Why would they do that? Why would they risk that negative publicity?
** Randy Hillier left a comment re this issue. It appears that, if each member of the committee is able to vote, then the government may not be able to block the bill from getting to third reading. When the government had a majority of the seats, as in previous sessions, they were given a majority of the vote in each committee and so were able to accept or reject any bill or any part of a bill, without the opposition being able to do much about it. This time round, because the government is the minority, it is possible for the opposition parties to combine their votes in any given committee for any given bill in order to pass the bill, even against the government’s wishes. According to Randy, if this bill passes second reading (i.e., passes a whole House vote), then it’s likely to make it to third reading, which would be a final vote to make it law. Here’s hoping! See the second UPDATED note below for Randy’s comment.
I can only see one scenario where the government would allow Bill 16 to move to third reading and that is if there is enough publicity about the bill, particularly in favour of it, that they are literally embarrassed into allowing further debate and voting. There is only one way to do that, folks, and that’s to get out there! Whether out there means going to the rally at Queen’s Park on February 23 (which I highly recommend as a public, visible, media-covered event) or whether it means writing letters to newspapers and Members of Provincial Parliament or whether it means going on television and radio, being interviewed by newspapers, getting on Facebook and Twitter. In other words, make this an issue. Make it a BIG, LOUD, EMBARRASSING issue!!
For those of you who’d like to attend the rally on February 23, you can find all the details at:
* UPDATED February 20, 2012: The government used one scientist “expert” from the United States during the court cases, Dr. Alan Beck. However, his expertise is in an unrelated canine field that has nothing to do with aggression, biting, attacks, breed-specific behaviours, genetics, responsible dog ownership, or the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation.
** UPDATED February 21, 2012: Randy Hillier, one of the sponsors of Bill 16, left a comment correcting my comments regarding the process. Because of Randy’s comment, I am left felling more positive about this bill. Here’s Randy’s comment:
“Because we are in a minority parliament and the opposition parties control the committees it is very probable (if we are successful at second reading) that the bill will make it to third reading sometime this session. The reason why these bills never made it to second reading in the past is because each member only gets one ballot day per session, I have decided to use my one ballot day for Bill 16.”