So I’m going to try to explain what happened in Ontario on May 9, 2012, in the clause-by-clause session of the Bill 16 committee and what it means for the future.
First, a quick overview of what happens to a bill before it becomes law.
1. First reading
– introduction of bill
– vote to send to second reading or kill it (Bill 16 made it)
2. Second reading
– vote to send to committee or kill it (Bill 16 made it)
– opportunity for public input
4. Committee clause-by-clause
– suggested amendments to the bill by all parties
– vote on each amendment (all failed)
– vote on passing each main clause of the bill (all passed)
– vote to return the bill to Parliament or kill it (Bill 16 made it)
5. Third reading
– timing decided upon by government
– introduction of changes made by committee
– more debate
– vote to make bill law or kill it
6. Royal assent
– semantics – always approved
So Bill 16 has made it past step 4, which is what happened on May 9.
The first reading was on November 30, 2011. Read it here:
The second reading was on February 23, 2012. Read it here:
The committee public presentations were on April 18, 2012 and April 25, 2012. Read them here:
View the video broadcasts of those presentations on YouTube here:
April 18 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkkKPt5WbLA
April 25 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wydH766pflA
The committee clause-by-clause voting was on May 9, 2012. When the transcript becomes available, I will include it here.
UPDATE: Here is the transcript of the clause-by-clause voting from May 9:
View the video broadcast of the clause-by-clause session here:
During the committee hearings, a number of public suggestions were made, many centering around owner education, effective enforcement, and removal of breed-specific language. A significant percentage of the presenters listed facts and statistics demonstrating that breed-specific legislation has consistently failed and that certain non-breed-specific approaches have been remarkably successful.
The amendments introduced by the NDP and by the Conservatives during the clause-by-clause session of the committee included some significant improvements to the bill.
Included in the amendments were:
– add the ability for an owner to appeal a “vicious dog” designation sometime in the future if the owner can demonstrate actions taken to remedy the original problems.
– change the wording “menace to public safety” to something more concrete and meaningful, with a clear message to dog owners regarding what is expected of them.
– remove a couple of missed clauses that contained breed-specific language. Even without these changes, the amended law would not contain any powers to target breeds in any significantly populated areas of the province.
The end result of the clause-by-clause session was that all the positive amendments introduced by the NDP and the Conservatives failed to pass.
What this means is that Bill 16 will be returned to the Legislature (Parliament) for a future third reading (assuming that ever happens – see below), but it will not include any of the further amendments that the two opposition parties had hoped to add. It remains in its original form as introduced during first reading.
So, the big question is: Why did all the amendments fail?
The answer to that involves answering a few questions.
1. Why did the Liberals vote against the amendments?
Well, it is my opinion that, just like in 2005, the Liberals never had any intention of seriously considering the public input and they never had any intention of voting in favour of any amendment made by another party. Again, as in 2005, any comments or questions made by the Liberals were simply to get their points into the record (i.e., for show).
The first clue to that was when Kim Craitor, one of the architects of Bill 16, wasn’t included as a member of the committee. That, to me, was a clear indication that the Liberals did not want anyone from their party who was not going to vote with the party line.
The second clue was the inclusion of Lorenzo Berardinetti in the committee. He is a McGuinty “yes man” who was there for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to vote NO to any amendment, period.
As I’ve said before, the Liberals have no incentive to bend at all regarding this bill. Their baby was Bill 132 in 2005 and they haven’t changed their minds at all. They are going to block this every chance they get.
2. Why did each of the amendments fail?
This is the part that was confusing everyone.
The committee is made up of nine members. Four of those are from the Liberal party because they have more seats in the House than any other party. Three of the remaining five are from the Progressive Conservative party and the other two are from the NDP.
So, it would appear that, with a five-to-four majority, all of our amendments would pass. Not so. One of the members is appointed chairperson (the chair). In this case, it was Peter Tabuns from the NDP.
Now, the chair DOES NOT VOTE unless there is a tie. Since, without Mr. Tabuns, the NDP had only one voting member, there were four members in favour of Bill 16 (and its amendments) and four members opposed to the amendments. A tie.
So, the vote on each amendment ended in a tie, all six of them. In each case, the deciding vote then went to Mr. Tabuns, who, it appears, initially thought that he would vote in favour of the amendments.
After initially voting in favour of amendment #1, Mr. Tabuns was advised by someone near him that there is a procedure, a rule, a norm (if you will), that the chair is to do his best to avoid impacting a bill or interfering with its original intent solely by his own vote.
These are the notes from the Standing Orders, as read out by Mr. Tabuns:
“In general, when a committee cannot, by a majority, decide a question, the chair has no obligation to decide on the committee’s behalf and should avoid doing so. The chair should vote in any way that extends debate, maintains the status quo (for example, leaves the bill in its existing form), or offers the opportunity for the committee as a whole to further debate and decide the matter.”
So if, without Mr. Tabuns, the amendment fails (because the vote’s a tie), then according to this rule, Mr. Tabuns is required to vote against the amendment and cause it to still fail.
So, he was forced, by the rules, to vote against all the amendments that both his party and the partnering party had recommended.
Thus, all six amendments failed.
3. Why did the Liberals not vote against passing (carrying) the bill?
Remember, it was only the amendments that Mr. Tabuns was forced to vote against. If, after all the amendments were voted on, he voted against the bill as a whole, he would be interfering with the original bill as it came from the House, which would go against that same rule.
So, the rule that forced him to vote against the amendments also would have required him to vote in favour of the bill passing unamended.
The Liberals knew this, so they didn’t bother voting against the bill, since they would have lost anyway.
Plus, they don’t care. The bill goes back to the House now and sits and waits until the government decides to call it for third reading.
What is third reading?
Third reading is the final vote on the bill that comes back from committee (in this case, unamended). This vote will determine if the bill becomes law.
Initially, before the bill went to committee, there were 53 Liberal seats in the House, 37 Conservative, and 17 NDP. Adding the Conservative and NDP together for the purposes of this bill gave us 54 seats, one more than the Liberals. This meant that there was a real possibility of Bill 16 passing if it came up for third reading.
Since then, Elizabeth Witmer, Conservative MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, has stepped down in order to take a job offered to her by the Liberal government! If I were a conspiracy theorist (which I’m not — yet), I’d certainly be suspicious when the riding that is now forced into a by-election happens to be the first city ever in Ontario to pass breed-specific legislation, back in 1997!
That suspicion aside, Ms. Witmer’s resignation leaves one seat empty and leaves the House in a stalemate on Bill 16, if all Liberals were to vote against Bill 16 and all NDP plus Conservatives were to vote for it.
However, with Kim Craitor being one of the Bill’s sponsors, you have to assume that he will vote in favour of it and there appear to be some other Liberals that may do the same. On the flip side, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so there may be some Conservative or NDP members that might decide to vote differently from the rest of their fellow members.
So, even though it’s the best chance we’ve had in seven years, it’s still a bit of a crap shoot.
And now to my final and probably most depressing point.
Everything I’ve said above means nothing if the Bill is not called for third reading.
The government decides if and when that will happen.
Did you get that?
The government that, in 2005, introduced the very law this bill is trying to neuter (so to speak), the government that appointed yes men to both the 2005 and 2012 public hearing committees, the government that appointed Kim Craitor to a different committee so he couldn’t vote on the Bill 16 amendments, is the government that decides if there’s ever going to be a vote on Bill 16.
This is the same government that fought us all the way to the highest courts that we could go, spending millions of dollars defending this law. They regularly went on television promoting their breed-specific bill and actively promoted the idea that Ontarians would only truly be safe if the bill passed.
It would take a truly humble and honest Premier along with his humble and honest party to admit this mistake and rectify it and it is my personal opinion that neither Dalton McGuinty nor his Liberal party are either of those things!
There is likely only one thing that would cause the government to bring this bill up for third reading and that is public pressure.
If there were enough public pressure (especially media-driven) demanding that proven methods of dog legislation, education, and enforcement be used to increase public safety rather than the current breed-specific methods that have been discounted worldwide, then and only then might the Liberal government listen.
Unfortunately, I think that most people don’t care one way or the other and are certainly not concerned enough to write a letter or send an e-mail or make a phone call.
So, I guess it’s up to the people of Ontario to change the government’s mind.
It also wouldn’t hurt if people outside Ontario (including other countries) let this government and the newspapers know that they won’t be visiting Ontario while there’s breed-specific legislation in place.