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A rare passing

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Winnipeg MP Joy Smith was practically beaming today as she stood up in the house to vote in favour of her private members’ bill to set a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for a conviction of human trafficking of a child.

She was joined by almost every other Conservative, Liberal and NDP MP and one Bloc MP, which means her bill is now through the first big hurdle in the House of Commons. It passed 232 to 47. There were 29 MPs who were absent or abstained.

It will go now to the Justice Committee for further debate and potentially amendments.

"It’s a wonderful day," said Smith, whose enthusiasm was noticeable even over the phone.

She also produced 5,000 signatures on a petition backing the bill.

The Bloc Quebecois are not in favour of mandatory minimum sentences for any reason so it was not surprising they voted against it. Ahuntsic MP Maria Mourani was the notable exception.

Smith has worked very hard on the issue of human trafficking, and whatever people think of her politics or her motives, she deserves to be proud today.

It’s not all that common for private members’ bills to go forward so the fact this one did, and with the support of three of the four parties, suggests this is a measure whose time has come.

Few MPs would know better how difficult it is to get a private members’ bill through than Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

She introduced a bill today to establish a national breast implant registry. The idea is to allow physicians to track women who have implants to get a better understanding on the impacts the implants may have, including future health issues, and also be able to reach women in case they need to be notified of a problem with the type of implant they have.

There are obviously personal privacy implications for such a registry and we all know what the government record is on national registries – just today it was reported the police have not actually solved a single crime because of the sex offender registry and then there is the ongoing disaster that is the federal gun registry.

But it’s obviously an important issue to Wasylycia-Leis. She has introduced the bill multiple times before. It has never passed. Bills which don’t pass in a single session of parliament fall off the agenda unless special permission is granted to carry them over. So every year it doesn’t pass, Wasylycia-Leis has to introduce it again.

It is the problem with how non-cabinet ministers get to go about introducing legislation.

The government’s bills are the ones introduced by cabinet ministers and they get priority in terms of debate and voting. There is limited time allocated to debate private members’ bills and usually only a handful of private members’ bills will make it through the machinery of Parliament and actually become law.

Since January 26, when the house resumed, 163 private members bills have been introduced including more than 30 by Manitoba’s MPs.

Most of those bills are not new.

Some of them are interesting, some of them are grandstanding, and some of them are bordering on bizarre.

But in the style of government we have it’s a fact of life that if you’re not in cabinet, you’re ability to actually introduce and get passed a piece of legislation is very limited.

Just one more thing to add to the agenda for democratic reform, IMHO.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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