OTTAWA — The House of Commons has officially adjourned for the summer, but NDP MP Romeo Saganash says he’s still working on getting his Indigenous rights bill past the finish line in the Senate.
Saganash introduced his private member’s bill more than three years ago, proposing that the federal government adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Bill C-262 would require the government to ensure federal laws meet minimum human rights standards for Indigenous peoples.
“I am still committed to getting this bill to royal assent in this parliament,” Saganash told HuffPost Canada on Thursday.
Watch: Murray Sinclair explains the significance of Indigenous rights
The bill passed the House of Commons and has been languishing in the Senate, stuck at third reading. But it’s unlikely to proceed to a final vote, owing to procedural tactics used by Conservative senators.
“It is obvious that the Conservatives do not respect human rights,” he said.
The Quebec MP, who isn’t running again, accused the party of also blocking former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose’s bill that would make training on issues regarding sexual assault mandatory for judges; and a Conservative MP’s bill hoping to increase organ donations by letting Canadians sign up to be donors through tax forms.
“MP (John) Aldag’s bill to promote reconciliation in our cultural institutions is also vital,” Saganash said of a Liberal’s bill that would increase First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the federal board responsible for designating national historic sites.
“I refuse to accept that institutional bigotry and colonialism of the past will continue to shape Canada’s laws and culture.”
Saganash’s bill lost its best last-minute shot at breaking through the Senate impasse on Wednesday, when a motion to allow its adoption was derailed by Conservative procedural manoeuvres.
Opposition to the bill has been focused on concerns that UNDRIP would give Indigenous people the right to stop natural resource development projects. Several experts told the Senate committee studying the bill that their worry is not supported by any language in the declaration.
Conservative Sen. Don Plett, who sits on the Senate’s standing committee on Aboriginal peoples that studied the bill, told HuffPost Canada earlier this month that he agrees with the intent of the legislation, but he suggested senators weren’t sent to Ottawa to prioritize private members’ bills.
“We need to focus on government legislation, and that is what I’m trying to do,” he said. “If this becomes a government bill, we will be obligated to deal with it.”
Implementing UNDRIP was one of the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Liberal promise déjà vu
The Senate is expected to adjourn next week. With government items designated for Mondays and Fridays, the window to pass private members’ bills has become incredibly slim.
Bills that do not receive royal assent will die on the order paper when Parliament dissolves before an election. A bill can be reanimated in the Senate after an election only if it receives unanimous consent.
On Wednesday, the government’s representative in the Senate signalled the end of the road for Saganash’s bill.
“It’s become clear to me that at this stage there is not a collective will to find an agreement to get Bill C-262 and other items of non-government business (done),” Sen. Peter Harder told senators. “Regrettably, I simply do not see a path forward.”
He then said that he had been authorized to confirm, on behalf of the prime minister, that adopting and implementing UNDRIP will be a Liberal platform commitment for the upcoming election.
If re-elected, the government will introduce legislation to implement the declaration, he said, which may have sounded like an echo to some in the room. The pledge to implement UNDRIP was in the Liberals’ 2015 election platform.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified John Aldag as a Conservative MP. He is a Liberal MP. This version has been updated.