As reported briefly in the last issue of The Interim, Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott (Reform, Wanuskewin) gathered the 100 signatures that he needed from members of Parliament to push his “conscience clause” bill forward for debate in the House of Commons. As many pro-lifers already know, Mr. Vellacott has taken up the fight to protect the education and employment of health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions. For many years, they have suffered discrimination. Mr. Vellacott’s bill would change this situation.

A random draw process is used to determine which bills will be brought forward for debate in the House of Commons. In December of last year, some changes were made to the way private members’ business is handled, including a provision for bypassing the random draw – if an MP can find 100 colleagues to sign onto his bill, it will automatically be placed on the “order of precedence” to be debated in the House.

This provision requires that a minimum of 10 signatures be collected from at least three of the parties currently represented in the House of Commons, thereby demonstrating that it has fairly broad support, rather than simply being a partisan initiative.

The private members’ business committee still has to rule the bill either votable or non-votable. If a bill is declared votable, it receives three hours of debate in the House, followed by a vote. If the bill passes, it becomes law. If a bill is declared non-votable, it receives one hour of debate after which time it is dismissed.

Gaining 100 signatures for one’s bill does not guarantee having it declared votable, but supportive MPs believe that it would be the height of arrogance for the PMB committee to refuse to declare a bill votable when it has the visible support of about one-third of Parliament. The committee is not expected to rule on the bill until the end of the summer recess.

Some people feared that, if the prime minister “prorogued” Parliament, the signatures would be disregarded when the bill was re-introduced. When Parliament is prorogued, all bills are scrapped, so MPs who want to keep their bills alive have to reintroduce them. Mr. Vellacott says that he has been assured by the private members’ business department that the signatures will still be recognized.