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It's (now) the law: pre-summer action in Ottawa

VANCOUVER - Today was the last day of the federal Parliament's spring session, and that means a number of bills are now new laws. Not as many new laws, though, as the Conservatives wanted.

Members of the House of Commons took off last Friday after having approved the government spending estimates following an agreement between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

But as is their custom, the oft-maligned Senators put in a couple extra days' work before the summer recess in order to process the pile of legislation forwarded by the House over the past few weeks.

Today, the Senate approved legislation to update the federal incorporation system for non-profit organizations and to create a new legal framework for laboratories that work with disease-causing organisms or toxins.

Yesterday, the Senate passed laws to update liability standards in marine accidents and to create new Criminal Code offences related to drive-by shootings and other violent offences associated with organized crime.

And, of course, the Senate stamped their approval on the two most essential bills, the Appropriation Acts that will keep money flowing from the federal treasury to government-funded programs and the public service over the next few months.

Other new laws passed in June include amendments to the Customs Act, the Judges Act and the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act; an act to implement a free trade agreement with Peru; an act to increase fines and improve enforcement of offences under federal environmental legislation; and acts to implement agreements with the Maa-Nulth First Nations of B.C. and the Cree-Naskapi of Quebec (among others).

But all that was not enough for the federal Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson. On Monday, he held a press conference to berate the “Liberal-dominated Senate” for not rushing through other government bills recently passed by the House.

In particular, Nicholson highlighted Bill C-15, which would create mandatory minimum sentences for a number of drug crimes. When the bill was introduced in February, following a series of gang-related shootings in the Lower Mainland, Nicholson said it represented the government “fighting back against gangs and other organized criminal groups.”

The alleged purpose of yesterday's press conference was to urge the Senate to pass the bill before today's recess, even though the Conservative Senators who control the chamber's schedule had not brought it up for debate until this week. (The Senate received the bill from the House on June 9.)

However, as Gloria Galloway of The Globe and Mail noted in a column this morning, it was really about kicking off a new effort by the Conservatives to brand the Liberals as “soft on crime,” now that the two parties are apparently in agreement about the economy.

Who says we aren't going to have a summer election campaign?

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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