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Bill S-6, An Act Respecting Regulatory Modernization (Third Reading)

 

Honourable senators, before I begin, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabe people.

I am pleased to open the third reading debate on Bill S-6, an Act respecting regulatory modernization.

The bill has returned to the Senate following pre-study by seven committees, consisting of over 21 hours of testimony from 48 witnesses, the summaries of which were provided to the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, which in turn presented its report on Tuesday, and the report was adopted by this chamber yesterday.

I want to thank the members of all the committees for their work on this bill. They made some improvements. The committees also identified some broader questions about the need for faster and more extensive regulatory reforms, to ensure that companies can innovate, prosper and be competitive on the world stage.

Honourable colleagues, businesses are the backbone of Canada’s economic success. They create the products, services and wealth that have made our country prosperous. As we emerge from the pandemic, Bill S-6 and its successors will help Canadian businesses by ensuring the regulatory system evolves with changing technologies and that they reflect today’s realities.

The modern regulatory system must do two things. First, it must promote business investment and innovation; second, it must ensure the health, safety and security of Canadians and the protection of the environment. That is what Bill S-6 does. It modifies 29 different acts through 46 common-sense amendments to modernize our regulatory system.

For example, the bill proposes a minor change to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act that would allow the agency to deliver services and allow businesses to interact with them electronically rather than through paper-based transactions. This will reduce the administrative burden for businesses and allow them to be more flexible in their interactions with the government.

The bill also contains amendments to the Fisheries Act that would clarify that fishery officers have the authority to use alternative measures to taking fishers to court in response to minor violations. This is an authority that was unclear in the existing legislation.

Such a change could not only reduce the number of lengthy and costly court processes, but also ensure small violations do not result in criminal records and the stigma and barriers that come with them. The use of such alternative measures has been supported by the fishing community and Indigenous groups.

In addition, amendments to the Canada Transportation Act would allow regulatory changes stemming from updates to international transportation safety standards to be integrated more quickly. These are just some examples of the 46 amendments included in the bill.

While the individual effect of each proposal may seem small, they have the potential, taken together, to make a real difference to those who are affected. In fact, many of these changes were proposed by Canadians and by Canadian businesses. What’s more, all of the proposals are cost-neutral, and the associated risks are low to non-existent. Bill S-6 makes sure our system stays up to date, and sets up Canadians and businesses for success in the years ahead.

As honourable senators know, this bill is meant to be a recurring legislative mechanism. While Bill S-6 is billed as the “second Annual Regulatory Modernization Act,” it is in fact the first stand-alone bill under the rubric of yearly updates to regulation that were first announced by the government in 2018.

The Senate can take some pride in being on the ground floor of a process that I hope will grow in ambition, effectiveness and efficiency over the years.

The idea of a recurring legislative mechanism for regulatory modernization is a response to the legislative challenges noted by businesses and Canadians during targeted regulatory reviews and consultations.

Business stakeholders such as the Economic Strategy Tables and the Advisory Council on Economic Growth have stressed that having such a regularized mechanism in place is critical to improving Canada’s regulatory system.

In addition, the External Advisory Committee on Regulatory Competitiveness, made up of business, academic and consumer stakeholders, has called for further efforts to reduce the administrative burden of regulations and ensure that regulations are future-proofed.

By amending laws that are too inflexible, too specific or simply outdated, this bill is an important reminder of the need for ongoing regulatory review and legislation that stands the test of time. In fact, work on the next annual regulatory modernization bill is already under way and is expected to be tabled in Parliament in 2023.

Let me return to the good work of our committees in their pre-study of this bill. The content of Bill S-6 was sent to the following seven committees: Banking, Trade and Commerce; Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources; Agriculture and Forestry; Fisheries and Oceans; Social Affairs, Science and Technology; Foreign Affairs and International Trade; and Transport and Communications. I want to again thank all committee members for their hard work. As a result of specific feedback from committee work, two sets of amendments were made to Bill S-6.

The Agriculture and Forestry Committee observed that the provisions of what was then Part 6 of the bill should not proceed in isolation, but was better considered as part of broader consultations on the Pest Control Products Act, which began in March 2022. The government agreed, and that section was duly voted down during clause by clause at the Banking Committee.

In addition, I moved two related amendments that responded to concerns raised by the Privacy Commissioner in a letter that he wrote to the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee related to the need for memoranda of agreement between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the agencies with which they share the type of information that is spelled out in Bill S-6. I’m pleased to say that both amendments went forward and are contained in the revised bill before us.

A number of committees observed that consultation processes for future regulatory modernization efforts should be transparent, interactive and inclusive of all relevant stakeholders, not only those already in the regulatory system, but also potential new entrants. I agree with those observations.

Many of you have also called for a more ambitious regulatory modernization agenda for the government. I also agree with this sentiment. To that end, I organized a briefing for all senators on the Canadian government’s overall approach to regulatory reform, within which this bill, the annual regulatory modernization bill, is only a small part. An important takeaway from that briefing is that the Treasury Board Secretariat has recently established a pilot project to make it easier for individuals and organizations to improve Canada’s regulatory system. I encourage you to check it out at www.letstalkfederalregulations.ca.

There are many moving parts to regulatory reform, only some of which can be addressed through cleanup bills such as Bill S-6. More substantial changes, however, can only be dealt with act by act, which is time-consuming and sometimes politically charged. That is why I believe that the Senate has a special role to play in advocating for regulatory reform and providing leadership on the need for energy, innovation and persistence on this issue. Perhaps we can consider a special study on how we can improve regulatory modernization in Canada and use it as a marker of the Senate’s ongoing attention in this area. That is for another day, and I know other senators have ideas, and I look forward to hearing from them.

Colleagues, your diligent work has been critical in helping to improve this bill and has provided the Senate with an important opportunity to strengthen the regulatory system.

Bill S-6 will help modernize existing rules to make it easier for Canadians to get things done and to set up regulators, stakeholders and Canadians for success. Let’s send this bill to the other place as soon as possible with a sticky note marked, “urgent.” And then let’s turn our minds to improving the regulatory system writ large. Thank you.