Regardless of who wins today’s federal election, Canada isn’t going to be a radically different place from a legal perspective.
While Law Times columnist Richard Cleroux reports on page 7 of this week's paper about some of the legal issues that have had particular political currency — notably the niqab debate — the party platforms do offer plenty of fodder in a number of other areas. For the Conservatives, they largely tout their track record while making a number of boutique promises if they win today’s election. On crime, for example, they highlight their life-means-life legislation and a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code to provide for a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail for financial fraud over $5,000 with multiple victims. They’ll also restore mandatory minimum sentences for illegal possession of loaded prohibited or restricted firearms and bring in legislation restricting Canadians from travelling to areas where terrorists are active.
Besides crime, the Conservatives are planning for changes in other areas. The plans include legislation granting the federal competition commissioner authority to investigate geographic differences in prices as well as a law to require operators of vital cyber systems to implement robust security plans.
In many ways, then, we’ll continue to have more of the same if the Conservatives win today. The Liberals and NDP, of course, have been battling over which party best represents change, but their platforms — at least when it comes to legal issues — on many levels seek to undo laws and reforms brought in by the Conservatives over the years. The NDP, for example, promises to repeal what it deems to be anti-union legislation and, most prominently, seeks to revoke Bill C-51. The party would also turn back the clock on the Fair Elections Act and restore the Court Challenges program. The Liberals, meanwhile, focus less on repealing legislation and more on amendments to controversial laws such as Bill C-51 to make them more palatable.
The opposition parties don’t have a lot to say about getting rid of or amending the mandatory minimum sentences in a range of areas that some criminal lawyers have been criticizing for years. But they both offer very significant change in a couple of specific areas. The Liberals, of course, would remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code and propose to “legalize, regulate, and restrict access” to the drug. They also plan to more severely punish those who give the drug to minors. In addition, they’re touting significant electoral reform and promise to hold an inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The NDP would do so as well and also propose significant targeted reforms such as a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. The party would also crack down on unpaid internships in the federally regulated sector and amend Canada’s privacy laws to provide for mandatory reporting of data breaches.
When it comes to legal issues, then, the platforms offer a mix of the status quo, targeted reforms ranging from the minor to the significant, and a reversal of several Conservative changes during their time in office. So no matter who wins, Canadians for the most part aren’t likely to wake up to a very different country tomorrow, even when it comes to the financial and economic issues that have dominated the campaign. Of course, the election will still affect many people and will say a lot about Canada’s style of governance and what Canadians value. And with the fine details being so significant when it comes to the practice of law, the election does have implications for lawyers and their work.