Canada sports betting bill appears doomed to die a procedural death

canada-sports-betting-c290-george-bakerCanada’s Senate has finally resumed debate on the long-stalled C-290 sports betting legislation, but the finish line keeps getting further away. On Tuesday, Liberal Sen. George Baker (pictured) rose to address his fellow unelected members of Canada’s upper house on C-290, which aims to amend the Criminal Code to permit provincial lottery corporations to offer single-game sports wagers.

The private member’s bill passed the House of Commons with all-party support in March 2012 before becoming bogged down in debate and/or quicksand in Canada’s bastion of ‘sober second thought.’ Baker noted that there was “a good chance this will be the first time in Canadian history that a bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons could be defeated in the Senate.”

Baker offered up a Supreme Court of Canada ruling from April that stated the Senate should “never set itself in opposition to the deliberate and understood wishes of the people.” But Baker questioned whether the Commons’ approval of C-290 amounted to the ‘wishes of the people,’ given the relative speed with which C-290 had been approved. Baker noted that it was passed on a Friday and, having served as an MP before being kicked upstairs, he understood that “on a Friday, in the afternoon, nobody is in the House of Commons … you would see maybe seven or eight [members] — twenty is a quorum, but it’s never called.”

Baker then discussed a matter of parliamentary procedure that precludes senators from amending the legislation in question, due to C-290’s sponsor – Windsor MP Joe Comartin – having since become the Commons’ Deputy Speaker. Any amendment to C-290 would require the bill to be sent back to the Commons, but since Comartin is no longer permitted to participate in private member’s business, the Commons would have to unanimously approve the idea of considering the Senate’s amendment.

Regardless, Baker proposed sending C-290 back to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs so that an amendment could be added requiring the law to be reviewed five years after passage. In doing so, Baker appears to have set a hurdle he knows C-290 has no chance of clearing. Depressingly, Baker’s proposal was adopted (on division) and C-290 was referred to the Committee.

Interestingly, early on in his speech, Baker raised a heretofore little discussed consequence of C-290’s passage. Baker noted that “it’s not just the provinces that now control betting under the authority of the Criminal Code. It’s also First Nations. Once we make a change to the Criminal Code here, under section 81 of the Indian Act all First Nations will be able to make their own rules pertaining to this matter.” With C-290 appearing destined for the knackers, those First Nations may have even more incentive to make their own rules.