Stephen Harper isn’t afraid of parliamentary debate — he’s just contemptuous of it.
And the latest and greatest example of this contempt for our elected officials is the expansive “budget” omnibus bill that is being rammed through the House of Commons, thanks to a Conservative government motion to limit MP debate.
Bill C-38, which was introduced in the House last month, does much more than merely enact a budget. As the National Post has reported, the 420-page bill amends at least 60 different acts, repeals about half a dozen and adds three more.
Among the various provisions, the legislation offers up a completely rewritten and highly contentious Canadian Environmental Assessment Act — one that gives cabinet broader powers to override decisions of the National Energy Board — the scrapping of a key official overseeing Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, the raising of the eligibility age of Old Age Security from 65 to 67, and the restriction of access to EI benefits that could force people into taking jobs they don’t want.
Oh, and Bill C-38 will also abolish the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. But you wouldn’t be alone if you didn’t know that. Many of the items contained within the bill were either never officially announced, nor fully explained by the Conservatives — let alone mentioned in their election campaign last year.
While this is not just a budget bill, it’s also not an ordinary omnibus bill either. The omnibus crime bill, for example, collected a number of different components of the Tory law and order agenda, and tied them together under one heading — but at least they were still on one general theme.
Bill C-38, however, builds on a relatively new practice in Canada of mashing together several bills that have no connection to each other, which ultimately forces MPs to vote on the entirety, rather than individual components that would and should otherwise be debated and voted upon individually.
In creating such a legislative behemoth, the Conservatives are obviously doing everything they can to push through several changes to Canada’s canon of laws while allowing little to no oversight or debate, much to the chagrin of those of us who still believe that our members of Parliament should not only have the right to debate laws, but have the duty to do so.
Had the Conservatives still been in a minority, this kind of behaviour might be understandable — though not justifiable. But even with a healthy majority in play, this government is hiding key changes to legislation within an omnibus bill, and then limiting debate. Thus, our sleepy government representatives will little understand the implications of the various parts of the bill before it passes, and by then, it’s fait accompli.
Considering some of the explosive changes being suggested by the bill, we’re not surprised that Harper is attempting to evade debate. Having a policy debate would only serve to aid Tory opponents. And we will never know where any of our MPs stand on these individual issues. They’re being forced to swallow everything all at once, whether they like it or not.
In an attempt to get a better handle on the budget bill and shed a little light on the document, the Official Opposition NDP has made an attempt to have the budget bill split into several pieces. The NDP happens to be absolutely right when it says that no one committee can digest such a document in six days.
As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, by splitting the bill, the NDP argues MPs will be able to hear from more witnesses in committee who have expertise in the wide range of areas that are affected.
“We feel this bill is like a Trojan horse … We’re just discovering all of the implications of this bill,” NDP finance critic Peggy Nash told reporters Monday.
There may well be some good pieces of law within Bill C-38, which could be fully defended by members of Harper’s cabinet. We wish our politicians had the chance to find out.
For it’s not just the content that’s at issue here. It’s the principles involved as well — or rather, the lack thereof.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 8, 2012