From the House – This week in Ottawa an important debate was taking place

John Rafferty MPOTTAWA – Leaders Ledger – This week in Ottawa an important debate was taking place. It was focused on whether the Harper Government should be presenting its massive 400-plus page budget bill in one piece of legislation or break into several pieces so that it can be more closely examined. For our part, New Democrats believe it should be divided in order to be analyzed properly.

The more we learn about the 2012-13 Harper Conservative budget document the more New Democrats believe that it needs to be studied more carefully before becoming law. This is not to say that we will support its passage, we surely will not, but it is important that Canadians know what effect it will have upon their lives in the short, medium, and long term.

As my colleagues and I make our way through this giant bill, which is nearly four times longer than any previous budget bill tabled in parliament, we are finding far more than a federal budget buried within its pages. This ‘budget’ bill proposes changes to dozens of federal laws, including those governing environmental protection, Employment Insurance, border security, immigration, pensions, national parks, foreign aid, fisheries and other areas. Many of the proposals have nothing to do with finances or money, but are quite contentious and are probably not the sort of thing the Conservatives want to have openly debated.

New Democrats would like to have a debate about the financial elements contained in the budget bill first and foremost since that really is what budgets are supposed to be about. We would like to take the time normally allotted for debate to ask the Conservatives about their decision to cut $31 billion in healthcare money to provinces, and why they feel it is necessary to make Canadians work two years longer before collecting Old Age Security (OAS). Those are legitimate fiscal proposals contained in the budget and deserve to be debated fully. Unfortunately, there are many, many other non-fiscal issues that also require further debate and examination.

Non-financial measures contained in the budget include new power for the federal government to define — through regulation — what “suitable employment” is, and to define the “reasonable” efforts a jobless worker must make to find it. Does this mean the Conservatives will force a scientist to repair bicycles if that is the only job out there? Will an EI recipient be forced to move from Thunder Bay to Edmonton to take a job that pays minimum wage? There are lot of questions to be answered, but this is why we need a proper debate on this non-financial issue. There are other examples too.

Aside from the EI item there are dozens upon dozens of other changes that need to be debated on their own including; the elimination of the Inspector General in charge of monitoring the conduct of intelligence agents and staff at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the repeal of Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the weakening of the Fisheries Act so that only major waterways are monitored for pollution, and the reduction in the autonomy of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) which insures more than $500 billion worth of mortgages across Canada. Does anyone think for a second that these non-financial items should not have their own time for debate?

New Democrat’s fully recognize the Harper Government’s right to bring forward and pass legislation as they see fit as they have a majority in parliament and have been given that mandate by the people of Canada. However it is fundamentally wrong for the Conservatives to do so without a proper debate and without bringing legislation forward in a responsible and transparent manner. New Democrats will have more to say on this budget in the coming days, but you can be sure that we will do our best to ensure that there is proper and transparent debate on all bills put before our democratically elected parliament.

John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River