THUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – It’s been about a week since the Harper Conservatives tabled their second 477-plus page omnibus budget bill, and we are just now starting to learn a bit about what is in this monstrous piece of legislation.
The Harper Government has taken to concocting these enormous bills that deal with a wide range of unrelated federal issues and forcing parliament to examine, review, and vote on the proposals in a very short time frame. I tend to refer these monstrous budget bills as ‘Frankenbills,’ as each could – and should – be broken down into several smaller bills, as they used to be. Unfortunately, the Harper Conservatives have decided that the concept of ‘responsible government,’ a governing principle in Canada since our founding, must take a back seat to their own partisan interests and these Frankenbills are the perfect example of their contempt for democracy, transparency, and the public interest.
In their first Frankenbill tabled his past summer, Bill C-38, the Harper Conservatives made draconian cuts to our Old Age Security (OAS) program that will “save” the government $10 billion a year by 2020 because every Canadian under the age of 54 will have to work two years longer before receiving their retirement benefit. C-38 also included several other significant provisions such as practically eliminating environmental oversight of infrastructure projects, reduced the budget and staffing at the Canadian Food Inspection by 5% each, and extended several worthwhile tax breaks and exemptions for people who are struggling.
When New Democrats voted against C-38 because of the massive pension cuts Harper’s gang went to great lengths in the media to claim that by voting against C-38 New Democrats were necessarily opposed the extension of the $1000 hiring credit for small businesses to encourage employment growth in Canada which was also in C-38. The truth is that New Democrats fully support the hiring credit. In fact, it was Jack Layton’s first campaign announcement in the 2011 election, but our caucus voted against C-38 because it would also cut the pension of every Canadian under the age of 54. But that is how the Harper Conservative government chooses to operate.
And this brings us to the new Frankenbill before parliament. So what is there to know about Bill C-45? To begin with, it is 477 pages long, it changes or amends 64 different acts of parliament or regulations, and is scheduled to be debated and passed into law before December. It’s impossible to say for sure, but if one were to have filed enough Private Members’ Bills to enact all of the changes in this one bill, then it would likely take at least 64 separate bills and require more than a year of debate.
New Democrats, while needing much more time to debate the merits and shortcomings of C-45, have already proposed some changes. Our proposed changes would not delay the parts of C-45 that we oppose but fast-track those elements that we support. Last week New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair tabled a motion in the House of Commons that called for the immediate passage of more than 200 separate clauses in C-45 that our caucus will support without debate. If adopted, our motion would allow for quick passage of the ‘good’ parts of the budget bill which nearly all parties and MPs would support and allow us some extra, though still not enough, time to debate the more contentious clauses of Bill C-45. We think this is a more responsible way to deal with the issues contained in C-45.
We’ll see what the Harper Conservatives’ say and do about Tom’s proposal, but I can tell you that these Conservative Frankenbills are an affront to both democracy and good government. What I can tell you is that this experience will not be lost on New Democrats as we continue our work to restore your confidence in your elected officials and the democratic process.
John Rafferty MP