OTTAWA – POLITICS – It was April Fools’ Week in Ottawa as Members of Parliament began debate on the Conservative government’s latest omnibus budget bill and the price of postage increased by 37% for most individuals and small businesses.
The newest omnibus budget bill, officially named “Harper Government Creating Jobs & Growth While Returning to Balanced Budgets With Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1″ is now before parliament. Like the other monster budget bills tabled by the Conservatives it is long, complicated, and contains a variety of non-budget related items in an effort to avoid scrutiny.
The new omnibus bill is over 350 pages long, has almost 500 clauses, and amends dozens of different acts of parliament. Upon a first read through I found two clauses in particular that I cannot support. The first imposes the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) at the cost of Canadians’ privacy rights and amidst questions about the constitutionality of the US attempts to get private financial details on dual citizens. Another clause further reduces federal transparency by eliminating reporting requirements for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and abolishes the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation while it is in the middle of a probe by the Auditor General.
The first point seems to me to be a clear breach of privacy for Canadians and means that citizens who hold dual citizenship with the United States will now have their private Canadian financial and tax information handed over the United States Internal Revenue Agency without their say or permission. On the second point, it looks as though the Conservatives have found some wrongdoing and are in damage control mode as they move to abolish one Crown corporation chock full of partisan appointees, and throw a blanket over another so that parliament and the public can’t find out what goes on behind its closed doors. How do these items belong in a “budget” bill again, and why would Conservative MPs actually support less transparency?
While there is plenty of ‘bad’ in this latest omnibus some ‘good’ can also be found in the document as well. Among other items in the budget three specific requests of New Democrats appear to be addressed. This bill would reverse the irrational application of the federal portion of the HST on hospital parking that the Conservatives tried to sneak through in the 2013-14 budget, it increases the adoption tax credit for parents, and it finally cap wireless roaming rates for cell phone users – after years of repeated requests from the NDP caucus.
While we were busy reading the federal budget and looking for hidden landmines for consumers and families our postage rates went through the roof on April Fools’ Day. Sad but true, the old tax cutting Conservatives just blasted consumers and small business with an increase in our postage fees of 37% in just one year as it now costs $1 to mail a single letter or post card in Canada. Ironically, the greatest impact of this change is likely to be felt by those who own or run a small business. A survey of the members of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents more than 100,000 small and medium sized business owners in Canada, found that almost 40 per cent of its members send at least 50 pieces of letter mail each month. With small profit margins as it is this massive hike in postage fees is just another blow to those owners struggling through weak economic growth under this Conservative government.
So it was quite the April Fools’ week in Ottawa. Another massive budget bill that has little to do with budgets was introduced in parliament, and our postage fees inexplicably increased by 37%. The joke is clearly on Canadians, but this time I don’t hear anyone laughing.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River