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Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty in the House of Commons Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty in the House of Commons Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Supersized, unparliamentary budget bills Add to ...

The federal government’s 2013 budget-implementation bill is at its most egregiously irrelevant to the 2013 budget at the very end, in its grand finale: an amendment to the Supreme Court Act to facilitate the appointment of Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court. What is this doing in a budget bill?

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About half of the 322-page omnibus bill consists of income-tax and GST/HST amendments, implementing elements of last spring’s budget. Fine. But much of the rest is wildly miscellaneous.

Crown corporations are amalgamated. Labour law covering the federal public service is rewritten. A Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Fund is set up. Cabinet and the minister of natural resources are given broad powers to deal with a 20,000-hectare area called the Dominion Coal Blocks in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. And on it goes.

Each of these should be in a separate bill, to be separately debated and voted on by Parliament. That’s how our parliamentary system is supposed to work.

In 2005, the Paul Martin government set what was then a record, a budget bill that was 120 pages long. The Conservatives peaked at 880 pages, but in 2012 eased off at 452. Still, at 322 pages this month, MPs and senators cannot properly comprehend these loose, baggy monsters (to borrow a phrase from Henry James).

In the previous Parliament, 38 per cent of government legislation was in budget bills, according to Ned Franks of Queen’s University. In other words, one-third of all legislation was wrapped into a few so-called budget-implementation bills.

This is not how it’s supposed to be. MPs and senators must have the time to deliberate on legislation, and the ability to vote yea or nay on individual initiatives. They should not be voting, in a mad rush, on huge, randomly grouped bills.

 

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