The Conservatives are putting the opposition on notice that a second omnibus budget bill – with changes to federal science policy, business tax credits and pensions for public servants and MPs – will dominate the government’s fall legislative agenda.
The Conservatives’ decision to cram their first budget bill with a host of items that had little to no connection to the actual budget became a source of political fireworks earlier this year. The opposition accused the government of subverting democracy and proposed more than 800 amendments to the bill in an attempt to delay its passage in June.
Polls show little evidence that the parliamentary battle hurt the government’s popularity, and now the opposition waits to see if the Conservatives will do it again.
Thomas Hall suspects they will, but hopes they won’t. The retired House of Commons procedure clerk says budget bills used to be limited to tax changes. The Liberal government began to use budget bills more broadly, and Mr. Hall said the Conservatives have gone even further.
“Now they’re sticking all kinds of things in there,” he said. “They’re going too far.”
The practical impact is that these bills are studied by the finance committee only, not the committees that focus on the particular policy areas of each measure.
“The finance committee doesn’t have expertise in all of these fields, and the very fact that they don’t shows that there are things in there that don’t belong,” he said.
Among the measures in the first bill that caused controversy because they were not part of the budget was the elimination of the position of Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which monitored the activities of Canada’s spy agency on behalf of the public safety minister.
While the content of the new bill won’t be known until it is tabled, it is possible to get a good sense of its measures by looking at parts of the March 29 budget that were not included in the first bill.
Still, a few caveats are in order. Not all budget measures require new legislation. Some of the measures from the budget that were not in the first bill include:
Changes to Canada’s science and research policies that will increase funding for small businesses through the National Research Council, and revisions to one of Ottawa’s main science-funding programs, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit;
New policies for First Nations and aboriginals, including a new urban aboriginal strategy and revisions to the on-reserve income assistance program;
Reduced pension-plan benefits for Members of Parliament and public servants;
Minor tax changes including revisions to the Registered Disability Savings Plan that allow smaller withdrawals, and corporate tax changes that broaden the eligibility for clean energy generation tax credits and phase out tax credits for the oil and gas sector.
Before a single word was uttered on the floor of the House of Commons on Monday, the Conservatives and NDP held duelling news conferences about the fall agenda.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan isn’t saying how big the second budget bill will be. It will, however, be a priority for the Conservatives.
“It’s natural that a budget implementation bill would implement the elements of the budget,” he told reporters.
Shortly after, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen warned the government not to repeat its old ways.
“There were concerns by their own members about the size and the scope of the omnibus bill. This is déjà vu all over again,” he said. “If they are going to present a bill that has everything in it, some things related to the budget, many things not, we as the New Democratic Party believe that the institution [of democracy] should be protected and that Canadians’ interest should be protected.”