Hundreds of procedural obstacles created by federal opposition parties have failed to stop the progress of an omnibus budget bill that will rewrite nearly 70 different laws, including those governing environmental assessment, Employment Insurance and Old Age Security.
The Conservative government used its majority on Monday night to send the 425-page Bill C-38 to the Senate, where the party also holds more than half the seats and can guarantee its passage into law.
The bill has been controversial since it was tabled. Opposition members decried the inclusion of many elements that they said have no business in budget legislation, several of which were not mentioned in the budget documents released by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in March or by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during last year’s election campaign.
The opposition accuses the government of rushing the mammoth bill through the House of Commons as a way to avoid scrutiny and abrogate democracy in the process.
Those complaints intensified on Monday, when Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page filed a legal opinion that said 64 out of 84 government departments and agencies were breaking the law by refusing to provide him with basic information about $5.2-billion in spending cuts forecast in the budget.
The government argues it can’t release details about the cuts because of collective agreements with public sector unions. But NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair reminded the House that the unions have written to the government to ask that the information be published.
“The Members [of Parliament] are about to vote on the Trojan Horse budget bill at third reading without having all of the required information, and even the government members are starting to complain,” Mr. Mulcair said. “By hiding this information, the Conservatives are knowingly violating the law.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who answered questions for the government on Monday, replied by saying the bill has received more than adequate debate. “This government held unprecedented consultations preparing Budget 2012,” he said. “It’s a plan for long-term economic growth, for prosperity.”
Although the Senate has been studying the legislation at the same time it was before the House, it could take until late June or early July to get through the Red Chamber before heading to the Governor-General for Royal Assent. Much of the bill will require additional regulations to take full effect.
All opposition parties had urged the government to break the bill into several pieces for extensive study, but their requests were rejected. They also introduced hundreds of amendments that prompted nearly 24 hours of voting in the House last week, but the government defeated each one.
The legislation changes several areas under federal jurisdiction - many of them aimed at smoothing the path of development for Canada’s oil and gas industries.
Among other things, Bill C-38 will increase the age at which Canadians can collect Old Age Security, change the eligibility for Employment Insurance, eliminate several public agencies, and reduce the number of environmental assessments that will be required before development can proceed. This is seen as a precursor to the approval of oil pipelines that the Harper government is backing to carry bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the West Coast and the United States.