An omnibus budget bill that will affect many aspects of Canadian life faces a rocky ride over the next four weeks as opposition members try to thwart Conservative plans to have it passed into law before Parliament rises for the summer.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and the Liberals have jointly concocted a plan to delay the passage of the 425-page Bill C-38 and are threatening to put it into action if the government does not agree to make substantial changes.
The strategy would pit Ms. May’s stamina against the desire of MPs of all stripes to return to their home ridings for the extended break.
What do the Greens and the Liberals have planned?
Because the Greens do not have official party status in the House of Commons, Ms. May is not given a seat on parliamentary committees. As a tradeoff, she is permitted to propose an unlimited number of amendments to bills that have come back to the House from committees.
All she needs is the support of five other MPs. And the Liberals have agreed to do that in the case of the budget bill.
“The aim is to create such a substantial logjam that the government will have to negotiate removing the environmental and other non-budgetary matters from Bill C-38,” Ms. May said Monday.
Each vote on an amendment takes 15 minutes, there could be hundreds of amendments, so “you do the math,” she said.
Once the votes start, she will not be able to leave the House. But “I don’t care how I do it,” Ms. May said. “They can take me out of the House on a stretcher.”
Where is the bill now and what steps lie ahead?
The budget legislation is before both the Commons finance committee and the Senate at the same time.
The Conservative-dominated Senate has split the bill, as it is now written, between a number of different committees for study. That means it can quickly be passed by the Red Chamber after it has made its way through the House.
The government has refused to allow the bill to be divided in the Commons, but a subcommittee of the finance committee has been created to look at the changes to environmental-assessment legislation.
The government plans to allow between 50 and 60 hours of debate at the committee level – to be spread between the finance committee and the subcommittee. The legislation will then be returned to the House for a final vote, which is when Ms. May would move her amendments.
What do the New Democrats have planned?
NDP MPs spent the past week holding hearings about the bill in different cities across the country. They say they have heard from hundreds of Canadians in person and thousands more online and will now put forth “constructive” amendments at the finance committee and subcommittee that are based on those consultations.
The Conservatives, who hold a majority on all Commons committees, will be able to dismiss any changes proposed by the opposition.
The New Democrats concede that the Conservatives will use their numbers to get the bill passed, but say their intent is to make sure that the voices of Canadians who oppose it have been heard.
What is at stake?
In addition to the sweeping environmental changes, the bill’s 752 clauses include measures that would, among other things:
- Reform Old Age Security by raising the age of eligibility for the program to 67 from 65 gradually over a six-year period starting in 2023.
- Eliminate the office of the inspector-general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
- Grant U.S. law-enforcement agents, such as those from the FBI, the same powers as members of the RCMP in cases where they are working together on cross-border operations.
- Split Employment Insurance recipients into three categories based on how often they’ve claimed EI in the past. Frequent users would be given just six weeks of EI to look for work in a similar occupation before they would be expected to take a job not necessarily to their liking.