Now that it has reached its final stages of the House of Commons, the Conservatives have moved to shut down debate on their omnibus budget bill – legislation the opposition says has received too little scrutiny given its massive size and scope.
The motion of time allocation would allow a total of 18 more hours of discussion in the House. That means round-the-clock voting on hundreds of proposed opposition amendments would begin late Wednesday afternoon and the final vote on the bill would likely take place next Monday.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told the Commons this is the 26th time the government has invoked time allocation and closure on bills since the Conservatives won a majority a year ago. That breaks the record for all previous government, he added.
On Bill C-38, the government will claim there’s been lots of debate, Mr. Cullen said. But it has not been adequate, he argued, for legislation that includes 753 clauses, has more than 400 pages, and will change more that 70 acts of Parliament.
Mr. Cullen pointed out that, when he was opposition leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper railed against the Liberal government for invoking time allocation. “Where have those principles all gone, for the need to have democratic debate in this House?”
Ted Menzies, the Minister of State for Finance, replied that there has been plenty of democratic debate. And he pointed out that, when the NDP was permitted to respond to the budget, they sent British Columbia MP Peter Julian into the House to filibuster for 13 hours – a move that prevented the Conservatives from promoting their economic plan but also limited time for the Liberals, the Bloc and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
Ms. May stood to say she was no fan of that particular NDP tactic. But the argument is irrelevant to Bill C-38, she said, because it had not been tabled at that time.
“And I dispute the sort of nonsense that we have heard from the Government House Leader that there’s been abundant debate,” Ms. May added. “Budget bills between 1995 and 2000 averaged 12 pages long. It’s been only this Conservative brand under the current Prime Minister who has taken budget bills and made them Trojan horses.”
Opposition leaders of all stripes have pleaded with the government to slice Bill C-38 into several more manageable bits. They have tried to create a logjam in the Commons with their proposed amendments to focus the attention of Canadians on a bill they say subverts democracy by including provisions that have no place in budget legislation.
Those measures include, among other things, changes to the way fish habitats are protected, changes to Employment Insurance eligibility, and an increase in the age at which Canadians can collect Old Age Security.
It also would severely restrict the number of federal environmental assessments. They would become the jurisdiction of the provinces except in cases where development could affect migratory birds, fish and other aquatic species.
Conservative MPs David Tilson and Michael Chong, meanwhile, have been calling for a federal environmental assessment into a mega-quarry in Dufferin County in central Ontario.
Mr. Tilson reiterated the plea on Tuesday, just before the government asked for the time allocation. He submitted a petition arguing there are issues related to the use of water operations at the quarry that could have negative financial implications federally and provincially.
“These petitioners are asking that the government of Canada conduct and environmental assessment under the authority of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act,” Mr. Tilson said.
But that law would be repealed by the budget bill and replaced with legislation that would cut the thousands of federal assessments conducted every year down to about 20.
Separately, l24 lawyers and law professors from across Canada have written to Mr. Harper and other MPs asking that the environmental sections be extracted from the omnibus budget bill and debated separately.
“The bill is bad, the process is bad,” Stephen Hazell, an environmental law professor at the University of Ottawa, told reporters on Tuesday.
“What this legislation is about is basically eliminating legally required environmental assessments. And what you are replacing it with is a framework for the exercise of political discretion by the prime minister and the minister of the environment at whatever point they choose in the process.”