Prime Minister Stephen Harper is putting his Conservative government “in peril” by refusing to break up a massive budget bill into smaller chucks that can be studied in depth, the NDP says.
Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen told reporters Tuesday his party, like the Liberals and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, will be proposing hundreds of amendments to Bill C-38 when it returns to the House from the Commons finance committee.
Each of those amendments will require a vote and each vote will be a matter of confidence because the legislation is a budget bill, Mr. Cullen explained.
“If the votes go on for hours and hours, perhaps days, the government has to get every single vote right,” he said. “They can’t have members falling asleep, going home and not coming back for votes, missing votes.”
New Democrats have held a number of hearings in various communities across the country to solicit what they say is the response of average Canadians to the bill. The findings of the hearings have been compiled in a report the party released Tuesday. “Canadians said this is wrong, is there any way that you can stop this,” Mr. Cullen said.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash pointed out that the 425-page bill has 753 clauses that will impact more than 70 existing laws. “And it is flying at break-neck speed through the finance committee,” she said, “even though it touches so many areas outside of finance – everything from old age security to health transfers to [Employment Insurance], to democratic oversight.”
The largest section of the bill will overhaul environmental assessment legislation. Ms. Nash said the committee has been told that, if the bill is passed into law, the number of federal environmental assessments conducted every year will be reduced to 20 from about 6,000.
The finance committee has heard from “many witnesses from all ends of the political spectrum argue that this bill should be broken up so that is can be properly deliberated,” Ms. Nash said. The committee are expected to sit long into the night on Tuesday and the bill could be returned to the House by Thursday.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said in an e-mail the measures contained in the budget bill are intended to sustain and improve Canada's economic outlook.
“As the global recovery remains fragile – especially in Europe – Canadians want their government to focus on what matters like jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity,” Mr. Van Loan wrote. “It’s time for the NDP to put Canada’s economy first, instead of filibusters and other partisan procedural games.”
New Democrats and Liberals, who have members on the finance committee, are expected to make any substantive amendments at the committee stage – amendments that have so far been rejected by the Conservatives who hold a majority on the committee.
But Ms. May, who does not have a seat on the committee, may make substantive amendments when the legislation is back before the House. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have consulted with Ms. May about the amendments she will propose.
In addition, both parties can make their own complementary amendments to delete clauses, which will double the number of votes at the very last stage, Mr. Cullen said. “We have had an open door with the government to say there are a number of paths other than the one they are about to walk on,” he said, “because the one they are about to walk on has a very thin edge.”