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The Centennial Flame burns on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 3, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
The Centennial Flame burns on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 3, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Opposition fumes as Tories limit debate on sweeping budget bill Add to ...

The Conservative government moved to limit House of Commons debate on its wide-ranging budget bill.

Opposition MPs reacted furiously Thursday to a government motion to limit second reading debate to six more days, at which point it will be voted on and sent to committee.

At more than 420 pages, nearly half of which involve major changes to Canada’s environmental laws, critics say the bill deserves special scrutiny.

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The legislation was introduced without a media briefing from government officials, leaving it unclear as to what many of the various legal changes are trying to accomplish. In some cases, such as on the bill’s reforms to Employment Insurance rules, the minister in charge of the file is refusing to answer questions about the measures.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said the legislation revokes pay equity, destroys environmental protections and contains measures – such as raising the eligibility age of Old Age Security from 65 to 67 – that the government never mentioned during the 2011 federal election campaign.

“Lumping it together in an omnibus bill like this is undermining the very institution that we all represent, and our ability to hold government to account,” he said.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the government’s budget bill is “outrageous” and “destroys decades of environmental law.”

Ted Menzies, the Minister of State for Finance, defended the move in the House and said the legislation is widely praised by organizations across the country.

“The debate will continue. We encourage all honourable members to be part of this debate. There are seven more days of debate before it even goes to two levels of committee for further discussion,” he said.

The government argues that even with Thursday’s vote, which passed 145-122 vote, this budget bill will receive more days of debate at second reading than previous budget bills over the past several decades.

Making sense of the budget bill often involves cross-referencing the bill with existing laws and regulations in order to find out what is being added or removed.

For instance, one part of the budget bill replaces “subsections 27(2) and (3)” of the Employment Insurance Act. As a result, the act would no longer include lines that allow EI recipients to turn down an available job if it is not in the claimant’s usual occupation, is at a lower rate of pay or involves “conditions less favourable than those... recognized by good employers.”

The legislation also gives cabinet the power to refine these EI rules later through regulation without the approval of Parliament.

With most pieces of legislation, Library of Parliament researchers produce a line by line analysis to provide MPs and the public with a detailed explanation of the impact of legislative changes. However The Globe was told Thursday the Library does not provide legislative summaries of budget-implementation bills because they are too large.

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