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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hannah Yoon (Hannah Yoon/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hannah Yoon (Hannah Yoon/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Harper’s Ottawa is Omnibusted Add to ...

Whatever feelings of solidarity were aroused by the sight of the three main party leaders hugging it out on the Commons floor the day after last week’s lone-gunman assault on Parliament Hill were extinguished several hours later, when the Harper government tabled yet another of its contemptuous omnibus budget bills. The new normal is the old normal in Ottawa.

We have been decrying the government’s addiction to omnibus budget bills – and to smaller bills that bundle unrelated policies together – with growing alarm since 2010. That year, the minority Conservative government tabled an overstuffed turkey that topped out at 880 pages and was served with the threat of an election if the opposition failed to support its passage. It lumped together such unrelated issues as ending Canada Post’s monopoly on overseas mail delivery with changes to environmental assessments.

Subsequent omnibus bills have ranged between 300 and 450 pages. All have been an abuse of process and shown contempt for Parliament by subverting its role. Major changes to policy and law that should have been examined by MPs have been pushed through with almost no debate, sometimes with disastrous results for the Harper government. For instance, one omnibus budget bill contained an amendment to the Supreme Court Act that allowed the Prime Minister to name Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court in spite of his ineligibility. We know how that ended.

And now the government has returned with another omnibus budget bill of 458 pages. Buried within it is the language from a private member’s bill that would allow the provinces to deny welfare to refugee claimants awaiting a decision on their status, among other vulnerable non-citizens. That bill, C-585, would have gone to second reading next month; now it is in Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s budget monstrosity.

Among other things, this settles the question of whether the government supports the private member’s bills that its caucus members table as though they were their own creation. Even more tellingly, it suggests that the Harper government’s contempt for Parliament has become so ingrained that it could not be bothered to hide it even on a day that was marked by a heightened respect and gratitude for our country’s greatest symbol of democracy.

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