Another omnibus budget bill is coming from the federal Conservative government – legislation that is expected to be even bigger than the bill that was passed in the House of Commons last spring despite complaints from the opposition that it was too large to be properly scrutinized.
As politicians returned to the House of Commons on Monday after a break that began last June, government House Leader Peter Van Loan said the bill would be at the top of the fall agenda.
Its predecessor prompted an all-night round of clause-by-clause voting, a tactic the opposition MPs employed to delay the bill's passage because, they said, at more than 400 pages and more that 800 amendments to a broad range of legislation, they had not had enough time to give it adequate study.
The new bill is rumoured to be even bigger that the one introduced last spring. Mr. Van Loan would not say how many pages it will be or whether it will be introduced before Thanksgiving to allow committees time to digest it if it is to be passed before Christmas. He referred those questions to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty whose spokesman could not provide details.
Mr. Van Loan did say the legislation would focus on the economy. It will include, among other things, a small business hiring tax credit to make it easier for small businesses to create jobs. The government will also move ahead with its plans to increase exports and forge more free trade agreements, he said.
"Canadians expect their government to focus on maintaining Canada's record of relative strength and to build on our record for hardworking families," Mr. Van Loan told reporters at a news conference that preceded a Conservative caucus meeting.
The government, he said, will make changes to Employment Insurance "to ensure that the program is there for families in times of need" – specifically for families of murdered and missing children. And there will be new crime legislation, he said, including bills that will increase the amount criminals must pay to support the victims of their crimes, enhance accountability within the RCMP, give more powers to police to track terrorists, and make it easier to remove foreign criminals from Canada.
But it is the next omnibus bill that is expected to preoccupy much of the fall sitting of Parliament.
It will likely include changes to public sector pensions that could rile federal unions and create an important battle line with the opposition New Democrats who the Conservatives accuse of being in the pockets of the "big union bosses."
When asked why his government insists on throwing a broad range of initiatives into massive bills that MPs have little opportunity to study, the Conservative House Leader said budget bills, by their nature, implement the budget – and that is what the bill last spring and the new bill will do.
"Our budget was a comprehensive plan for jobs and growth by harnessing our natural resources, by taking advantage of our human resource, by ensuring that we keep taxes low, by balancing the budget," said Mr. Van Loan. "All these pieces go together in a comprehensive plan for short and long-term prosperity and it's natural that a budget implementation bill would implement the elements of the budget."
But Nathan Cullen, the House Leader for the New Democrats, said he was hoping there would be no replay of the first budget implementation bill.
"We will be encouraging [Mr. Van Loan] not to make the same mistakes that were fundamentally undemocratic in the last session. Canadians need to know what their parliamentarians are voting on," Mr. Cullen told reporters. "We saw that within the Conservative caucus last time. There were concerns by their own members about the size and the scope of the omnibus bill. This is déjà vu all over again. If they are going to present a bill that has everything in it, some things related to the budget, many things not, we as the New Democratic Party believe that the institution [of democracy] should be protected and that Canadians' interest should be protected."
The news conferences also provided a glimpse of the messaging that is expected to be used by the Conservatives this fall to undercut support for the New Democrats and their leader, Thomas Mulcair. Mr. Van Loan accused Mr. Mulcair of wanting to bring in a carbon tax.
The NDP says that is simply not the case, but Mr. Van Loan said a carbon tax was written into the party's election platform of 2001. "That's what he [Mr. Mulcair] campaigned on," he said, "and then when he ran for the leadership he said he wanted to go even farther than the platform, and then earlier this year he talked about the Dutch Disease" which refers to a presumed hollowing out of other economic sectors because of the relative strength of the resource industry.
Mr. Cullen, who promised that his party would be offering concrete proposals on such things as job creation, said it was critical that resources not be sold off in their raw form. But the NDP has no interest in a carbon tax, he said.
"The Conservatives are entitled to their opinions but not their own facts," said Mr. Cullen. "They can repeat lies and hope that one day that will somehow be come truth in the minds of Canadians."