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From omnibus to minibus, Flaherty tables new budget bill

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.


The federal government is following its two massive and controversial budget bills of last year with a more modest piece of legislation that does not stray far beyond what was forecast in the budget released last month by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

The first act to implement measures contained in the 2013 budget is a mere 115 pages long and sticks largely to the economic plan.

Last year, the Conservative government introduced two huge omnibus bills, each consisting of more than 400 pages, which drastically rewrote environmental legislation and made sweeping changes to such things as employment insurance, Old Age Security benefits and the Fisheries Act – many of which had little to do with the budget document released in March, 2012.

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Those bills prompted the opposition to move hundreds of amendments and were the genesis of widespread protests by First Nations.

But Mr. Flaherty said the new legislation was more of a "minibus" than an omnibus.

"It's significantly shorter than the first bill last year because we did a lot of the heavy lifting last year," he told reporters on Monday after the budget bill was tabled in Parliament. "We will ask the finance committee to allocate some of the issues to different committees so that the bill can move along through the committee stage more quickly. All of it is reflected in the budget of March 21st."

But Peggy Nash, the finance critic for the opposition New Democrats, said the legislation is still an omnibus bill that changes more than two dozen laws.

"Many of these changes are significant," Ms. Nash said. "We have to go through it."

Among other things, the bill revises the temporary foreign workers program to force employers to work harder to find Canadian employees before looking abroad to fill vacancies. It also provides for the amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency with the Foreign Affairs department.

One of the measures contained in the bill that was not fully spelled out in the March budget is a change to the way employees at Crown corporations are compensated.

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The budget documents say the government will look at options to improve the financial viability of the Crown corporations, including compensation levels. The law says that means the corporations will have to obtain the approval of the Treasury Board before entering into collective agreements with their workers.

"These changes are problematic because it essentially gives Treasury Board unfettered authority to interfere in bargaining with Crown corporations, removing effective control from the parties most directly affected," said Chris Aylward, a senior official with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. "This is not a recipe for healthy labour relations."

With a report from Bill Curry

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