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Conservatives agree to wider study of omnibus budget bill

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks with the media during an announcement in Ottawa, Wednesday October 24, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Conservative government will allow 10 separate House of Commons committees to study its second omnibus budget bill, responding to a central criticism of its use of wide-ranging government bills.

Procedural experts and opposition MPs have argued that omnibus bills undermine Parliament because they are normally studied by the finance committee alone, even though its MPs may not have the expertise in all of the policy areas covered in the legislation.

Now the government plans to have the bill studied by the Commons committees on finance, transport, aboriginal affairs, agriculture, environment, fisheries, justice, public safety, human resources and citizenship and immigration.

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's office confirmed the plan Wednesday.

Still, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen says the change is not enough. The added committees will be allowed to study the bill, but he says he doubts the government will allow them to make amendments.

"You can look, but you can't touch," he said. "We don't buy this. This isn't what we asked for."

According to the government, only the finance committee will have the power to amend the budget bill. However the other committees studying sections of the legislation can send a letter to the finance committee recommending amendments.

Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau issued a statement saying his party is "pleased that the Conservatives have once again seen the error in their ways" and agreed to have the bill studied by several House of Commons committees.

Mr. Garneau said the move is still "just a drop in the bucket" and that the government should split the bill.

The Conservative government's second budget bill, C-45, covers more than 400 pages. Among the bill's many provisions, it updates Canada's main tax credit for encouraging scientific research, creates a new law called the "Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act" that aims to avoid environmental challenges to a planned new Detroit-Windsor bridge, changes the way Canada Pension Plan benefits are calculated and changes the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the Navigation Protection Act, with the aim of reducing delays for development projects.

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Last week the Conservative government agreed to split its budget bill in two parts. The sections dealing with reducing the generosity of MP pensions were removed, placed in a new bill called C-46, and passed unanimously through all stages of the House of Commons without any debate or standing vote.

Senators are still expected to hold committee hearings on the pension reforms bill, which affects both MPs and Senators.

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