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Liberals use Harper’s past attack on omnibus bills against him

Liberal leader Bob Rae, second left, rises with Ralph Goodale, left, Marc Garneau, Wayne Easter and Hedy Fry as they vote on an amendment to the budget bill C38 on June 14, 2012.


Tuesday will be a day of mischief-making for the federal Liberals.

The Conservatives are expected to introduce another omnibus budget bill any day now, but before that happens, the floor of the House of Commons will feature a debate on the past positions of Stephen Harper when it comes to these types of bills.

The old editions of Hansard are clear: He didn't like them.

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Before becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Harper was an eloquent critic of omnibus bills, and the Liberals plan on using their opposition day Tuesday to force a debate and vote on those old comments.

The motion, which will be presented by Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau, states:

"That the House agree with the comments of the Right Honourable Member for Calgary Southwest on March 25, 1994, when he criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles and dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill."

The motion, if approved, would also order the Commons procedure and house affairs committee to study "what reasonable limits" should be placed on the use of such bills.

The comments mentioned in the Liberal motion were made on a Friday morning in the House by Mr. Harper, then 34. He moved a point of order asking the speaker to rule the budget bill of that year out of order on the grounds that it was an omnibus bill.

At that time, he raised many of the objections that current opposition MPs now make about recent Conservative budget bills.

"This bill will ultimately go to only one committee of the House, a committee that will inevitably lack the breadth of expertise required for consideration of a bill of this scope," said Mr. Harper. "Furthermore, the workload of that committee will be onerous and it will be very difficult to give due consideration to all relevant opinion."

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The upcoming budget bill is expected to include measures the opposition supports, including changes to MP pensions, mixed with items the opposition opposes. Mr. Garneau is among the opposition MPs who has called for the MP pension provisions to be dealt with separately.

In 1994, Mr. Harper made similar complaints about a budget bill that included both items the opposition could support, as well as others it could not.

"I just regret that we are proceeding with this omnibus approach to legislation which, because it lumps in things we support and things we do not support, unfortunately deprives us of the ability to support the government in votes where that would be appropriate," said Mr. Harper.

The contrast between Mr. Harper's past words and current actions was the subject of an on-air "rant" last month by comedian Rick Mercer , who said "it's one thing if you don't know any better, but he clearly does, he just doesn't care."

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan gave the Liberal motion a cool response.

"We will not allow the opposition to threaten our economic recovery by political games and obstruction to bills designed to create jobs and grow the economy," he said in a statement provided by his office.

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The vote is expected to take place around 5:45 p.m. ET Tuesday.

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