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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable)

'Dog's Breakfast'

Senators carve up bloated budget bill Add to ...

The Liberals have found a way - temporarily at least - to excise the contentious clauses from an omnibus budget bill the Conservative government had hoped to expedite into law by next week.

At a meeting of the Senate finance committee on Thursday, most of the 883-page Bill C-9 was passed during a clause-by-clause reading.

But Liberal and independent senators voted against those sections they do not believe belong in the bill including clauses that would have opened overseas mail delivery to privatization, weakened environmental assessment and facilitated the selloff of power division of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Senator Lowell Murray, who had moved several weeks ago that the bill be divided into five parts, proposed an amendment to the clause regarding AECL that would have given the matter more time for consideration. When that was rejected by the Conservative members, Mr. Murray said he would have to vote against the clause "more in sorrow than in anger."

And so it went with all of the other controversial clauses. Liberals moved amendments. The Conservatives rejected them. And the clause was voted down.

That means the bill will go back to the Senate as a whole for final reading with those portions removed.

The Conservatives could, at that point, vote to have them re-installed. The Liberals and the independents combined hold the barest of majorities in the Red Chamber but they have not been able to get enough bodies in the seats to stop the Conservatives from pushing the bill through.

Still, the Liberals said Thursday, amending the bill at the Senate committee level would send a strong message to the government.

The legislation was passed in the Commons with the help of the Liberals who ensured enough of their members were absent at the time of the vote. A defeat of the bill would have indicated a loss of confidence in the government and most likely would have caused an election that none of the parties wanted.

On Wednesday, the committee heard from Queen's University professor C.E.S. (Ned) Franks who is one of the country's pre-eminent parliamentary experts.

"If this budget goes through and the amount of legislation passed this year is the same as last year, at 883 pages it will be almost 50 per cent of the number of pages of legislation that receives Royal Assent in 2010. I suggest that that indicates an imbalance between it and the rest of the bills proposed in Parliament," Mr. Franks told the committee.

"It is a dog's breakfast, really," he said. "It is the variety of items and the fact that some items were not in the budget and crept in here. Some items are potentially contentious and are not getting the attention that, in my view, they should."

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