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Politics Speaker rules Morneau’s budget bill includes measures not mentioned in original federal budget

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Nov. 7, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Speaker of the House of Commons has ruled in favour of opposition MPs who said Finance Minister Bill Morneau's latest omnibus budget bill includes measures that were never mentioned in his March budget.

Speaker Geoff Regan, a Liberal MP, issued a ruling Wednesday afternoon that agreed with opposition concerns that four specific items in the latest budget bill, C-63, were not part of the budget. He disagreed with opposition concerns over a fifth aspect, legislative measures for Canada to join the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The budget bill allows Ottawa to transfer up to $480-million to the AIIB, which is more than the $256-million referenced in the budget.

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"The fact that the amounts are higher – though I admit the variance is considerable – does not, in my opinion, make the matter of the AIIB markedly different from what was announced in the budget," said Mr. Regan.

Because the bill includes four elements that were not in the budget, the Speaker said MPs will need to vote on each of those separately, in addition to voting on the main bill, for a total of five votes at second reading before the legislation is sent to committee.

The Speaker's ruling is the first such decision since the Liberal government changed the rules of the House of Commons – known as the Standing Orders – to prevent the use of so-called omnibus bills that include a wide range of unrelated matters. The rule change included an exception for budget bills, provided such bills only contain provisions related to the budget.

Critics of omnibus bills, which included Liberal MPs while in opposition, argue that they limit the ability of Parliamentarians to thoroughly scrutinize legislation because individual elements receive less attention than if they had been introduced as standalone bills.

Conservative and NDP MPs said the ruling shows the Liberals have broken their campaign pledge to "bring to an end" the use of undemocratic omnibus bills.

"Hopefully the Liberals feel like they got their wrists slapped," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said he is disappointed that the $480-million contribution to the AIIB will not receive a separate debate and vote.

"I believe that Canadians will strongly oppose this expenditure and their members of Parliament should have had an opportunity to debate it separately and scrutinize it independently," he said.

The four items identified by the Speaker as unrelated to the budget include measures related to agricultural and fisheries co-operatives; changes to the GST/HST rebate for public service bodies; an Excise Act change related to beer made from concentrate; and changes to the Financial Administration Act related to the discharge of debt.

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