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

Globe editorial

This budget bill is overstuffed Add to ...

Conservative Senator Doug Finley sounds quite eager to fight an election over his party's omnibus budget bill. "I think there's more than enough issues here to run an election on, and I'm ready," Mr. Finley, the Conservative's federal campaign director, told The Globe this week after the legislation suffered a setback in the Senate.

There is no shortage of issues at stake with the Harper government's overstuffed budget bill. But those issues - abuse of process, contempt for Parliament and unseemly political threats - hardly seem like the sort of platform one would want to take to the public for approval.

The bill in question is nearly 900 pages long. It's so big, in fact, that parliamentary expert Ned Franks observes it is nearly half the length of the sum total of all legislation passed last year.

This monumental size is due to the presence of many matters entirely unrelated to the budget. Among other things, the bill includes significant changes to environmental assessments, an end to Canada Post's monopoly in overseas mail delivery and the possible privatization of parts of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with these moves, all properly deserve attention as standalone bills. The proposal on Canada Post, for instance, was twice a separate bill that died ignominiously on the Order Paper. Now the government claims the entire package is a matter of confidence.

The threat of an imminent election (and poor showings in recent opinion polls) bullied the Liberals into submission in the House of Commons. Fortunately the Senate seems more willing to take a stand on principle. This week the upper chamber's finance committee hived off the contentious sections of the budget bill, which prompted Sen. Finley to rattle his sabre.

The entire process should be seen as a black mark on the Conservatives. Loading much of the government's agenda into one omnibus bill and then demanding its passage on threat of an election is entirely inappropriate in a mature democracy. Parliament has an obligation to carefully scrutinize all legislation. Bills with unnecessarily diverse objectives thwart this duty. Spurious election warnings add to the lack of respect.

And as with most bullying, Sen. Finley's threats ring rather hollow - and are now a moot point with the Prime Minister's filling of the last vacancy in the Senate, resulting in an equal number of Conservative and opposition senators. Canadian voters can easily recognize that splitting the budget bill into its constituent parts is appropriate. If the Conservatives had really wanted an election over Canada Post's international mail service, they ought to have put it back into a separate bill and declared that a matter of confidence.

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