The Liberal government is taking the controversial use of omnibus legislation to a new extreme with this week’s release of an 850-page budget bill, the opposition said Wednesday in asking the Speaker of the House of Commons to intervene.
In a speech peppered with past quotes from Liberal MPs condemning the use of omnibus budget bills while in opposition, NDP MP Peter Julian asked the Speaker to find the government in contempt of Parliament for failing to allow MPs to properly scrutinize the measures in the bill.
The government tabled the legislation late Monday afternoon as cabinet ministers held a news conference highlighting the bill’s pay equity provisions. However, the legislation includes a wide range of unrelated measures covering areas such as taxation, climate change, banking, consumer protection and land use rules on First Nation reserves.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly expressed alarm Wednesday at new labour code provisions in the bill that he said are similar to those in Ontario’s Bill 148, which was recently rescinded by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government at the request of business groups.
The budget bill contains extensive changes to the Canada Labour Code, which applies to federally regulated workers in areas such as transportation, banking and telecommunications.
The CFIB issued a news release calling the changes “a giant step backwards for innovation and productivity.” Specifically, the lobby group expressed concern with changes in the bill that it says would increase worker benefits in areas such as personal leave and would require employers to provide four-days advance notice of schedules and four weeks of paid vacation after 10 years or more of service.
"This will move us backwards to the days where everyone had or wanted to have a 9-to-5 job with little flexibility to balance their needs,” Mr. Kelly said in a statement. “It is alarming that changes of this nature are included in a budget implementation bill, providing almost no opportunity for [small and medium-sized enterprises] to share their concerns.”
Véronique Simard, a spokesperson for Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, said the CFIB was consulted on the labour changes – a claim the CFIB disputes. She also said the Ontario government’s decision to repeal Bill 148 was unfair and bad for business.
“We stand by our decision to introduce these changes because we know that our economy and middle-class Canadians are better off when all workers are protected,” Ms. Simard said in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, Pierre-Olivier Herbert, a spokesperson for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, defended the size of the budget bill.
“The Budget Implementation Act we introduced only contains budget measures. We will continue to work in order to deliver the change we promised to Canadians,” he said in an e-mail.
In Wednesday’s appeal to the Speaker, Mr. Julian, the NDP finance critic, said the Liberals are pushing the boundaries of what has long been a controversial practice.
“It is impossible to do our jobs effectively with the incredible size – the almost clownish size, 850 pages – that were tabled,” said Mr. Julian, who called the bill a “monstrosity.”
“We have reached a point where this is over the line in what is acceptable in any Parliamentary democracy,” he said.