The Liberal government’s latest budget bill includes new carbon-pricing legislation, cannabis tax rules and small-business tax changes, prompting opposition accusations that the government is once again relying on omnibus budget bills to avoid scrutiny.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced Bill C-74 on Tuesday afternoon. It is a budget implementation bill related to measures announced in his Feb. 27 budget. The government typically introduces two budget bills during the year.
Bill C-74 includes a proposed law called the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. That legislation will impose a carbon tax on consumers and large industrial emitters in those provinces that refuse to adopt their own carbon-pricing system or fail to meet federal standards. The budget bill includes many other measures and has 556 numbered pages, in addition to a 23-page opening summary.
Opposition MPs said the environmental changes should have been introduced as stand-alone legislation so the measures could be thoroughly scrutinized by Parliament.
“It clearly points to the fact that the government is embarrassed by the fact that it actually cannot justify many of the tools it has included in its pan-Canadian framework on climate change,” Conservative MP Ed Fast said. “It is now trying to basically secretly run this pollution-pricing component through without Canadians paying a lot of attention to it. But be assured, we are going to bring attention to it.”
NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said the bill is another example of the Liberal government using large budget bills to reduce the opportunity for parliamentary debate on important policy issues.
“This is another monstrous omnibus bill,” he said. “It’s completely ridiculous.”
However, the government notes the carbon-pricing plan is a levy and is properly dealt with in a budget bill.
“The budget outlined our approach to pricing pollution,” said Caroline Thériault, press secretary to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, ”and we published details in January, 2017, in the draft legislative proposals, so this should not be a surprise to anyone.”
Currently, Ottawa has indicated the federal plan will apply to Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, although conservative opposition parties in Ontario and Alberta vow to kill provincial carbon-pricing regimes in their provinces if they form government after looming elections.
The levy will kick in at $20 a tonne on Jan. 1, 2019, rising to $50 in 2022.
The Liberal Party was highly critical of the Conservative government for cramming a wide range of measures inside large budget bills. The Liberal Party platform contained a pledge to “end this undemocratic practice.”
The Liberals did successfully change some of the House of Commons rules in relation to omnibus bills last year, but included an exemption for budget bills provided that the measures in the budget bill actually do relate to the budget.
Yet last fall, House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan declared that the Liberal government had breached those new rules with a 2017 budget bill. In spite of the government’s claims last year that its budget legislation only included budget measures, the Speaker concluded that was not the case and ordered separate votes on the items that were not in the budget.
Opposition MPs said they have not yet had the time to provide a thorough analysis of the government’s latest budget bill.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been meeting with MPs and senators in Ottawa in the hope of securing amendments to the small-business tax changes that were announced in the budget and that would be officially implemented through the latest budget bill.
Governments generally aim to have budget bills reviewed and approved by the House of Commons and the Senate and receive royal assent before the summer recess in late June.