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Parliament is scheduled to break for summer later this month and senators are facing the annual rush to approve bills from the House of Commons that the government wants passed into law before the break.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government is facing renewed criticism from senators who say they are being asked once again to pass quickly a large budget bill that is full of non-economic measures.

With Parliament scheduled to break for summer later this month, senators are facing the annual rush to approve bills from the House of Commons that the government wants passed into law before the break.

The most important bill, from the government’s perspective, is C-47, which implements parts of the March budget. The bill deals with parts of the budget that are clearly financial in nature, such as increasing certain Registered Education Savings Plan withdrawal limits and tax changes to reduce house flipping.

But senators are questioning why it also includes several changes that they say should have been introduced as stand-alone bills to allow for more detailed study and potential amendments.

On Tuesday, the Senate is scheduled to review several reports from committees that held prestudies on the bill. The Senate’s banking committee said it “continues to be concerned” by the use of budget bills to introduce large new policies, such as creating a new Canada Innovation Corporation in Bill C-47.

The report from the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee was particularly critical of the government’s approach.

The committee “repeats its concern” about large budget bills, saying the process doesn’t allow enough time for senators to review the legal changes thoroughly.

“This does a disservice to the legislative process,” the report states. “This is particularly concerning regarding amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canada Elections Act.”

One part of the bill changes the Criminal Code to allow police to seek authorization to search for “digital assets” related to proceeds of crime. Another Criminal Code change in the bill lowers the criminal rate of interest from an effective annual rate of 60 per cent to 35 per cent, in an effort to address predatory lending.

The budget bill’s changes to the Canada Elections Act require each political party to have a privacy policy in place to govern how personal information will be protected.

The changes appear to be related to a continuing court case in British Columbia over whether the provincial privacy commissioner has jurisdiction over federal political parties.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne has criticized the change, telling the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee last month that “it’s more like self-regulation,” rather than the independent oversight of political parties that he has recommended.

Progressive Senate Group Senator Pierre Dalphond, a former Quebec Court of Appeal judge, said the Liberals used to criticize the previous Conservative government for using similar tactics with budget bills.

“This is worrying,” he said in an interview. “I think it’s kind of an abuse of the parliamentary process to go that far.”

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Independent Senator Kim Pate said she’ll be proposing that the Senate send a written statement of concern to the House of Commons over the omnibus nature of budget bills.

“The idea that they have introduced criminal law reforms in a budget bill seems particularly inappropriate,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Pate said senators feel they are being placed in a difficult situation because they don’t feel as though they could reject or amend a budget bill in the same way they might deal with other government bills.

“I do think frustration about these issues is an ongoing reality, but also certainly for me personally,” she said.

Conservative Senators Denise Batters and Elizabeth Marshall share the same concerns, but they told The Globe that a Senate that is now dominated by appointees of current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau means the institution is unlikely to take a firm stand any time soon.

“We continually are making this observation year after year, and yet the Trudeau government continues to do this,” Ms. Batters said. “I hope that the time will be coming where these independent Trudeau-appointed senators start to push back against this, but I’m not sure if the time is right now.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked last week at a Senate committee by Canadian Senators Group Senator Larry Smith to comment on her government’s “troubling” practice of “jamming” many measures in omnibus budget bills.

“I would say that every measure that appears in the BIA [Budget Implementation Act] appears in the budget. So there is no obfuscation here,” Ms. Freeland told senators. “We’ve been clear and open and transparent.”

Ms. Marshall said a brief mention of a policy in a budget document doesn’t justify the government’s current approach.

“It’s true. It’s in there,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that all of those amendments should be thrown in, all together, in one big 400-page bill.”

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