For the second year in a row, the Speaker of the House of Commons has chastised Finance Minister Bill Morneau for stuffing measures into a bill that were never mentioned in his budget.
Speaker Geoff Regan ruled Tuesday that measures in Mr. Morneau’s 854-page budget bill – which Mr. Regan called “massive” – related to new federal labour laws were not mentioned in the 2018 budget and will therefore be voted on separately by MPs.
The government said they were mentioned in the 2017 budget.
“I think this is a bit of a stretch,” Mr. Regan said.
The House of Commons has given the Speaker the power to order separate votes on bills – part of a Liberal Party campaign pledge to stop the misuse of omnibus bills.
However, since taking office, the Liberals have repeatedly been accused of using large omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny.
The Speaker ruled last fall that measures contained in a 2017 budget bill were not related to the budget, despite Mr. Morneau’s repeated claims that everything in the legislation was connected to the budget.
The Speaker thanked NDP finance critic Peter Julian Tuesday for raising his concern that a bill of such size limits the ability of MPs to review its contents.
“This is a massive bill, the largest budget implementation bill to date,” Mr. Regan said. “That said, the rules and practices have yet to address the issue of limits on length of legislation.”
Essentially, Mr. Regan said Parliament has not given him the authority to rule on whether a budget bill is too big.
Mr. Julian raised the Speaker’s ruling directly with Mr. Morneau on Tuesday afternoon during a meeting of the House of Commons finance committee. He said the ruling shows there is “far too much dumped in this one piece of legislation for proper scrutiny,” adding that the Speaker’s finding “flies in the face” of the Liberal Party’s commitment to end the use of undemocratic omnibus bills.
Mr. Morneau said he respects the Speaker’s decision but defended his bill.
“We did make a commitment that we would put forth budget implementation acts that only contained measures that were in our budget or in budgets,” he said. “That approach, which we committed to taking, has been followed.”
In fact, the Liberal pledge made no reference to budget bills; it contained the broad promise “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny.”
It went on to say: “[Former Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”
In a recent letter to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Morneau rejected criticism of his latest budget bill, C-86.
“At 854 pages, it is indeed long – but to suggest it is overly so is absurd,” he wrote.
By way of comparison, the government released Bill C-87, the Poverty Reduction Act, on Tuesday with significant fanfare. The legislation sets an official poverty line, establishes targets for reducing poverty and creates a national advisory council on the issue. It is six pages long.