OTTAWA – Efforts by opposition parties to amend the Conservative government’s latest omnibus budget bill culminated with around six hours of voting Tuesday.
Bill C-45 rings in at over 400 pages and like its predecessors makes changes to a myriad of rules and regulations, some that were explicitly in the Conservatives’ last budget and some that weren’t.
As the final group of amendments proposed by the opposition went to a vote late Tuesday night, the NDP began to chant “2015,” a reference to the next federal election, which is when they say the Harper government will be held accountable for the bill.
“Conservatives may have destroyed much tonight but Canadians will ultimately win!,” tweeted NDP MP Peter Julian.
The Conservative majority government allowed none of the amendments to pass.
“And the winner is — the economy, jobs and long-term prosperity,” tweeted Tory MP Laurie Hawn seconds after the vote concluded.
“Some will feel free to disagree, that’s okay.”
Among those who disagree with several measures in the bill are some First Nations chiefs.
They are frustrated with what they say is a lack of consultation over measures in the bill and had attempted earlier Tuesday to get in the chamber of the House of Commons.
They spoke briefly with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, saying they were there to serve notice to government they wouldn’t tolerate being ignored any longer.
When Oliver left, the chiefs tried to force their way in but were held back by security.
Among the provisions in Bill C-45 are an extension of a hiring credit for small businesses, changes to land management on aboriginal reserves, pay raises for judges and a law allowing for the creation of a new bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.
The most contentious changes are those to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which remove thousands of lakes and streams from federal protection under that law.
Opposition parties say that removes environmental oversight of these waterways and the manner in which the law will continue to be applied is haphazard.
“Important lakes and rivers in my region are being stripped of protection,” said New Democrat MP Glen Thibeault, who represents Sudbury, Ont.
“Meanwhile, Muskoka millionaires’ playgrounds are protected while lakes that supply drinking water are not. Will no Conservative stand up for our natural heritage and vote against this cherry-picking of protected lakes?”
The Conservatives said the changes streamline regulation and remove red tape that held up projects along waterways under the guise that they would impede navigation.
Many waterways will still fall under the environmental protection afforded by other laws, Transportation Minister Denis Lebel said.
“My department has consulted with every province and territory on the list of waterways,” he said.
“None of them have any concerns with the list.”
Thousands of amendments to the bill were introduced during its study by the finance committee but only a few hundred made it to Tuesday’s vote.
All were grouped by the Speaker in such a way that voting was expected to take as much as eight hours.
Once the bill receives a third reading in the Commons, it will move on to the Senate with the expectation that it will become law before the end of the year.
In the end, the six hour vote was far less than MPs spent on the last omnibus budget bill.
That bill, introduced in the spring, saw MPs vote for over 22 hours on hundreds of opposition amendments.
The bill eventually passed unchanged.
Opposition MPs say the use of omnibus bills subverts the democratic process as they don’t give Parliament the ability to do its job in holding government to account.
“This omnibus budget bill is yet another example of the Conservatives steam-rolling democracy to force unpopular, non-budgetary measures through Parliament at record speed without the necessary scrutiny,” said Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.
The Conservatives say the measures are all necessary for the economy and note that this bill was broken up for study in several different committees.
They accuse the opposition parties of standing in the way of economic growth.
“The ultimate goal they have is to kill our key economic measures,” said Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
“But we will act to ensure that Canada’s preserves our economic advantage.”