With the House due to spend something like eight hours Tuesday night voting on the second budget implementation bill, a rough guide to how we arrived at this point (again).
I have this odd feeling of deja vu.
Yeah, me too.
So what’s the deal?
As has been their habit since forming government, the Conservatives tabled a second budget implementation act this fall. C-45 measures 457 pages. That’s actually five pages longer than the relatively infamous C-38. At a combined weight of more than 900 pages, this year’s budget bills are only outweighed by 2010’s tandem, which measured 1,056 pages. In all, C-45 amends all of these different pieces of legislation and creates an entirely new act to deal with the bridge from Windsor to Detroit.
Could you please neatly summarize the issues and concerns about omnibus legislation of this sort?
Well, since you asked nicely, here you go.
How has the government tried to defend itself this time?
Jim Flaherty tried to argue that everything in the bill was referenced in the spring budget. That proved problematic. For instance, here is where you were supposed to understand that the Navigable Waters Protection Act would be overhauled. Mr. Flaherty also blamed the “obstreperous nature of the opposition.”
Speaking of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, that seems to have been a particular point of concern this time, no?
Indeed. Here is John Geddes on some of the legal history in this regard. As it pertains to C-45, the NWPA was also the focus of a rather weird little incident. To rebut the government’s argument that the act had nothing to do with the environment, the NDP’s Megan Leslie pointed to an FAQ on a government website that suggested otherwise. Shortly thereafter, that FAQ disappeared and when it reappeared almost all references to the environment had been delated.
Could you point me in the direction of any highlights from the C-45 debate in the House?
Did the government side make any concessions?
The Conservatives did agree to split reforms to MP pensions from the bill after the opposition parties agreed to pass those changes. The Conservatives also sent portions of the bill to different committees for study, but not much time was actually allowed for study.
How has the opposition responded?
Scott Brison proposed 3,000 amendments at the finance committee, which kept the committee busy for a few days. Another couple thousand amendments were tabled in the House. But while it took 157 votes to dispatch with C-38, it will only require 47 votes to get through C-45 at report stage. There have also been a few unsuccessful procedural gambits and some celebrity endorsements.
So that’s that then?
Pretty much. At least until next spring, when everyone will get to do this all over again. Perhaps at some point, one side will back down or some compromise will be found—perhaps something like real study at committees and the acceptance of a few opposition amendments—but, as it stands, the template for the next few years seems to be set. So long as the government continues to table omnibus budget bills—and especially so long as those bills contain measures the opposition parties oppose—MPs on the opposition side would seem obliged to fight it with every legislative tool available.