Enter the omnibuget sequel: Politics on TV, Oct. 18 edition

Talking about the Omnibus Budget Bill sequel and its changes to navigable waters protection and MP pensions

Message of the day

“There are no surprises in this bill.”

Questions not answered

  • Where is the section on navigable waters in the budget?
  • What has the Cabinet Priorities and Planning Sub-Committee on Government Administration been up to?

Omnibus Budget Bill 2:

Power Play led off with Jim Flaherty, who said that the length of the omnibus budget bill means nothing, and that it’s primarily a tax bill – three of the four parts are all tax measures, which are intricate and complex, and take up a lot of space. Part of the changes will be scaling back certain tax credits in order to simplify the tax code, including doing away with subsidies to the oil and gas industry. When asked why he wouldn’t carve MP pensions out of the bill, he said that they are part of the budget.

Flaherty was later on Power & Politics, where he surlily said that they’ve already split up the budget implementation into two parts – the bill in the spring and this one. When asked about the ongoing feud with the PBO, Flaherty indicated he was willing to go to court rather than turn over the data on the cuts to his department.

Hannah Thibedeau interviewed Thomas Mulcair on Power & Politics, where he focused his condemnation of the omnibus bill on the sections that deal with changing the Navigable Waters Act, saying that they were not in the budget. He said that his party has been calling for small business tax reductions for a while, and that R&D tax credits need more predictability. He said that he would support splitting the MP pensions portion out of the bill to fast track it – so long as the proposal went before a Blue Ribbon panel to decide what the pensions should be.

Mulcair was later on Power Play, where he added that provinces wouldn’t be able to pick up the slack on navigable waters protection because it’s always been federal jurisdiction.

Navigable Waters Protection Act changes:

Power & Politics gave a briefing on the changes to the Act in the bill, which narrows down the number of rivers and lakes that the federal government is responsible for to a small list, leaving the rest to be monitored by provinces, territories and municipalities. These changes affect future projects, not those presently under consideration. Thibedeau followed that up with Elizabeth May, who considers the changes to be the destruction of the Act, and that it signals a full-on retreat from federal responsibility for waters protected since the 1800s. She does, however, like that the changes give greater precision to laws around derelict vessels.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Tom Flanagan considered the changes to be getting back to what the Fathers of Confederation intended with the Act – that it was about navigation, not the waters themselves, which are the domain of environmental legislation. John Ivison was surprised these changes weren’t included in the spring bill, where they could be better buried. Brad Lavigne wondered if this wouldn’t cause a decline in Conservative support among conservationists.

MP Pensions:

On Power Play, Tony Clement called the changes “good news for taxpayers.” The changes mean MP contributions go from 14 per cent to 50, phased in from 2013 to 2017, and that starting January 1, 2016, the eligibility age increases from 55 to 65. For the public service, their contributions move from 37 per cent to 50, and their age of eligibility moves from 60 to 65 for new hires. Clement defended the Economic Action Plan ad spending as promoting different parts of the plan, and said he continues to look for other restraint measures.

Clement was later on Power & Politics, where he became very cagey when asked questions about the Cabinet Priorities and Planning Sub-Committee on Government Administration, and wouldn’t provide any answers.

Don Martin spoke with Alexandre Laurin of the CD Howe Institute, who said that the pension changes give parliamentarians the moral authority to bring all federal public service pensions into a 50-50 contribution rate. Laurin added that these changes still aren’t at parity with average Canadians because 50 per cent of MP pay is tax-sheltered, as opposed to the 18 per cent that most Canadians get with their RSPs.

Thibedeau hosted an MP panel of Shelly Glover, Peggy Nash and Scott Brison to discuss the pension moves. Glover said the PM has taken the Liberal suggestion to hive off the pension section to speed it through under advisement, but they aren’t sure the NDP will be on board. She also said they will welcome other committees to study various sections of the bill. Nash reiterated her party’s call for an independent review of MP pensions because no other group gets to decide on their own pensions. Brison said changes to the navigable waters have precious little to do with fiscal policy.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Liza Frulla said that an independent committee would be better off looking at the issue of pensions because it starts affecting the level of people politics an attract – a concern Flanagan didn’t share. Ivison said some MPs might not want to take the hit of their pensions if they wanted to get out of the game before the next election. Brad Lavigne said that politicians should never decide on their own compensation.

Bell/Astral merger rejected:

The CRTC shot down the proposed between Bell and Astral Media, saying the threat of foreign competition was not significant enough for this merger to benefit Canada and would require elaborate new safeguards to be constructed to ensure competition, and that they were concerned that Bell would be able to use its market power to engage in anti-competitive behaviour. Don Martin spoke to Chris Waddell, director of Carleton University’s journalism school, who expressed some surprise in the decision because up until this point, the CRTC has rarely taken the issue of consolidation seriously. He said this change could mean that the CRTC may start to take consumer concerns more seriously, and that it remains to be seen if this decision comes back to haunt the opponents of the merger.

Final report of the NRTEE:

Don Martin assembled an MP panel of Michelle Rempel, Robert Chisholm and Elizabeth May, to discuss the final report of the National Round Table on Environment and the Economy. May, a former vice-chair of NRTEE, noted that the report talks about the enormous potential of the low-carbon economy, and Chisholm added that it concludes that the government ignoring climate change could cost the economy $87 billion. Rempel avoided the temptation to use the phrase “job-killing carbon tax,” and instead talked about how smart regulation was seeing tangible results and that the country is halfway to its Copenhagen goals. Rempel noted the country’s wealth of research capacity in the green economy and that the government was investing in these technologies.