Critics complain more debate is needed on budget implementation bill, C-4

OTTAWA – Treasury Board President Tony Clement says details on how the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill will affect public servants won’t come until some time after the legislation becomes law.

Clement, responsible for negotiating contracts with the public service, refused Thursday to spell out which public servants would be deemed as essential, and therefore banned from going on strike.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, one of the country’s largest unions, warns that Bill C-4 will irreparably damage relations between the government and its employees.

The government moved Thursday to limit second-reading debate on the omnibus Budget Implementation Act, which was only introduced Tuesday, to four days before it’s sent to committee for hearings.

Once passed, the legislation would give the government exclusive right to determine essential services, and would limit the use of arbitration for resolving disputes.

Arbitration would only be allowed when bargaining units include at least 80 per cent of positions that are designated as essential, or if both sides in a dispute agree to binding arbitration.

A frustrated-sounding Clement told a local CBC Ottawa radio host Thursday he would not provide details on how he would use the new powers proposed in C-4 until after it passes.

“I am waiting for this legislation to pass and then details will come forward,” he said.

Clement argued the government needs powers to deem positions as essential for public-safety reasons.

But public service unions say the move is merely an attempt to weaken their bargaining power by cutting the number of government employees who can go on strike.

They also warn the legislation will reduce health and safety and human rights protections for government workers.

As with previous budget implementation legislation, the Harper government has included several measures in C-4 that have little to do with the budget or the country’s finances.

Among the proposed changes, the bill would extend solicitor-client privilege protections under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, and appears to give the immigration minister new powers over approving economic class applicants.

As well, it would rewrite the Supreme Court Act to declare that individuals with at least 10 years on the Quebec bar at any point in their career are eligible to sit on the high court’s benches.

That move comes as the current eight judges sitting on Canada’s top court decide whether Marc Nadon, a Federal Court of Appeal judge from Quebec whose appointment faces a legal challenge, is eligible under the rules to join their ranks.

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