Feds fast-track Bill C-38

Bill amends jobs, environmental assessments and changes to old age security.

May 4, 2012   by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA: A federal budget bill that makes sweeping changes to facets of Canadian life will be swiftly pushed through the House of Commons so it can be passed by the summer.

The Conservatives passed a motion Thursday that will limit second-reading debate on Bill C-38 to seven days, infuriating critics who said it was far too little time to discuss the implications of the broad, 425-page bill.

Bill C-38, which the government calls the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, implements some of the provisions outlined in the recent federal budget, including changes to old age security.

But it also amends about 60 laws, eliminates a half dozen others and rewrites the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

“The number of measures that are going to fundamentally change how Canada works, and doesn’t work in fact, are all in this budget bill,” said New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen. “It’s an abuse of their power. It’s an abuse of this mechanism. And the government knows it.”

The Conservatives argue that far-ranging bills of its kind have been handled this way before, pointing to time allocation invoked by past Liberal governments on their budget bills.

They also argued they were devoting more time to debate at second reading for a budget implementation bill than has ever been allocated before.

“We think that’s a good thing because we think the priority for Canadians is the economy,” House Leader Peter Van Loan said. “We want to see a focus on the economy. We know there has not been a lot of debate on the economy in the House and we’re happy to be able to bring that to them.”

Van Loan said the Conservatives were elected to focus on the economy, but the Opposition New Democrats said the government has no mandate for much of what’s in the budget.

“If they had confidence in each of these measures—cutting back on retirement for Canadians, on stripping down environmental legislation, on getting rid of pay equity in Canada—if they had any confidence on any of those measures, they would break them apart,” said Cullen.

“The fact that they’ve lumped them into an omnibus bill is hiding their true agenda and the true fact of what they’re up to.”

At the least, the Opposition wants to see the bill split up so relevant committees can examine different sections, as opposed to having the finance committee study all of it.

But the Conservatives have said they’ll only strike a sub-committee on the clauses pertaining to changes to the environmental assessment act, because they believe only they deserve close scrutiny.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May said she was skeptical much could be achieved in that committee because it is still made up of MPs who don’t focus on environmental issues.

“These are not the right places for substantive overhauls,” she said.

Meanwhile, senators will pre-study the bill and have agreed to parcel out some portions of it to their own committees, including the provisions on immigration reforms, financial sector oversight and border measures.

Pre-studying means they will be able to formally debate and vote on the bill as soon as it is sent over from the Commons.

A second budget implementation bill is expected in the fall.