Conservative omnibus tactics "make a mockery of Parliament": Cullen
Posted: Oct 5th, 2012
Opposition MPs warn that Conservatives are using their majority hold on the government to strangle debate over their next omnibus bill.
"Anything the government doesn't want the public to know about, it's on the list. And it's a pretty long list when it comes to the Conservatives," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.
Cullen, a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and House Leader for the Official Opposition, sat in a confidential meeting that quietly killed a motion to study limits on omnibus bills late Thursday afternoon.
Membership in House committees are determined by the composition of parliament. The Standing Committee has twelve MP members. There are seven Conservatives, four NDP, and one Liberal.
"They might be enjoying their power and using it to ram things through, but they shouldn't be doing things that further erodes the trust between public and elected officials," Cullen said.
"It just makes a mockery of Parliament."
Cullen and the NDP not "diligent": Peter Van Loan
Conservative Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Peter Van Loan responded to Cullen's allegations, accusing him of a lack of diligence.
"The NDP announced they would vote against the budget before they even read it. I see that once again, the NDP House Leader has already made up his mind about what the contents of legislation are before he even sees it. Canadians deserve a higher level of diligence from their Parliamentarians," Van Loan told The Vancouver Observer.
When asked whether he thought studying the limits of omnibus bills was a valuable use of MPs' time, Van Loan said that the Standing Committee is free to study what it wished.
"The Procedure and House Affairs Committee is master of its own work and I'll leave it to the members of the Committee to determine what they study," he said.
Conservatives' use of omnibus bill increasingly under scrutiny
The size and scope of omnibus bills have come under increasing scrutiny from NDP, Liberal and Green Party MPs since they have become the preferred method of enacting, amending, and repealing acts for the majority Harper government.
The latest omnibus bill C-38 was passed in the spring, a bill with over 400 pages making sweeping changes to Canada's environmental assessment laws, reviews of major energy and oil projects, wild fish habitat protection, and slashed immigration backlogs.
Opposition MPs held a 22 hour marathon voting session on bill C-38 with hundreds of amendments, none of which were voted through in the Conservative-controlled House of Commons.
With another omnibus looming in the House this fall, this latest move in the Standing Affairs committee doesn't surprise opposition MPs like Cullen. NDP, Liberal and Green MPs say they've observed a trend of Conservative MPs refusing to engage in debate about the implications of using omnibus bills as the primary method of getting things done in Parliament.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who proposed the motion to study the limits on omnibus bills in the House Affairs committee, said that omnibus bills are harmful to democracy because they obscure where MPs stand on distinct issues. He cited as an example the issue of MP pension reform, which the Liberal Party would support if it were introduced as a standalone bill.
"There's an example where we want Canadians to see clearly what each MP's position was, but if its buried in an omnibus bill they will not know what individual MPs' positions are," Garneau said.
An omnibus bill is a legislation that amends, repeals, or enacts several Acts with “one basic principle or purpose", according to the official House rulebook. However, there is currently no limit on the size or scope of an omnibus bill, nor is there a precise definition.
Conservative MP Joe Preston, chair of the Standing Committee on House Affairs, did not respond to questions about his views on the motion and its relevance to Canadian democracy.
Another Conservative MP and member of the same Standing Committee John Williamson cited his comments in The Hill Times to the question of whether limits on omnibus bills need to be reviewed.
"No, I do not, this is practice that has been used by this government and previous governments and I expect it will be used by future governments as well," he told The Hill Times.