Opposition MPs prepare for battle against new Omnibus legislation in the fall

Anti-Harper sentiment mounts, Garneau and others prepare to take back Canada
Liberal MP Marc Garneau is preparing for battle against another Harper government omnibus bill in the fall. Photo from Flickr.

While the House of Commons adjourned for the summer on Thursday, opposition MPs are already busy preparing a battle plan against the Harper government in the fall.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau tabled the following motion in the Procedure and House Affairs committee:

“That the Committee begin a study into what reasonable limits should be placed on the consideration of Omnibus legislation in recognition of Parliament’s fundamental purpose to provide appropriate oversight of the Government; and that the committee report its findings, including specific recommendations for legislative measures or changes to the Standing Orders, to the House no later than Dec.10, 2012.”

In a telephone interview with The Vancouver Observer, Garneau explained that the motion originated with Green Party MP Elizabeth May's June 4 point of order to the Speaker of the House about the omnibus bill's lack of "one basic principle or purpose which ties together all the proposed enactments," which is how the official parliamentary handbook defines an omnibus bill. 

"I think we made enough noise and basically created enough public awareness that Canadians stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, something's wrong here--why is everything being crammed into one bill?'" Garneau said. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird confirmed on Tuesday that the Conservatives will present another omnibus budget bill in the fall.

No filibusters, sleepovers at Senate over Bill C-38

The Harper government's omnibus budget bill C-38 is set to sail through the Senate and become law by the end of June. The Harper government served notice on Thursday that it would limit the debate on the omnibus bill to six hours.

"We have not delayed any of these bills, and we won't," said Senator James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, to the Canadian Press. "We're not filibustering, we're not delaying anything."

This was a marked contrast to the fiery debate last week in the House of Commons, where MPs debated amendments to the bill for 22 hours over two days last week to delay the vote--a procedural tactic called a filibuster.

The main reason Liberal Senators are not delaying the vote on the bill is because they struck a deal with the Harper government in which they conducted a pre-study of the bill in exchange for letting it pass to a vote without any procedural delay tactics.

Budget implementation bills were brief, routine affairs averaging 12 pages in the 1990s according to Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press. In contrast, this 425 page bill includes not only budgetary measures, but sweeping overhauls and eliminations of existing legislation and government procedures. To be specific, it introduces, changes, or cancels more than 70 federal statutes. 

Bill C-38's biggest losers: artists, low-income Canadians, environmentalists, and immigration applicants

On the chopping block for funding are: The National Council of Welfare, the Public Appointments Commission, Rights and Democracy, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal and Assisted Human Reproduction Canada.

The bill also axes 280,000 backlogged applications under the Federal Skilled Worker Program. It's one of many major amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Applications made before 2008 will be deleted and applicants will get a refund.

Environmental reviews outsourced, National Energy Board stripped of power

The bill includes an updated Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which allows the federal government to outsource its environmental assessments to those done by other jurisdictions such as provinces. the new Act sets a deadline on assessments to two years, and the federal minister will have the power to shut down a review panel if he or she decides it won't meet the deadline. The bill gives the Harper cabinet power to override National Energy Board decisions on big development projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to BC from Alberta.

Also facing major revision is the Fisheries Act. Under the new bill, protection of fish habitats will be narrowed down to commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries in major bodies of water. Also, the definition of “serious harm” will change to include only the death of fish or “permanent” changes to or destruction of those habitats.

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May invited Conservative MPs to an open-book 'omnibus quiz' on Tuesday morning after the bill was passed in the House of Commons the night before. No Tories showed up to take the quiz.

MPs will begin the fall session in the House of Commons on September 17.

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