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COMMENT: Democracy loses

The Conservative government tabled the Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act on October 18, 2012. It became law on December 14, 2012.

Bill C-45 was the second omnibus budget bill passed in 2012. The first omnibus budget bill was Bill C-38: Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act, which became law in June 2012. The Bills are intended to implement the provisions of the Conservative government’s March 29, 2012 budget.

Omnibus is taken from the Latin to mean ‘for everything’. Like Bill C-38, Bill C-45 is much more than a budget implementation bill. The 414 page Bill has more than 60 measures that change federal laws and regulations. Among the measures most likely to impact Canadians is the replacement of the Navigable Waters Protection Act with the Navigation Protection Act. Other amendments change the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Canada Labour Code. Bill C-45 also creates two new laws – one to enable the planned bridge between Windsor and Detroit and one to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board.

Like Bill C-38, Bill C-45 was widely criticized by Canadians from all walks of life for the broad, sweeping effects to our quality of life. It was also strongly denounced for the lack of proper parliamentary debate, citizen information or discussion, and consultation with the parties most directly impacted.

Implications for Democracy

Bill C-45 was brought into law without proper parliamentary process or recognition of the democratic and constitutionally-based rights of Canadians.  The Bill passed in spite of 1,600 amendments from opposition parties in the House of Commons and efforts by the NDP Official Opposition to have the vote thrown out at third reading due to process irregularities.

Omnibus budget bills are an undemocratic and sloppy way to govern.

Like C-38, Bill C-45 is intended to implement the March 29, 2012 budget. But the Bill contains mostly non-fiscal measures that are unrelated to the budget.  Nowhere is the replacement of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, weakening of the Canada Labour Code, or changes to the Indian Act identified in the March 2012 budget. Changes to laws and regulations have significant impact on Canadians. When they are tucked into Bill C-45 without any budgetary basis, rationale, or open discussion, they show the Conservative government’s secretive and undemocratic way of governing.

Omnibus bills have been soundly rejected by Canadians from all walks of life.  Bill C-45 like Bill C-38 contained too many unrelated and unrationalized measures to be properly assessed and debated in the House of Commons and with Canadians.

Hasty, ill-conceived, and poorly considered legislation is likely to contain errors or omissions as well as undermine the interests of Canadians. As discussed throughout this review, this is in fact the case. Bill C-45 contains several amendments to legislation that had been approved just six months before in omnibus budget Bill C-38. For example, amendments brought forth in C-45 associated with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 which was passed in Bill C-38, are examples of the problems that arise when too many non-evaluated measures are included in one bill.

On October 30, 2012, the Public Service Alliance Canada joined the chorus of opposition parties, environmental, scientific and indigenous groups, and other Canadians calling for Bill C-45 to be split up and debated separately.  In fact, this is what the government did to avoid any delay in the Bill being passed by the Conservative dominated Senate. This same process was not followed for the House of Commons despite the Prime Minister’s own past criticisms of omnibus budget bills.

In 1994, Stephen Harper asked that the Liberal government’s 21-page omnibus budget bill be thrown out on a point of order. Eight years later, as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has shown disdain for Canadian democracy by pushing two omnibus budget bills through Parliament totalling more than 800 pages and changes to more than 120 laws and regulations.

This is not good for democracy.

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.