Canadian Manufacturing

Flaherty opens omnibus budget bill committee scrutiny

MPs will still make a single vote on the bill, even though it contains a collection of measures, some of which opposition parties oppose, others they support.

OTTAWA—The Harper government has made another small concession to allow greater scrutiny of its massive, omnibus budget implementation bill.

It agreed to a Liberal proposal Wednesday to allow nine House of Commons committees—not just the finance committee—to examine different aspects of the 400-plus-page bill.

The bill changes legislation in 60 acts, many of which impact how Canadian companies do business, including the Canadian Labour Code and the Canada Shipping Act. Among other things, it kills off independent tribunals that examine such things as employment insurance premiums and hazardous materials in the workplace.

Sectors impacted by the omnibus bill include agriculture, environment, fisheries and oceans, justice, public service pension reform, immigration, public safety, transport, health, industry and finance.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair pushed the government to go further and split the bill into 12 separate legislative chunks, each to be voted on separately.

His motion did not receive the necessary unanimous consent.

Even the Liberals, who won the concession on multiple committee studies, admitted it was a tiny step that should not be interpreted as respect for parliamentary democracy.

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison noted that MPs will still be forced to make a single vote on the bill, even though it contains a diverse collection of measures, some of which opposition parties oppose, others of which they support.

This is the second omnibus bill the Conservatives have introduced to implement last March’s budget. The first mammoth bill last spring triggered an opposition filibuster that brought Parliament to a virtual standstill for several days.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae refused to rule out employing similar tactics to stall the second bill. He said his party’s approach will depend on the government’s willingness to accept amendments.

Flaherty said the government would look at hiving off portions that opposition parties care to pass unanimously. He made no mention of accepting amendments to parts of the bill for which there is no unanimous support.

Most controversially, the bill continues the government’s agenda to reduce regulatory obstacles to development, sharply reducing project approvals required under the Navigable Waters Protection Act and making further changes to environmental assessment laws.

It exempts entirely the planned new Windsor-Detroit bridge from a range of federal laws under which permits, approvals or authorizations would normally be required.

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