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Another budget, another contemptuous Tory omnibus bill

Finance Minister Joe Oliver responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Harper government tabled yet another monster omnibus budget bill last week. Not do be outdone, here is yet another editorial decrying these overstuffed bills and their contemptuous disregard for Parliament.

Omnibus budget bills should not be one of those bad habits that, through force of repetition, become tolerated, like looking at your cellphone while driving. They are an outrage. They usurp Parliament's most important role, that of oversight, by lumping a variety of legislative matters into a single bill.

For instance, Bill C-59, the latest instalment, covers some issues related to taxation and finance that were announced in the recent federal budget, which is normal. But added to them are changes to veterans' benefits, the creation of a new Parliament Hill police force and an act to allow security officials to seize the passports of suspected terrorists, among other things.

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As bad as it is, this is far from the worst example of Tory bill-bundling. Bill C-59 is a svelte 157 pages. The Conservatives have tabled whoppers of more than 450 pages three times. In 2010, they dropped an 880-pager on Parliament.

The Harper government's omnishambolic budgeting starkly contradicts the Prime Minister's own views on the practice. In 1994, when the Liberal government tabled an omnibus bill, Stephen Harper, then a Reform MP, correctly pointed out that the "bill will ultimately go to only one committee of the House, a committee that will inevitably lack the breadth of expertise required for consideration of a bill of this scope."

The bill in question was 21 pages long. The latest Conservative one, eight times as long, should go to a number of committees for proper study – Public Safety and National Security, Veterans Affairs, Finance, for example. Instead, it will be pushed through the Commons, a single committee and an obliging Senate before Parliament rises in June.

In doing so, the Conservatives will further cement an ugly precedent. There is little any more to stop any party that forms a government from going on its own omnibus tear – little aside from a party leader's conscience and his or her respect for the supremacy of Parliament in Canada's democratic life. Let's hope these aren't quaint notions.

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