Opposition members say the effects of a federal budget bill that is in its final stages in the House of Commons will be felt by Canadians for years to come and will serve as a stark reminder of Conservative tactics when the country next goes to the polls.
MPs were preparing Wednesday for an all-night voting session – the first in more than 10 years – to get through more than 800 amendments proposed by the opposition to Bill C-38.
The chance that any Conservative MP would break ranks with the majority government to vote for the amendments, or that the Tories would accidentally allow an amendment to pass, was slim. Even going in, the round-the-clock voting appeared unlikely to have any material effect on the bill that opposition members say has received too little scrutiny.
But NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Wednesday that the effort will still be remembered.
The effect of the budget bill "is not something that is going to be seen in three days, it's something that people will see and take notice of year after year," he told reporters. "So we are going to stand up today, we're going to vote for these votes. People will find it a long and arduous process. But we'll be putting a circle around this day. People will take notice of what the government is doing."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, on the other hand, declared the opposition response to the bill to be nothing more than posturing.
"The bill is the economic policy of the government," he told reporters. "It's the big plan for the government for the next decade. It's a generational plan. So it's not about bits and pieces. It's about the big picture."
Among other things, the legislation will increase the age when Canadians can collect Old Age Security, change the eligibility for Employment Insurance, eliminate a number of public agencies, and reduce the number of environmental assessments that will be required before development can proceed. This is seen as a precursor to the approval of oil pipelines that the Harper government is backing to carry bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the West Coast and the United States.
On Wednesday, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May joined the New Democrats and the Liberals at a news conference on Parliament Hill to protest the bill. It featured Bonnie and Gord Johnston of Sundre, Alta., whose 23-hectare farm was contaminated last week when a pipeline broke.
"As the decision makers go forward," Ms. Johnston said tearfully, "I hope that they will remember that those decisions that they make impact people like us and our community as well."