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Massive new budget bill covers too much, NDP says

The federal government introduced another massive budget bill today that critics say once again covers way too much ground – everything from MP pensions to environmental controls, from tax credits to border-crossing issues.

"It's such a large bill, and once again they've thrown so much into it," finance critic Peggy Nash said of the 450-page Jobs and Growth Act.

The legislation includes changes to the pension plan for federal MPs that will eventually see them putting nearly four times as much of their own money towards retirement than they currently do.

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MP contributions will jump to about $39,000 from the present level of about $11,000, Treasury Board President Tony Clement told a news conference.

MPs will also have to wait until 65 to retire in order to collect a full pension, rather than the current retirement age of 55, Clement said.

The opposition had urged the government to hive the pension provisions off into a separate bill, but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty rejected that idea at his own news conference.

The measures in the bill were clearly outlined in the budget he brought in last March, he said.

"I hear the opposition say that, but it's really quite self-serving and it shows a lack of – it seems to me – a lack of diligence in actually studying what's in the budget," Mr. Flaherty said.

"There are no surprises here."

Opposition critics – who engineered a 24-hour voting marathon on the original omnibus bill as a form of protest in the spring – disagreed. The mammoth document repeats the sins of the first bill, they say.

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"It's a second chapter in a very cynical story for this government," said NDP House leader Nathan Cullen.

Among other things, the bill extends for one year a hiring credit for small business, expands tax breaks for clean-energy investments and phases out tax preferences for the mining and oil and gas sectors.

There are also measures on governing financial institutions and provisions to facilitate cross-border travel, removing red tape for grain farmers, supporting commercial aviation and making additional changes to the Environmental Assessment Act.

Mr. Flaherty said the pension changes are going to cost him money personally, although he wasn't sure just how much.

"I'm not in this for the money," he said.

Mr. Clement says the changes will move public service and MP pension contributions to a 50-50 split, similar to private sector plans.

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"This is doing the right thing," he said.

The changes, he said, will save taxpayers $2.6-billion over five years.

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