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Despite dogged opposition, Tory budget bill heads for final vote

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty give a thumbs up as they enter the House of Commons to deliver the federal budget on March 29, 2012.

Dave Chan/dave chan The Globe and Mail

The House of Commons has begun its final deliberations on the massive Conservative government budget bill that will overhaul environment assessment legislation and change many other aspects of Canadian law.

The 425-page bill is expected to be passed by the House of Commons before the end of the day Monday. Although the Senate has been studying the legislation at the same time it was before the House, it could take until late June or early July to get through the Red Chamber before heading to the Governor-General for royal assent.

In an 11th-hour attempt to delay the bill's passage in the Commons, NDP finance critic Peggy Nash moved what is called a "reasoned amendment" that would wipe out the entire legislation and replace it with language that condemns what the government is trying to do.

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"We've heard from expert testimony, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer at the finance committee, that this budget implementation act will worsen unemployment and be a drag on our economic growth," Ms Nash told the House.

And if the Conservatives are "so confident of what the government is doing in this omnibus bill," Ms. Nash said, "why don't they have the courtesy and honesty to Canadians to break it up and allow for a full and honest debate throughout this country?"

But her amendment stands no chance of getting passed by the Conservative majority and, because the government has invoked time allocation on the final debate, it is unlikely to create any significant postponement of the legislation's passage in the House.

The opposition parties argue there has not been enough time to fully study the ramifications of such a large bill and they say the government is lumping the hundreds of disparate measures into one piece of legislation as a way of avoiding scrutiny.

Much of the bill will require additional regulations before it takes full effect. But the more than 700 clauses cover a gamut of issues under federal jurisdiction and many of them are aimed at smoothing the path of development – especially the oil and gas industries.

Shelly Glover, the Manitoba Conservative MP who is parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, started the final round of debate by saying the bill will help Canadians across the country secure jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

"We need this legislation to keep our economy strong," Ms. Glover said, "especially when events in Europe remind us that the global economic outlook remains fragile."

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All opposition parties had urged the government to break the bill into smaller chunks for further study but their requests were rejected. A separate sub-committee of the finance committee was permitted to study the environmental changes, which took up about a third of the legislation.

The opposition also introduced hundreds of amendments that prompted nearly 24 hours of voting in the House last week but the government successfully defeated every one of them.

Bill C-38 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.

Among a host of other things, it will also:

  • allow U.S. federal law enforcement agents participating in cross-border operations to arrest Canadians on Canadian soil;
  • eliminate the office of the Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which monitors CSIS’s compliance with its policies;
  • repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which compels contractors bidding on federal contracts to pay fair wages and overtime;
  • and amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to eliminate a backlog of 280,000 applications under the federal skilled-worker program.
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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