Last Friday, the Government tabled another “large”(359 pages) Omnibus Budget bill, which had little to do with the 2014 Budget. No one was surprised because this has been the practice of this Government since it was elected in 2006. What matters for the Conservative government is the amount of legislation that gets passed, not the “quality” of the legislation. The most recent example of this, among a long list of bad legislation, is the so-called Fair Election Act.

The possibility that legislation will end up in the Supreme Court of Canada and ultimately rejected seems unimportant to this Government. The rejection of the nomination of Mr. Nadon as well as the attempt to change the “Constitution” regarding the appointment of Quebec Supreme Court Justices in the second 2013 Budget Omnibus bill was “unexpected” by the government. To this Government, the Constitution is an unpleasant impediment to their ideological goals.

Ever since being elected in 2006, the Government has shown contempt for Parliament and by extension, Canadians. This might be considered “acceptable” for a minority government, but why should a majority government be afraid and contemptuous of Parliament and it’s committees? In the end, a majority government can always gets what it wants. Despite this, it appears, that the Government, by avoiding debate and discussion in Parliament on individual legislation, is not sure of its own policies and its ability to defend them in a public debate.

This Government’s use of Omnibus bills continues to be very disturbing. It is an affront to Parliament and to Canadians.

An Omnibus Bill brings together in a single bill, “all legislative amendments resulting from a policy decision to facilitate parliamentary debate”.
For a proposed policy initiative to be included in a Budget Omnibus Bill, there must be some reference to it in the Budget, indicating that the Government is proposing a change to an existing piece of legislation or proposing a new initiative.

Preferably, the language in the Budget should be quite explicit in describing the proposed policy change(s).  Without such a reference, it should not be included in the budget bill, but presented in separate legislation. In recent years this has not been the case. References in the Budget have become increasingly obtuse, vague and even non-existent.

Little information is provided, making it is very difficult in reading the budget documents to fully contemplate what the Government is actually proposing to do.  The details of the proposed changes are then provided the Budget Omnibus Bill, or in some cases in regulations following the passage of the Budget Omnibus Bill.

The Omnibus Bill for Budget 2007 should have given us a warning of what was to come. In Budget 2007, the Government announced its intention to undertake borrowings for three of its Crown corporations.  In Annex 3 of the Budget Plan, the Government proposed to amend the Financial Administration Act (FAA) to provide greater transparency and accountability regarding its borrowing activities and increase its flexibility to meet future borrowing needs, particularly with the respect to the consolidation of Crown borrowings.  In the Budget Omnibus Bill, the Government interpreted these “statements” as allowing it to eliminate the FAA requirement for a Borrowing Authority Act whenever it needed to borrow new funds. In other words, without any debate, the Government did away with the legislative requirement that the Government seek approval from Parliament to borrow money. This eliminated a key provision of Parliamentary control over government financing. 

In the March 2013 Budget  the Government indicated that it would “propose changes to the labor relations regime” without providing any details on what this would entail. Details on changes to the federal labor laws and procedures would only be provided after the Omnibus Bill received Royal Assent.  How were Parliamentarians supposed to debate the merits of these changes without the details?  

The current Budget Omnibus Bill contains provisions, which dissolves the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Board.  However, Budget 2014 only stated, “the Government will refocus its innovation programs delivered through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.”  There is no mention of the dissolutions.

Budget 2014 is also silent on the amendments to the Nordion and Theratronics Divestiture Authorization Act, payments to compensate veterans for deductions for certain benefits, amendments to the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, and changes to the Old Age Security Act, among almost 40 proposed legislative changes.  If that is not enough, the Bill also proposes amendments to previous budget bills.   
The inclusion of non-related budget measures clearly violates the spirit and intent of budget legislation.  These measures should be presented in stand-alone legislation and debated by the appropriate committees of the House and Senate, rather than being buried, without sufficient details, in a Budget Omnibus Bill.   Allowing these measures to be included in the budget bill undermine the credibility of the Budget process and the authority of Parliament.

In examining the current Budget Omnibus Bill, Opposition members should ask the government officials appearing as witnesses to identify the reference in Budget 2014 giving rise to the measure in  the Bill.  Any proposed legislative change that is not properly referenced in the budget should be brought to the attention of the Speaker of the House for a ruling.

There is a clear lack of transparency and accountability in the budget process. There is need to restore the role of Parliament and its committees in assessing and reviewing proposed legislation. Without sufficient information and a clear intention of the proposed initiatives, Parliament and its committees cannot properly assess the Budget; parliamentary debate is stifled; public opinion is ignored; and, the implementation of good public policy prevented.

Stay tuned for the second part of the 2014 Budget Omnibus Bill.




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