Another omnibus budget is flying under the radar

It’s been quite a week on Parliament Hill with most of the attention being paid to the Senate while the House of Commons largely evaded the headlines.  That might change with another omnibus budget implementation bill.  With time allocation immediately put in place, there is no chance this legislation receives appropriate study and oversight and, just like the movie Groundhog Day, we seem to live the same debates again and again with Conservative budgets.

Among the items included in the ‘budget’ bill are measures that fundamentally change your right to a healthy and safe workplace.  It strips the powers that health and safety officers have under the Canada Labour Code and hands them to the Minister.  This will significantly weaken the ability of employees to refuse work in unsafe conditions and should be seen as a huge step back in time.

The bill attacks our federal Public Service by eliminating binding arbitration to resolve disputes and takes aim at fair grievance procedures, equitable arbitration proceedings, and other fundamental workers’ rights.  It guts the National Research Council board and gives more power to a Chairperson hand-picked by the Conservatives.   It also reduces the Veterans Review and Appeal Board but does nothing to improve the Conservatives’ deplorable record on veterans’ affairs.  

The pattern of concentration of power in the hands of a few Ministers is a central feature of the bill. It repeals the Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Act and eliminates the independent arm’s length crown corporations and replaces them with a fund controlled directly by the Minister.  Additionally, the bill repeals the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board and gives the Minister of Finance the power to play politics with rate setting which breaks a Conservative promise to have an arm’s length body oversee EI financing. 

In stark contrast to government claims, this omnibus legislation raises taxes by $350 million on Labour sponsored venture capital funds.  That is despite strong opposition from the venture capital community and the fact that Canada has an identified lack of venture capital funding.  It shows the Conservatives cannot pass any opportunity to pick a fight with Labour – even when they are creating jobs and only hurts our ability to start and grow businesses.

These are just a few items from a lengthy list that could easily be split into multiple pieces of legislation.  Instead, debate has been limited to mere hours and Canadians are being asked to take a leap of faith in a government that has consistently hidden most of its dirty work in these huge budget bills.  The concentration of power in the hands of a few Cabinet Ministers reduces oversight and accountability which are supposed to be flagship principles for this government. Time and again we see they aren’t. 

To cement that last point the Conservatives voted down a New Democrat motion this week that would have led to more openness and accountability by putting an end to the partisan activities of Senators and to limiting their travel allowance to activities clearly and directly related to Parliamentary business.    It shows that they view the Senate scandal as a one-off and really just want to protect their interests instead of achieving some gains in transparency and accountability.