OTTAWA - A Conservative MP says plenty of government backbenchers share opposition concerns about the wide array of controversial measures crammed into the massive budget implementation bill.
But British Columbia MP David Wilks says there's nothing a lone member can do to defeat the bill or force the Harper government to split up its 425 pages.
Wilks made the comments during a meeting Tuesday with a small group of constituents in his Kootenay-Columbia riding.
Portions of the meeting were videotaped and posted online Wednesday, prompting Wilks to quickly backtrack.
In the video, Wilks is urged by several constituents to vote against the omnibus budget bill, which features a host of non-budgetary measures including changes to the environmental assessment process, Old Age Security, immigration and Employment Insurance rules.
But Wilks says without similar defiance from at least a dozen fellow Tories, voting against the bill would be an empty gesture that would get him booted out of the Conservative caucus.
"Me doesn't change the budget," he tells the constituents. "If I stand up and say 'no,' it still passes."
Pressed by one woman to break party ranks and represent the views of his constituents on the bill, Wilks responds: "If you want me as an independent, I'll do that."
In the candid exchange, Wilks reveals frustration over the way in which the bill has been presented.
"I think you'll find a barrage of Conservatives do hold your concerns and I am one of them," he says. "I do believe some of (the provisions) should be separated out."
Opposition parties have dubbed the legislation a "Trojan Horse bill," designed to sneak through a host of controversial changes to a wide array of programs with little individual scrutiny. But Wilks is the first Conservative MP to echo those concerns.
Shortly after the video surfaced, Wilks was back-pedalling.
"I wish to clarify my position with regard to Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act," Wilks said in a statement posted on his website.
"I support this bill and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians in Kootenay-Columbia and right across the country."
Spokesmen for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty declined to comment, saying Wilks' statement speaks for itself.
But in the video, Wilks has little good to say about the budget. Rather, he appears to agree with many of the concerns expressed by his constituents and spends considerable time explaining to that he has no choice but to support C-38 because party discipline is rigidly applied to budget bills.
"There's no argument ... It doesn't make it right but this is what happens in Ottawa."
He says it "concerns some of us backbenchers" that they're not consulted in advance about legislation and have little opportunity, apart from 10 minutes each week during caucus meetings, to give their input. He notes that individual MPs can speak privately to cabinet ministers but suggests even that is fruitless.
"At the end of the day, in my opinion, they've made up their mind ... One MP is not going to make a difference."
Here's a look at some of the measures in the bill's 400-plus pages. It's not an exhaustive list, so be warned: there will be another budget bill in the fall.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em>. (CP)
The government wants a "one project, one review" environmental assessment system, so it is repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replacing it with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. It allows the federal government to designate an assessment to another jurisdiction, such as a province, and for another jurisdiction's assessment to substitute for a federal one. It sets out time limits for the completion of reviews and the minister will have the power to shut down a review panel if he thinks it won't finish on time.
E-I, E-I - OH? 'SUITABLE WORK?'
Employment insurance claimants are required to demonstrate they are actively seeking "suitable work" in order to receive payments. C-38 removes definitions of "suitable work" from the Employment Insurance Act and gives the federal cabinet the power to create new regulations about what constitutes suitable work and reasonable efforts to find work. The budget bill gives no details about what the new criteria will be. It also makes changes to how payments are calculated, to pay claimants based on their "best 14 weeks" of employment.
LIGHTER LOAD FOR AUDITOR GENERAL
Auditor General Michael Ferguson will no longer be required to annually audit several agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Northern Pipeline Agency and the Canadian Polar Commission. The agencies must submit annual financial reports to the minister instead. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says this move was made at the request of the auditor general.
CHARITY RULE CHANGES
C-38 proposes amendments to the Income Tax Act's rules around political activities of charities. Charities aren't supposed to spend more than 10 per cent of their budgets on political advocacy. Under C-38, donating to a charity could be considered a political activity if the donation can "reasonably be considered" to be for the sole purpose of supporting political activities. So, if one charity gives money to another charity for political purposes, it would count toward the donor's 10 per cent limit, not just the recipient's total. It also gives the minister of national revenue the power to withhold tax receipts from a charity or association if it devotes resources to political activities in excess of the limits.
BACKLOGGED IMMIGRATION APPLICATIONS ELIMINATED
Among the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is a move to wipe out a backlog of 280,000 applications under the Federal Skilled Worker Program. Applications made before 2008 would be deleted and the application fee refunded.
Legislation currently protects fish habitats that are defined as "spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes." Bill C-38 would instead protect fish based on their use: bodies of water that support commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries or fish that support such fisheries. It rewrites the Fisheries Act's rules against work that can cause the destruction of a fish habitat. The bill also would allow the federal government to transfer Fisheries Act responsibilities to a province with equivalent laws.
MINI TAX BREAKS
There is some good tax news in the budget bill. It expands the list of goods and services free of GST and HST, adding some prescription drugs and more medical devices to currently exempt items like false teeth and hearing aids. The bill would also allow literacy organizations to claim a GST rebate or the federal component of HST paid on books they give away for free.
GG GETS RAISE, TAX RETURN
The bill increases Gov. Gen. David Johnston's salary from $137,500 to $270,602 starting on Jan.1, 2013 -- but he's no longer exempt from paying income tax. His salary was hiked to offset the taxman's bite.
NEW CROSS-BORDER LAW
The budget bill creates a new law to implement the Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Law Enforcement Operations that was signed between Canada and the United States in 2009. It applies to joint operations between authorities in both countries on the seas.
BYE-BYE AT SPY AGENCY
The budget bill scraps the office of the inspector general at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The office is meant to be the public safety minister's eyes and ears overseeing CSIS. It also makes other changes on how CSIS reports to the minister.
Bill C-38 shuts down several government-funded groups and agencies, including the National Council of Welfare, the Public Appointments Commission, Rights and Democracy, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal and Assisted Human Reproduction Canada.
It creates a new Social Security Tribunal to hear appeals of decisions made on Old Age Security, employment insurance and other benefit programs, and creates the new Shared Services Canada Department.
NOT A PENNY MORE
The government is phasing out the penny but is changing the law so pennies can still be used as legal tender even though they are being removed from circulation. The current law says a coin that's been "called in" is not legal tender.
SEE YA SIN CARDS
The government wants to phase out the plastic card that displays your social insurance number, and Bill C-38 makes the necessary changes to existing laws so it is no longer required. Canadians will still have SINs, they just won't be carried on a plastic card.
OLD AGE SECURITY
The age of eligibility for OAS will rise gradually to 67 from 65 starting in 2023. C-38 lays out a complicated chart showing how that change will be phased in.