UPDATE: The Speaker of the House of Commons is giving the green light to more than 800 of the opposition's proposed amendments to the government's so-called omnibus bill.
But Speaker Andrew Scheer says he will restrict the number of votes on proposed changes to the budget implementation legislation, Bill C-38.
Scheer says the structure of the legislation itself falls within the bounds of correct parliamentary procedure.
The Liberals and the NDP together proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the bill, which is more than 400 pages long and changes more than 70 laws.
Opposition parties say the legislation goes too far, but the government says the bill is necessary to create jobs and keep the economy percolating.
The Liberals want the government to pull items relating to fisheries, environmental assessment, EI and old age security and introduce them as separate bills.
With files from The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Opposition parties are planning a showdown against the Conservative government over its omnibus budget bill Monday — but it might not all go according to plan.
The NDP, Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party have had 871 amendments approved by the Commons’ law clerk — out of more than 1,300 submitted — in a bid to force days of non-stop voting in the Commons.
The point, says NDP house leader Nathan Cullen, is to send a message to the government that it cannot continue to abuse Parliament without consequences.
“It’s not a right wing, left wing [issue], it is right and wrong, and this is wrong. And so doing something wrong shouldn’t be rewarded and shouldn’t be easy,” Cullen told The Huffington Post Canada in a phone interview Friday.
“The cost to them is that they have to stand up over and over again for all these things that they want to see happen to the country. If you want to take people’s pensions away, you should have to stand up vote for that. If you’re going to get rid of somebody’s employment insurance, you should have to at least take the 10 minutes to stand up and vote for that too,” he said.
But Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan warned the opposition’s efforts to “delay and obstruct” might not succeed.
“A lot of people don’t seem to be aware that the standing orders have been changed after the 2000 election by the Liberals and there is now a clear direction to the Speaker that if amendments seem frivolous, vexacious and calculated to simply create undue delay, that he should not select them for voting by Parliament,” Van Loan said.
“I think it is quite clear that the object of the opposition parties is to oppose the budget and all they are doing is finding ways to say no to the budget a number of times rather than once, so it is clearly an abuse of process,” he said.
“I think the Speaker has to exercise his powers under that section,” Van Loan added.
The Speaker, Andrew Scheer, is a young Conservative MP who was elected by in a secret ballot by a majority of his Tory MPs last summer.
Cullen said he trusts Scheer and expects he’ll allow at least 200 to 300 amendments to move forward. Despite Van Loan’s assertions, government sources said they also expect Scheer will allow half the oppositions’ amendments to move forward.
According to the House of Commons standing orders, the rules of the chamber, the Speaker can rule out motions that are “repetitive, frivolous or vexatious or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at report stage.” The Liberals and NDP together brought forward 579 non-overlapping motions to delete certain sections of the budget bill while the Bloc Quebecois submitted 22 substantive amendments and the Greens suggested more than 300 substantive changes.
Scheer could strike as many as he wishes out of order. He will also be able to group similar motions together in order to limit the number of votes. Since the House of Commons does not have electronic voting, MPs must stand to vote yay or nay for each amendment or group of amendments. He is scheduled to rule on the number of votes at noon on Monday.
The opposition’s strategy to prolong voting was first laid out in May by the Green Party. During a sparsely attended press conference, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said her plan to force hours, if not days, of voting would not only raise awareness against the Harper budget which changes more than 70 laws, including scrapping environmental regulations, old age security, removing the oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency, but it would also cause Conservative MPs great physical strain.
“Once the voting starts no one can leave their chair, that is a situation of physical challenges,” May said on May 10. “The House Leader for the Conservatives did ask me before the omnibus crime bill to only put forward some [amendments] because he said the physical challenges for his caucus would be extreme. He actually said, 'Do I have to go out and buy Depends for my caucus now?' You can’t leave your chair at all,” May told reporters. “So that’s one thing I can do.”
Political parties have since told The Huffington Post Canada that MPs will be allowed to leave their chair between votes to use the facilities. Food will be provided in the lobbies just outside the chamber and MPs will be allowed to re-enter the House before a new vote has started. Parties are also planning sleep rotations in case voting carries on for days.
It is still unclear whether journalists covering the vote will be allowed to leave the chamber to use the washroom. The Speakers office has refused to answer The Huffington Post Canada's questions on the matter.
The Conservatives, with a 21-member majority, have a bit more leeway than the opposition parties who will have to have all their members around in a continued show of force if they want to have any hope of passing an amendment.
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.