OTTAWA - Green party Leader Elizabeth May didn't see the Conservatives' 2012 omnibus budget bill coming.

One year ago, she used her first question in the House of Commons to ask the government if it was going to be hiding any major new laws in its upcoming budget implementation bill for that year.

Before being elected her party's first MP, she'd watched from afar as the Conservatives used omnibus bills to get through contentious pieces of legislation and she was concerned about the trend.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told her the 2011 bill would be strictly budget-related and he kept his word.

It was a tidy four dozen pages of non-controversial measures like taking the HST off poppy sales.

May even voted for it.

At the time, she said, she thought that perhaps the Conservatives were no longer going to use omnibus bills, given they had a majority government.

"They could get anything passed they want without using this kind of stealth mechanism of throwing them in a budget implementation bill," she said.

"So, I really was not prepared for this year's budget."

At over 400 pages, the budget amends some 70 pieces of legislation on everything from environmental assessment to the regulation of charities.

As the lone Green party MP in the Commons, there are few avenues available to May to make changes to proposed laws.

So she's throwing everything she has at this one.

In addition to asking the Speaker to rule the entire bill out of order, she and her staff burned the candle at both ends for weeks to put together 330 amendments to the bill.

Her suggestions join over 1,000 others being made by the New Democrats and the Liberals.

But they are a bit different.

The amendments going before the Commons this week proposed by the New Democrats and Liberals seek to delete elements of the contentious legislation.

They can't suggest actual changes at this point due to a rule that requires those suggestions to be dealt with at parliamentary committee.

They were put forward at committee and were rejected by the Conservatives.

But because her party doesn't have official standing in the Commons, May doesn't have an active seat at the committee table so she can't suggest changes to bills there.

Her de facto independent MP status also means she has fewer opportunities to quiz the government during Question Period and sometimes requires permission of the rest of the Commons to get up and speak.

Earlier this year, she was denied the opportunity to speak during a tribute to the late Czech president Vaclav Havel and on Remembrance Day.

But that hasn't stopped her from trying to find a voice.

May now deploys a team to keep on top of issues at committee so she's ready to use what legislative arrows exist in her small parliamentary quiver.

Last year, she held up efforts of the Tories, Liberals and NDP to fast-track a mega-trials bill when she denied to join in the requirement that it have unanimous consent.

The introduction of substantive amendments to a bill when it comes back to the Commons after committee hearings is another tactic and the one she's using on the budget bill.

May said she's drafted her amendments to the budget bill with a eye towards the Conservatives' intention with the bill.

"I've tried very hard to be respectful. They do have a majority in the house," she said.

"What I don't respect is that it's illegitimate to put all these changes in a budget bill."

For example, May said she understands that with changes to the environmental assessment process, the Conservatives want to speed up hearings and not duplicate efforts at the federal and provincial levels.

"I've respected those two elements that they say they want but what they did in C-38 is just massive vandalism to environmental laws with what they claim is their purpose," she said.

The Conservatives have accused their critics of playing political tricks at the expense of the Canadian economy by introducing so many amendments, but May says they are missing the point.

"We have an obligation to review legislation and to do our very best to prevent bad legislation from passing and to improve it through the process," she said.

"That's our right. It's not some kind of game."

The Speaker is to decide Monday how those amendments will be handled in the House.

Andrew Scheer could do everything from throwing them all out of the window to bundling them together to keep down the number of votes required.

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  • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.