OTTAWA - The Conservatives' controversial omnibus budget bill is so big, not even the Library of Parliament could digest it all.
At more than 400 pages, Bill C-38 pokes into almost every nook and cranny of Canadian life, from the high end —how the Governor General gets paid — to the low: making sure people can still spend their discontinued pennies.
Skipping a detailed review of the Reducing the Jobs, Growth and Prosperity Act in favour of a point-form precis may have been a time saver on the part of the library's parliamentary researchers.
But it highlights the crux of the opposition's argument against a bill that's now the centre of a parliamentary game of chicken, which will keep MPs in their seats around the clock starting Wednesday, sometime around the dinner hour.
The bill didn't get enough study or debate, they argue. It's too big. It simply changes too much.
"The list is so broad, this has been a challenge for the opposition. In describing what's going to happen to the country, which ones do you pick?" said NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen.
"The list is absolutely extraordinary, and extraordinarily bad."
In a last-ditch effort to pare back the changes the bill will make to more than 70 laws currently on the books, the opposition threw more than 1,000 amendments at it last week.
On Wednesday, MPs will begin what will likely be more than 24 hours of consecutive voting on the 800 amendments that were deemed acceptable by the Speaker.
It's not just parliamentary mischief, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae insisted.
"Procedure is just a way we have to do things sometimes because of the battle over the principle," Rae said.
"This is over a basic principle. It’s about the principle of sustainability. It’s about the principle of democracy and respecting the public. It’s about the principle of living up to your promises and not doing things which go completely contrary to what you said even a year ago."
The Conservatives call the barrage of amendments a stall tactic designed to thwart important and necessary legislation.
"We have had a record amount of study of this particular piece of legislation. There has been major work before Parliament for three months," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.
"On this side of the House, we are prepared to continue getting on with continuing to produce jobs and growth for the Canadian economy."
Opposition to the bill doesn't just come from within the parliamentary precinct.
Environmentalists are outraged over the changes being made to assessment criteria for natural resources projects.
Social groups are upset about the plan to raise the age of eligibility for old age security to 67 from 65.
Workers in seasonal industries are concerned about changes being made to employment insurance that could see them forced to take unpalatable jobs.
And those are just the big changes.
The bill also creates stricter rules for charities on how much political activity they can carry out, eliminates oversight of Canada's spy agency, changes the way the government approves marketing claims for food and gets rid of plastic cards for social insurance numbers.
It also targets people who aren't even Canadian: the bill eliminates a backlog of some 280,000 skilled worker applications from countries around the world.
Those changes have spurred a global backlash, with protests outside Canadian diplomatic missions in India and China.
Other protests are planned for Wednesday, when the advocacy group Leadnow.ca is calling on people to gather outside of Conservative MP offices to demand change.
"We’ll rally their home ridings, and communities across Canada, to call for 13 'hero' Conservative MPs to work together and stop the bill, split it, and start over,” the group's executive director, Jamie Biggar, said in a statement.
Thirteen is the magic number of government MPs who would be needed to vote against the bill in order to break the Conservative majority.
Currently, the Conservatives have 164 seats in the Commons, the NDP 101, the Liberals 35, the Bloc Quebecois four and the Green Party one.
There are two independents: former Tory MP Peter Goldring, who left the caucus after being charged with impaired driving, and former New Democrat MP Bruce Hyer, who left after being disciplined for breaking ranks and voting to repeal the gun registry.
One vacancy was created earlier this month when Tory MP Lee Richardson left to work for the Conservative government in Alberta.
The math will be crucial over the coming 24 hours or more of votes: if the Tories don't maintain their majority, they run the risk of accidentally letting some of the amendments through.
The Opposition plans to keep its benches full.
"I want these folks to feel a little bit of a pain for their arrogance," said Cullen.
"I think it's foolhardy to approach Parliament as an annoyance, as a problem to overcome, that democracy is somehow in the way all the time."
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.