OTTAWA - The tongue-in-cheek nickname for the omnibus Conservative budget bill is "the omni-mess" — an opposition sobriquet to describe 400-plus pages of legislation that make widespread changes to almost every facet of Canadian life.
But the term has also been sneaking into Tory vocabulary of late as the government finds itself buffeted by unanticipated political turbulence from the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act, also known as Bill C-38.
For the opposition parties, a marathon vote on more than 800 proposed amendments that won't end until sometime Thursday night is an effort to prevent the government from sweeping the mess under the rug.
By 9:30 p.m. Wednesday evening, the laborious process of reading the motions into the record was well underway, a dirge expected to take at least two hours. MPs had begun filling their seats in the Commons, carrying plastic bags filled with junk food and IPads loaded with the latest TV shows to keep them busy during an anticipated 24-hour-plus voting run.
An already long haul was stretched out even further by a series of Liberal motions, designed to ensure one of their private members' bills would be dealt with before the budget amendments hit the floor.
Thus, as a prelude to the main event, the Conservative majority voted down an NDP motion aimed at making Canada meet the international 30-minute standard for search-and-rescue response times. Some Tories, however, joined with the opposition to pass a Liberal motion requesting a finance committee study of income inequality.
And just to add to the day's frenzy, Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled Wednesday evening that MPs were not "impeded in the fulfillment of their parliamentary duties" by government stonewalling on the budget bill's impact. The NDP had argued the Conservative refusal to detail cuts to public service jobs and programs was a breach of privilege.
It's all in the name of democracy, opposition MPs argued.
The budget legislation — which alters everything from the age Canadians will receive Old Age Security to environmental regulations, spy agency oversight and cross-border policing, to name just a few items — hasn't received the detailed study such enormous changes require, they said.
"We are facing a government that does not respect this institution," said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
"The reason we are elected is to look at the laws carefully and they are refusing to allow us to have a serious look at this bill."
Their criticisms were echoed by a series of protests taking place across Canada, including on the steps of Parliament Hill.
About 100 people gathered beneath the Peace Tower, one sign reading: "Good friends know how to split a bill."
The government has insisted it needs each and every legislated change to follow through on its promise of job creation and economic growth.
"We live in a global economy and global events will affect us here, so we need to have the tools to continue to keep Canada strong," said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
"We need to get the right balance of appropriate resource regulation, sustainable social program and job creation and, of course, fiscal sustainability."
The government refused repeated requests from opposition parties to break up the bill into more manageable sections.
"By refusing to compromise, the Conservatives are setting a dangerous precedent," said Liberal House leader Marc Garneau.
"This budget bill goes too far and the Liberal party is using all the tools at our disposal to fight this government's bully tactics."
When the dust settles, the Tories may have a mess of their own to clean up. Party insiders say the government has been getting an earful from constituents who are complaining not only about the major policy changes in the bill, such as streamlining the environmental assessment process and raising the age of OAS eligibility, but the omnibus nature of the bill itself.
The push back is unexpected, the insiders say, given that the Conservatives have used omnibus bills with increased frequency and little sustained resistance since they took power in 2006.
They've been deployed for legislation linking together a series of similar bills, like crime, and for budgets.
The 2010 budget implementation bill, for instance, weighed in at more than 800 pages.
It's about time for some resistance, argued political science professor Ned Franks, who has kept a watchful eye on budget implementation bills in particular.
He said they've increased from 36 pages on average from 1994-95 to 692 pages in 2010-2011.
In addition to the page lengths, the budget bills have taken to adding "and other measures" to their formal titles, Franks noted.
"Not only are recent ones far longer than those of the past, they make no pretence of being limited to subjects actually mentioned in the budget speech," he said.
It's reducing the role of MPs to little more than a rubber stamp, he said, as they don't have enough time to fully study the bills at hand.
"I was hoping that the Haper government, once it had a majority and knew it could get stuff through, would stop using what I consider an abuse of parliamentary procedure," Franks said.
"They haven't, so we're now in a position where there is a majority government that can cram it through and the opposition has woken up to this and is squawking when they can't do anything."
The government argues the omnibus bills help streamline the legislative process.
They also offer the strategic bonus of allowing a government to focus its offence and defence entirely on a single major bill, rather than being forced to face a political firing squad on multiple pieces of legislation.
Whether the omnibus strategy remains part of the Conservative playbook will likely be part of upcoming strategy talks for the fall session, when another budget implementation bill is due.
The New Democrats say they won't be letting the issue rest.
"We're going to stand up to the Conservatives. It will be a long and difficult process," Mulcair said.
"But even if the result under a majority is already pre-determined, the actions being taken by a Conservative government will have long-term consequences."
On Wednesday night, however, the focus for all parties singular: getting through the voting marathon. With no less than 67 and no more than 159 individual votes scheduled, MPs likely will need to stay in or close to their Commons seats until well into Thursday evening.
The opposition is mindful that if the Conservatives allow their attention to falter in the Commons, some amendments could pass.
"You won't see every single one of us during the 25 or 26 hours of voting; that would not be the best use of our resources," said Mulcair.
"But the majority of us will be there at all times."
The Tories have divided their caucus into 11 groups, with 10 required in the Commons at all times. Each group will get a 30 minute break roughly every five hours.
Notwithstanding the voting showdown, the budget bill will eventually pass, given the Conservatives have a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. It is scheduled to get third reading on Monday before it goes to the Senate.
Bill C-38 All-Nighter
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/13/what-mps-are-saying-about_n_1593684.html" target="_hplink">Source: What MPs are saying about their all-nighter on the Hill, CBC</a>
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae
"I'm chatting with my colleagues and paying attention to the votes." -- Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt
"I'm just going to read documents." -- Labour Minister Lisa Raitt
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
"You just work in shifts, it's the only way you can do it." -- Finance Minister Jim Flaherty <br></br> Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appears during a news conference at the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, on Monday, May 14, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
NDP MP Peter Julian
"I'll be bringing work, constituency work. I'll have my laptop so I'll be using every minute ... it will go by pretty quickly I think." -- NDP MP Peter Julian <br></br> NDP MP Peter Julian rises to debate the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday April 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
NDP MP Charlie Angus
"I'll be paying attention. It's going to be a long night. I've got work to do." -- NDP MP Charlie Angus <br></br> NDP MP Charlie Angus speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, February 16, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP MP Andrew Cash
"I tried to get the longest sleep of my parliamentary career last night ... I think we're just going to try and keep calm, keep focused and probably crack a few jokes here and there." -- NDP MP Andrew Cash <br></br> NDP MP for Davenport Andrew Cash during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday June 6, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld
NDP MP Peggy Nash
"Drink lots of water, stay hydrated. Well, not too much water, you don't want to have to leave. I drink coffee to stay awake, and don't eat too much." -- NDP MP Peggy Nash<br></br> NDP MP Peggy Nash rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday April 24, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld
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.