OTTAWA - After almost 24 hours of bobbing up and down in their seats for votes on the government's budget bill, there's no doubt Conservatives MPs are tired.

But government MPs and cabinet ministers are also expressing private concerns they'll come out of the showdown over Bill C-38 having exhausted some of their political capital as well.

Conversations with Conservative caucus members conducted on condition they would not be quoted suggest MPs are hearing complaints from Tory voters in their ridings about the government's bundling several measures into a budget bill that have nothing directly to do with the nation's finances.

Those complaints may start anew in a few months.

Now that the government's spring budget implementation bill is one step closer to royal assent, it will turn its attention to whether it should employ the exact same omnibus strategy in the fall when it brings in the customary autumn budget implementation bill.

The Conservatives' budget bills have been creeping up in size and scope since they took over the government in 2006, so if past trends are any indication, the fall bill could be even bigger than the one that's been the subject of a marathon debate on the Commons this week.

Or at least it might have been.

Pushback from within the Conservative caucus over Bill C-38 could pop the prime minister's penchant for knitting together disparate pieces of legislation using the single thread that it's all needed for the current economy.

The Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act clocks in at over 400 pages and changes nearly four dozen laws ranging from rules for charities to oversight of Canada's spy agency.

Major opposition has come to changes being made to environmental assessments, old age security, employment insurance and fisheries regulation and it hasn't just flown from the political opposition to Stephen Harper but from within his ranks.

Both Mulroney-era Conservatives and a recent Tory cabinet minister lashed out at changes being made on the environment front.

Meanwhile, grassroots Conservatives at the riding association level have written letters expressing their own scorn.

A single crack in the Conservative caucus could quickly become a schism, notes UBC political science professor Max Cameron and the environmental changes in the budget could be the chisel.

"I cannot believe that of the 39 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Conservatives, there aren't a lot of them who care about the environment and they've got to be wondering," said Cameron.

"If you start to see the base itself divide, does that bring pressure on members in the caucus and could you imagine a caucus revolt?...

"It's pretty dramatic stuff and that's the problem. The current leadership is not prepared to provide the space within which these things can be negotiated."

That became obvious when current Tory MP David Wilks expressed his own concerns recently about how the bill was put together.

In excerpts of a recent meeting with his B.C. constituents posted on YouTube, Wilks addressed the extent to which backbenchers have a say in government policy.

“It certainly concerns some of us backbenchers. The decisions are made predominantly by cabinet and then they come back to us informing us how this is going to move forward,” he said.

"But at the end of the day, in my opinion, they have made up their mind."

But the prime minister is known for not having a completely tin ear and paying attention when his caucus tells him there is an issue percolating at the grassroots level that needs to be handled.

A flare-up in caucus over the government's online surveillance bill saw that piece of legislation shoved right to the back burner.

The question for the party is whether the furor over Bill C-38 is a flash in the pan created by the drama of the voting showdown or the start of a narrative that won't have a happy ending for the Tories.

"The danger isn't that the opposition is going to bring you down, because you're a majority government. They can't do that," said Cameron.

"But what could happen is you shoot yourself in the foot. You make dumb mistakes, you govern badly, you do things that alienate even your own rank and file, you create a mood in the country that's just against you."

Some Conservative strategists say what anger there is will blow out faster than candles on a birthday cake.

Conservative strategist Geoff Norquay notes that the Liberals tried to run their 2011 election campaign on issues relating to governance.

"That did not work out well for the Liberals," he said.

"A year later we are back to the same issue: the government is talking about the economy and the opposition is back to process, not substance."

But another points out that in political circles it was former NDP leader Jack Layton's process-oriented jab at then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for not showing up for votes that's partially credited with turning the tide orange in that campaign.

"Conservatives get accused of “playing to their base” all the time, and to me that’s all this is, only from the opposite side, trying to solidify a wide but shallow support base," said the strategist.

"For the NDP, this is mostly about establishing more bona fides as a party that will stand against the government."

Senior Conservative party leaders will be keeping a close ear to the ground on the summer BBQ circuit, testing the waters to see to what extent they may need to scale back omnibus tactics.

That can't come soon enough for some political scientists.

"It reduces the House of Commons to making noises and rubber stamping," said Queen's University political science professor Ned Franks of the growing use of omnibus budget implementation bills.

"I consider these bills and the form they come to Parliament and the length of them an affront to parliamentary procedure and practice," he added.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Justin Trudeau, MP

  • Marc Garneau

  • Marc Garneau

  • Tony Clement

  • Tony Clement

  • Bob Rae

  • Dina Skvirsky

  • Justin Trudeau, MP

  • Don Davies

  • Andrew Scheer

  • Andrew Scheer

  • Michael C

  • Justin Trudeau, MP

  • Peter Julian

  • Tony Clement

  • Marc Garneau

  • Glenn Thibeault

  • Tony Clement

  • Justin Trudeau, MP

  • Tony Clement



Loading Slideshow...
  • 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)

  • ENVIRONMENTAL OVERHAUL

    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.

  • FISHERIES CHANGES

    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.

  • CLOSING DOORS

    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.

  • OPENING DOORS

    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.