OTTAWA - The House of Commons passed the Conservative government's sprawling budget implementation bill on Monday following a final evening of debate.
The vote sends the 400-plus page piece of legislation on to the Conservative-dominated Senate, where it will become law before the end of the week.
Dubbed the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, the bill has been variously described by its detractors as a "Trojan horse" and a "kitchen sink" due to its massive grab-bag of measures.
The bill includes everything from a complete rewrite of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to exempting some federal contractors from employment equity law and changing the rules for political advocacy by charities.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Commons earlier on Monday that swift passage of the legislation is "absolutely key and essential to creating a good economic climate."
And he maintained there has been "an unprecedented amount of debate in Parliament and committee" for the omnibus implementation bill.
"We saw last week — more than 157 times — the House vote full confidence in the measures brought forward by this minister of finance for job creation and economic growth," said Baird, a reference to the 22-hour voting marathon on hostile opposition amendments that stalled Parliament for almost two full days.
But opposition MPs say the implementation bill contains dozens of hidden measures that were not part of the 2012 federal budget delivered in March by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
And many of the changes have nothing whatsoever to do with economic performance, such as shutting down the First Nations Statistical Institute or allowing the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to have temporary members for up to three years.
"There's whole new departments that are being created, there's whole laws that are being repealed," said Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
May is challenging her fellow MPs, particularly Conservatives, to a written quiz Tuesday morning to test their knowledge of what's in the implementation bill. She promises there will be some surprises, even after all the media coverage to date.
Budget implementation bills have traditionally been rather brief, routine technical documents — they averaged 12 pages in length during the 1990s — that implement spending measures previously announced in the budget itself.
During the minority Conservative years, the Harper government began larding them with other legislative changes, a means of forcing the majority opposition to either fall in line or defeat the government and force an election.
But the Conservatives' use of a massive omnibus bill, now that they have a majority and can pass any bill they choose, is being called an arrogant abuse of power by the opposition and constitutional experts.
"There's still a vast confusion, even among Conservatives, as to the difference between Mr. Flaherty's budget and this outrageous budget implementation bill," said May.
"This thing is a monstrosity and we never have had adequate time to examine even portions of it. And there are still things that will continue to come to light."
Justin Trudeau, MP
Justin Trudeau, MP
Justin Trudeau, MP
Justin Trudeau, MP
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.