OTTAWA - Opposition parties were declaring a victory of sorts over the federal goverment's omnibus bill Friday after persuading the Conservatives to allow the legislation's MP pension-reform provisions to be passed separately.
And they expressed hope that winning the battle could help them win the larger war against the use of catch-all legislation critics decry as anti-democratic.
Speedy negotiations saw changes to the MP pension program plucked from the new budget bill Friday morning and passed unanimously by the House of Commons without any further study.
It was a rare about-face for the Conservatives, who earlier this year refused outright to carve out any of the changes included in their first budget implementation bill, which amended dozens of laws.
Critics had wanted that bill cracked open so its various provisions could receive more detailed study; they asked for the same opportunity with the second bill, introduced Thursday.
The Conservatives demurred, for what many thought were political purposes.
"The government initially, I think, wanted to put us in a position where we would be voting against the Budget Implementation Act for a variety of reasons and then to be able to accuse us of somehow being opposed to the cuts to MPs' pensions," said Liberal MP Scott Brison.
"We pre-empted that."
It was the Liberals who suggested that the pension components of the bill be separated out for a speedy vote. The New Democrats came on board when that was reduced to just the segment on MP pensions, not public-sector pensions across the board.
The Conservatives agreed.
"We had an opportunity here to have that proceed through the House of Commons with unanimous consent and we were pleased to be able to do it," said government House leader Peter Van Loan.
New Democrat House leader Nathan Cullen said the all-party consent made two important points.
"One is proving that Parliament can work, which Canadians are increasingly believing they can't because of this Conservative government," Cullen said.
"We also proved that the finance minister was a bit wrong in saying that the bill could not be broken apart. It’s not true. It can."
The second budget implementation bill makes changes to a number of acts and regulations, including the Indian Act and the Canadian Labour Code and the Canada Shipping Act.
The Conservatives insist that the measures were all in the budget introduced in March and thus belong in a budget bill. Not so, say critics.
Among the most contentious is changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
The Conservatives say the proposed changes are included in the section of the budget that focuses on the Transport portfolio — page 282 of the budget document, to be precise — but that page makes no explicit mention of the act.
The new act, named the Navigation Protection Act, limits its scope to just 97 lakes and 62 rivers, which the New Democrats say puts the thousands of others at serious risk.
"Canada has hundreds of thousands of rivers and lakes that are vital for our ecosystems, drinking water and recreation," said NDP MP Olivia Chow.
"And now the Conservatives are throwing out vital protection mechanisms to please their big oil friends.”
The Conservatives say they are doing no such thing.
"What we are doing is modernizing a piece of legislation that was passed in 1882," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Friday, adding the changes are in response to concerns from municipalities about red tape.
Van Loan said if the opposition would agree to swift passage of other measures, the government would be glad to hive them off.
"We’re always willing to talk with other parties about if they want to see things passed through quickly," he said.
The NDP had wanted the changes to the MP pension program put before a committee, because they feel there is a conflict of interest for MPs in deciding their own remuneration.
The alterations to the MP program will sharply increase the contributions MPs must make to their pensions and require them to wait until age 65 to collect.
Contributions which now run about $11,000 a year will rise to about $39,000.
Under the old system, MPs could start collecting a pension at age 55.
The changes could provide incentive for an exodus from politics, since key provisions won't take effect until after the next election in 2015.
So those MPs who have served the minimum six years required to collect a pension could exit public life that year and still access the old plan.
Related on HuffPost:
The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>
MP And Public Service Pensions
<strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.
The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.
Changes To The Indian Act
The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.
Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks
Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.
Hiring Tax Credit
The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.
New Bridge To U.S.
C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.
Grain Act Amended
The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.
Hazardous Materials Under Health
All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.
Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour
The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.
Top 10 Most Expensive MP Pensions
Welcome to the $3 million club. The following 10 MPs will each receive an estimated total lifetime pension of more than $3 million if they retire in 2019. All the <a href="http://taxpayer.com/sites/default/files/CTFMP-PensionReport-WEB.pdf" target="_hplink">estimates come from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation</a> and are based on an MP retiring in 2019 and ceasing to receive their pension at age 80. The numbers if the MPs retire in 2015 are also included in the caption to each slide.
10. Michael Chong - $3,124,903
Conservative MP Michael Chong would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,684,816 if he were to retire in 2015.
9. Peter Van Loan - $3,194,114
Conservative MP Peter Van Loan would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,462,029 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
8. Rona Ambrose - $3,330,876
Conservative MP Rona Ambrose would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,429,149 if she were to retire in 2015. (CP)
7. Rob Anders - $3,643,873
Conservative MP Rob Anders would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,034,089 if he were to retire in 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
6. Denis Coderre - $3,701,989
Liberal MP Denis Coderre would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,288,821 if he were to retire in 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)
5. Scott Brison - $3,723,666
Liberal MP Scott Brison would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,113,881 if he were to retire in 2015.
4. James Moore - $3,795,386
Conservative MP James Moore would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,893,658 if he were to retire in 2015. (Althia Raj)
3. Gerry Byrne - $3,996,498
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,450,711 if he were to retire in 2015.
2. Jason Kenney - $4,318,507
Conservative MP Jason Kenney would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,416,779 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
1. Stephen Harper - $5,596,474
Prime Minister Stephen Harper would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $5,456,109 if he were to retire in 2015. Harper's numbers are based on the PM not buying back into the program for his service as a Reform Party MP between 1993-1997. In order to make a political statement, Harper did not contribute to the pension program during his time as a Reform MP. After returning to Parliament Hill in 2002, Harper could have retroactively contributed to the program for his service from 1993 to 1997. According to the PMO, Harper has not and will not make those contributions. MPs are not obligated to disclose this information. If Harper were to choose to buy back in for those years, his numbers would change. If he were to buy back in and retire in 2019 he would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $6,216,858 and $6,233,568 if he were to retire in 2015. His numbers also include the special allowance he will receive as Prime Minister. An earlier version of this story used the numbers based on Harper buying back in for the 1993 to 1997 period. After being contacted by the PMO with the prime minister's pledge not to do so, the numbers were updated. (CP)