A major showdown is happening on Parliament Hill. The Harper Government's omnibus budget bill, C-38, is being rammed through this week and next. With 12 seats short of the majority needed to vote down this flawed legislation, the opposition will be proposing hundreds of amendments and using procedural moves to delay and change the bill wherever possible.
I will be seconding and supporting many of these, and advocating amendments myself. Never before in our history has a check on excess government power been more important.
This mammoth, 452-page bill contains sweeping changes to a wide range of legislation, with serious social, environmental, economic and democratic consequences. It reduces what little oversight there is of the government. The Auditor General will have less authority to produce reports that may be a thorn in the government's side. The investigative budget of Elections Canada has also been slashed, and the Public Appointments Commission dissolved.
But it doesn't stop there: Changes will have an impact on jobs and workers. The government claims that this bill will get Canadians working, but there is little in the budget to actually encourage employment. Instead, more restrictions on Employment Insurance will put the Finance Minister's opinion that "there are no bad jobs" into practice, and make Canadians take low-paying jobs with no chance for advancement, farther away from where they live.
The bill also repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. And let's not forget that it raises Old Age Security from 65 to 67 years old, costing every Canadian under 54 an average of $12,000.
While these changes are troublesome, they pale in comparison to the chainsaw that has been taken to environmental protections. A full two-thirds of this "budget" bill is devoted to environmental changes. The watchdog ,National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, is abolished; habitat conservation in the Fisheries Act is gutted; environmental charities are targeted; the Navigable Waters Act is weakened; the Kyoto Protocol is repealed; Parks Canada loses personnel; funding to the Environmental Effects Monitoring Program is slashed. And this is just a small part of a very long list!
One program worth highlighting is the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research program near Kenora, which will be axed under C-38. This is the only facility of its kind in the world, and has produced outstanding results on things like mercury contamination, and how detergents can cause lakes to turn green with algae ...leading to low-phosphate soaps.
This weekend I was invited to a Town Hall in Kenora on the ELA (Greg Rickford, the Conservative MP for Kenora declined to attend). People were incensed that such a relatively inexpensive facility would be closed to save just $2 million a year, and we heard from scientists from around the world shocked at the move. This shows it is more about ideology than it is about budget matters.
Parliament has never seen such an all-encompassing bill in its history. The government has shut down debate in Parliament and refuses to split the bill to allow for proper scrutiny. It is ironic that the MP from Calgary, a certain Stephen J. Harper, once argued strongly against this undemocratic practice when Liberals took baby steps with omnibus budget bills.
Sometimes history repeats itself: Many in Harper's Tory caucus are very unhappy about C-38. Before being whipped by his party, Conservative MP David Wilks told his constituents that he would vote the way his constituents want and against C-38 if there were 12 Conservative MPs joining him.
Ultimately, whether this terrible bill passes or not depends on the mettle of individual Conservative MPs. I hope that Greg Rickford, David Wilks, and their colleagues have the courage to stand for their constituents' interests and vote against their party. The choice is theirs: Do they want to make a difference as MPs, or go down in history as trained seals rubber stamping a party line?