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Bill C-38: Ten Ways This Budget Failed

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The hydra-headed Trojan horse omnibus budget implementation bill C-38 is as stealth-like in its scope as it is prejudicial in its impact, the whole constituting an assault on the integrity of Parliament and its members, as well as on the democratic process.

In this, the first of two pieces on bill C-38, I will highlight some of its principle shortcomings and the pernicious consequences these will have for Canadians. In the companion piece, I will discuss the preemptory procedure by which C-38 has been pushed through Parliament -- as well as the standing breaches of constitutional convention, the whole amounting to contempt not only for the institution and its members, but for the Canadian people as well.

Simply put, while this 400+ page piece of legislation is supposed to be anchored in the budget, in reality it has very little to do with it. Rather, in its sweeping scope it introduces, amends, or repeals more than 70 federal statutes, with the omnibus Trojan horse providing political cover for pervasive prejudicial impacts on everything from Canadian retirement plans to environmental protection, from immigration to food safety -- all of this accomplished through sleight-of-hand omnibus legislating where, for example, one provision can undermine the whole of our environmental protection safeguards.

Space limits me from discussing each and every flaw of the bill; however, for the purpose of illustrating its prejudicial fallout for Canada and Canadians, what follows are 10 points of substantive failures in the bill:

SLIDESHOW: TEN BUDGET FAILS

First, one of the many changes in C-38 is that of raising the qualifying age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67, a move which will hurt Canada's low-income seniors, as 40 per cent of OAS recipients earn less than $20,000 per year and 53 per cent earn less than $25,000. Indeed, this change will cost the average retiring Canadian $12,000 and the lowest income Canadians up to $30,000. While the government has frequently claimed that this change is necessary for the sustainability of OAS, this contradicts Canada's Chief Actuarial Officer and the PBO , both of whom agree that the change is unsound and unnecessary as the current system is sufficiently sustainable.

Second, the government is closing the files of Federal Skilled Workers who applied for Permanent Residency prior to 2008, without any opportunity for review or appeal of this decision. This past week, Justice Donald Rennie of the Federal Court found that this move was illegal, stating that applicants with applications determined eligible for processing were owed a duty of fairness and the consideration of their submissions.Indeed, all who apply to Canada should have their applications judged on their merits, not on an arbitrary deadline set by the Minister and applied in a retroactive fashion.

Third, changes to the parole board will eliminate in-person hearings in some instances, which, in the words of the Canadian Bar Association "is critical to the process." As the CBA explains "By attending the hearing, the offender whose parole is suspended has the opportunity to learn what the Board members believe the facts to be, to correct them if necessary, and to provide other relevant information." The measure will not result in cost-savings -- rather it prejudices fundamental rights and procedural fairness while also being constitutionally suspect under the Charter.

Fourth, many of the proposals in Bill C-38 will have particularly deleterious consequences for the environment. Indeed, this bill rewrites Canada's laws on environmental assessment by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, weakening our environmental laws respecting protection for species, and derogating from established Aboriginal rights in the matter of environmental protection. In a word, this bill overhauls 50 years of environmental regulation, but with consequences that extend beyond this. In particular, environmental damage has a domino effect on our food, air, and water, and thus affects the health, well-being, and livelihood of all Canadians.

Fifth, similarly, cuts are also being made to various food inspection agencies that help keep Canadians safe and secure, while ensuring that the food chain is not contaminated. The government has yet to explain how these cuts would not prejudice the health and safety of Canadians or how food safety would be maintained in the absence of complete and adequate funding.
Sixth, Bill C-38 eliminates a series of libraries and archives throughout different departments as part of the latest budget cuts, including the Canadian Council of Archives. These changes affect historians, researchers, the media, Parliament and the public -- all of whom deserve to have this information preserved in addition to access to it.

Seventh, C-38 cuts research facilities and closes federal labs. Indeed, it changes some research funding programs such that they only provide grants when research has direct commercial application. Such changes move Canada away from being a leader in R&D, and will likely result in the loss of some of our best and brightest scientists.

Eighth, the true nature of the scope of public service cuts in this bill -- and the cost of these cuts -- still remains unknown. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government's previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented, and a further 9,000 cuts as a result of the government's budget operating freeze. That would create a total of 34,500 federal public service job cuts associated with this budget cycle alone. As well, the Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees that the government's figure of 19,200 public service jobs being cut does not represent the full number. He said, "additional job losses will be required [...] we're actually talking about cuts on top of cuts."

Ninth, in the matter of Aboriginal health funding, despite the fact that Aboriginal suicide rates run as high as 11 times the national average, the Conservatives are cutting the Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. Similarly, while Aboriginal Canadians are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting Aboriginal health programs and national Aboriginal health organizations.

Tenth, in the matter of pay equity, clause 602 of Bill C-38 eliminates federal contractors' obligation to respect pay equity by removing the obligation of the Minister to ensure pay equity among Federal contractors. This will have serious consequences for women's access to employment, and, as the Canadian Federation of University Women put it, "The proposed amendment to the FCP, could weaken the requirements and enforcement of employment equity for a significant number of employers, and could reverse progress towards economic and social equality in Canada."

Similar examples abound: A single clause of this bill has the effect of -- as a former Conservative Minister put it -- making a "Swiss-cheese" out of the Fisheries Act, creating a situation whereby -- according to the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution -- 80 per cent of Canada's 71 fresh-water species will be placed at risk of extinction.

In short, this hydra-headed Trojan horse budget implementation bill -- where the open-ended omnibus character masks its stealth-like impact -- will have prejudicial fallout in nearly every conceivable domain -- from environment to immigration, seniors to First Nations, justice to libraries. It also undermines the integrity of parliament as an institution by diminishing the responsibility and role of parliamentary decision-makers in addition to gutting our oversight and review mechanisms -- something I will discuss more in the companion piece to this article. Simply put, this legislation and the process of its implementation represents an affront to all Canadians, and Canadians should be appalled by it.

SLIDESHOW: TEN REASONS THE BUDGET FAILED

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