Today in the House of Commons Canadians will be witnessing a rare sight -- a voting marathon. I wish I could say it's a celebration of democracy, but it's not. It's a sign of a government that has lost its way and is undermining accountability with its Trojan Horse Budget Bill.
Instead of introducing a straight-forward bill that implements their budget, Stephen Harper's Conservatives decided to use the budget bill to sneak through changes that gut environmental protection, give broad new powers over employment insurance to the Minister and eliminates large portions of the Fisheries Act.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper once railed against omnibus legislation in 1994, saying it was unprincipled to ask Members of Parliament to vote on so many different issues with a single vote. Now, the Prime Minister is doing the exact same thing with his Trojan Horse Budget Bill: He's packing in sweeping changes to everything from environmental assessments to Employment Insurance to retirement security into an unwieldy 400+ page budget document that amends over 70 different other bills. And to make matters even worse, Conservatives tried to sneak these through without even consulting those affected.
They are proposing significant changes to the fisheries industry without talking to people living in fishing communities. They are making drastic changes to EI without hearing from the businesses or workers who pay into it. They are cutting Old Age Security and future Health Care transfers despite promising not to during the last election. The Conservative Cabinet is even grabbing more power to rule on environmental assessments and pipelines, while the Environment Minster fires the scientists who provide expert independent advice.
From the start, New Democrats offered a better way through this where delay tactics were avoided and the bill was split up into five individual bills to allow a proper study of the extensive changes being proposed. This would have taken no more time than the bill is now taking, but would have been fairer and more accountable. Unfortunately, the Harper Conservatives stubbornly rejected any compromise.
So New Democrats did what the Conservative government refused to do -- we went out and listened to Canadians about the budget bill. We consulted people from coast to coast. We heard many concerns about this massive bill. We even heard frustration from people who told us they voted Conservative in the last election.
Virtually everyone outside the Conservative cabinet understands that railroading such a large and complex bill through the House is simply wrong. Even Stephen Harper used to understand this, before he became Prime Minister and started taking Canadians for granted.
New Democrats had long advocated for a Parliamentary Budget Officer to help Members of Parliament review financial documents. Stephen Harper circa 2006 also believed that MPs should have solid independent financial advice before voting on money bills, and included a Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) in the Federal Accountability Act.
Now -- just six years later -- the Harper government is withholding information about its planned cuts and Conservative ministers routinely attack the PBO for telling Canadians the truth about spending. Withholding financial information from the PBO is not only wrong, it is in contravention of the Parliament of Canada Act.
That's why New Democrats are prepared for a marathon of votes. We will be standing up for transparency and accountability. We will be standing up for environmental protection and our fisheries communities. We will be standing up for retirement security and health-care funding.
We will spend 24 straight hours -- or more -- standing up on behalf of millions of Canadians who sent us to Ottawa to vote against this bill.