The Harper Conservatives are ramming another "omnibus" budget Bill (C-45) through Parliament.
It's massive, incoherent legislation, lumping together everything from navigable rivers to grain inspection, from disability savings plans to hazardous waste -- over 500 sections, over 400 pages, covering more than 30 different topics and amending more than 60 different laws.
Coupled with "closure" to kill debate, it's all designed to be so humongous, convoluted and fast that no Parliament could possibly scrutinize the details and expose all the mistakes. (Sort of like the inspection system the Conservatives are responsible for at XL Foods -- a lot of contamination got through.)
But as profoundly anti-democratic and obnoxious as Mr. Harper's procedures are, the substance of his "omnibus" legislation is even worse. It's vacuous!
Economic growth all around the world is slowing to a crawl. Some countries are back in recession. The US continues to struggle. Asia is showing signs of weakness. The International Monetary Fund says global financial risks are "alarmingly high."
Recent figures show Canadian productivity is worse than previously reported. Our trade is faltering. Household debt is at dangerous levels -- for every dollar of disposable income, the average Canadian is carrying $1.63 in debt.
And yet, Budget Bill C-45 contains nothing to promote growth, jobs, innovation or productivity; nothing to advance sustainable development in our resource-based economy; nothing to support middle-class families; nothing to combat growing inequality between different sectors, regions and population groups.
To offer just one example -- the Conservatives brag about the "hiring credit" for small businesses contained in C-45. But the only reason that credit is necessary is because this government is increasing Employment Insurance payroll taxes each and every year.
For the past two years and every year going forward, the Conservatives are hiking EI premiums by $600 million annually. This is a destructive, escalating Conservative tax-on-jobs! They make a big show of giving back $200 million through a temporary "hiring credit," but businesses are still $400-million worse-off every year!
This is just one example of how complacent and misguided Conservative economic policy is, in the face of rising global risks. On both procedure and substance -- for what it does and what it fails to do -- omnibus Bill C-45 cannot be supported.
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. With files from CBC
UPDATE: 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. 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.
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.
Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.
The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.
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.
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.
All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.
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.
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