05/03/2012 04:35 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Federal budget debate limited by government

Conservative MPs used their majority to limit debate on the government's 400-page budget implementation bill, which includes measures as varied as changing the eligibility rules for old age security, killing some environmental regulations and eliminating a backlog of immigration applications.

The House of Commons voted Thursday to impose time allocation on C-38, requiring it to be done second reading and ready to head to committee stage by May 14. That leaves seven sitting days for debate.

The bill would then return to the House for report stage and third reading vote before heading to the Senate.

Meanwhile, senators voted to start their study of the bill before it officially arrives in the chamber. The Senate finance committee will start examining C-38 next week, with other committees discussing how they will work on the bill, as well.

The Senate motion broke up the massive bill into separate studies, sending subject-specific parts to the committees more accustomed to dealing with the issues covered in C-38. For example, the parts of the budget implementation bill dealing with environmental regulations would go to the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources.

There are less than two months left before Parliament is due to rise for the summer on June 22, including a one-week break in May. That leaves six weeks to wrap up parliamentary business.

The motion also gives permission to the Senate finance committee to sit while the whole Senate is sitting, instead of holding meetings before or after sittings.

'Abuse of power'

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen says this isn't the first time the government has used an omnibus bill to push legislation through Parliament, but he calls it the worst.

"The number of measures that are going to fundamentally change how Canada works — and doesn't work, in fact — are all in this budget bill. It’s an abuse of their power. It’s an abuse of this mechanism. And the government knows it," he said.

Cullen says he's approached Government House Leader Peter Van Loan to break up the bill, but the government "feels confident with what they're doing," he said.

"They feel that this majority gives them the mandate to do whatever it is that they want."

Van Loan says the debate will be long enough.

"This will have been the longest budget debate in the past two decades and we think that's a good thing because we think the priority for Canadians is the economy. We want to see a focus on the economy," he said.