Omnibus bill fails test
Stephen Harper’s isn’t the first government to take the cable-guy approach to law-making by bundling up unrelated measures in a catch-all “omnibus” bill — literally a bill for everything — to keep Parliament from looking carefully at what it’s doing.
But the monster budget bill introduced last week is an omnibus on steroids.
More than 400 pages, Bill C-38 goes far beyond the usual budget business of tax and spending.
It amends, repeals or enacts 61 laws, and not merely on housekeeping matters.
To sample its vast ambitions, C-38 replaces the Environmental Assessment Act, gives cabinet more authority to overturn National Energy Board decisions and raises the qualifying age for Old Age Security benefits.
It drops habitat protection from the Fisheries Act, redefines species at risk, changes transfer payments to the provinces, implements a border security deal with the U.S. and makes significant changes to Employment Insurance, food and drug regulation, recruitment of skilled immigrants and banking regulation.
Whatever the merits or faults of any of these changes, there’s no common purpose that justifies putting them all in one bill.
It’s also nonsense to pretend that one debate, one committee review and one vote will allow Parliament to competently examine this legal spaghetti.
This bill also betrays a high point of the Conservatives’ own parliamentary history.
In March 1982, Conservative MPs pressured a majority Liberal government into dividing an over-reaching omnibus energy bill by refusing to show up for a Commons vote and allowing the division bells to ring for 16 days.
It was a great example of making a government pay more than lip service to Parliament.
Shamefully, it isn’t ringing any bells for the Tories today.
And even the opposition are letting Canadians down by taking the affront to Parliament and good government too easily.
Our laws are not a bunch of cable channels to be bundled up, take or leave it, in whatever package suits the government’s convenience.
They should be presented in a form that Parliament can reasonably examine and debate.
English legal tradition says reasonable behaviour is what looks right to the typical person who rides the bus (or the omnibus as it once was called). This bus bill fails that bus test.
An editorial from the Halifax Chronicle Herald.