Jack Knox: Plenty of casualties in wake of omnibus wreck
Jun 17 2012
Shh, don't wake Elizabeth May. She's coming off an all-nighter, which might have been fun back when such adventures would end with you giving your mother a 6 a.m. wakeup call and a can of Lucky with which to toast your new Skynyrd tattoo, but aren't nearly as thrilling at an age where recovery involves extended bed rest and an intravenous drip.
The Green Party leader stayed at her desk through all 23 hours of voting on Bill C-38, a tilting-at-windmills effort that ultimately earned her nothing but a hug from Justin Trudeau, which many women (and some men) would consider a good trade - though who knows, by the end of her marathon May might have been a tad punchy and could in fact have been squeezing Buddy the graveyard shift custodian.
Really, May was just making a point, which is that Stephen Harper is to parliamentary democracy what Gordon Gekko was to Wall Street.
Bill C-38 is ostensibly the federal budget implementation legislation, but is in reality much more, a great, big, 425-page spider-killer of a document that, with virtually no scrutiny, rewrites close to 70 laws covering everything from environmental protection to prescription drugs. Calling it a budget bill is like ordering everything on the restaurant menu and labelling it a hamburger.
This is what is known as an omnibus (derived from the Latin "omnis" or "all" and "bus" or "what is being driven through due process") bill, and those who believe in open, accountable government are aghast. They used to include Harper, who went Mel-Gibson-at-a-traffic-stop crazy when the Liberals tried to a pull a stunt like this, albeit to a much lesser degree, when he was in opposition.
Not all of the changes in C-38 are controversial. Many are just common sense. Take, for example, the measure that extends the tax deferral allowed to farmers in a designated area who produce listed grains and receive deferred cash purchase tickets to all Canadian farmers who produce listed grains and receive deferred cash purchase tickets. How can a fellow argue against that?
There's also a rejigging of unemployment insurance rules, which many think is long past due. Ditto for the scrapping of the law that makes companies pay a "fair wage" and overtime to construction workers on federal projects. Streamlining environmental assessments to speed approval of natural resources projects is applauded by many. Same goes for easing rules on the foreign ownership of telecom companies.
Then there's the provision that cuts oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the bit that weakens meat-inspection regulations, another that removes protection for endangered species, the piece that ends the monitoring of ocean pollution, the section that paves the way for offshore oil drilling and another that authorizes an $8-million taxpayer-funded witch hunt against charities whose agenda conflicts with the government's. Also, there's something in there about raising Old Age Security eligibility to, I believe, age 109.
Finally, there's the resurrection of the Canadian Pacific Railway Temporary Workers Act of 1872, which will allow the People's Republic of China to send prison inmates and army conscripts to build a leaky pipeline from the Alberta oil patch to the new tax-free trading zone at Kitimat, where laid-off Parks Canada employees will be given new jobs as big-game guides in the nearby David Suzuki Memorial Kermode Bear Trophy Hunting Preserve.
Well, no, but that could be buried in there for all you know. Most of us couldn't rouse ourselves to vote, let alone tear ourselves away from The Bachelor long enough to check out what's playing on CPAC. (I was briefly alarmed last week at the sight of Canadians taking to the streets in rage against C-38, smashing windows and setting police cars on fire, but it turned out CHEK was replaying footage of the Stanley Cup riot.)
The thing is, Harper need not have resorted to this. He has a majority government, can push through whatever legislation he wants, even in June when his MPs go in for their annual shearing. Hiding behind the budget bill just allowed the Conservatives to avoid having to explain themselves to Canadians - not that many of us lost any sleep over it.