On Wednesday, the Minister of Finance tabled BILL C-4, the second omnibus bill related to measures proposed in the March 2013 Budget.  Like most of the others tabled by the Minister, this was another brick, totalling 322 pages. And like the others, it included measures that were not explicitly referred to in the budget.The Government once again has circumvented the authority of Parliament. This is becoming commonplace and no one seems all that concerned. Everyone is focused on the “senate scandal”, not on the diminished role of Parliament

An Omnibus Bill brings together in a single bill, “all legislative amendments resulting from a policy decision to facilitate parliamentary debate”.  Instead of introducing separate bills, all related amendments resulting from a proposed policy initiative are incorporated into a single bill for parliamentary debate and approval.  In recent history, most omnibus bills have been related to policy initiatives proposed in a budget and, therefore, have become known as Budget Omnibus Bills.  A Budget Omnibus Bill is, therefore, a “money bill”, and is subject to a vote of confidence.  Defeat of the Budget Omnibus Bill implies a loss of confidence in and defeat of the government.

For a proposed policy initiative to be included in a Budget Omnibus Bill, there must be some reference to it in the Budget indicating that the Government is proposing a change to an existing piece of legislation or proposing a new initiative. Preferably, the language in the Budget should be quite explicit in describing the proposed policy change(s).  Without such a reference, it should not be included in the budget bill, but presented in separate legislation. 

In recent years this has not been the case. References in the Budget have become increasingly obtuse, vague and even non-existent. Little information is provided, making it is very difficult in reading the budget documents to fully contemplate what the Government is actually proposing to do.  The details of the proposed changes are then provided the Budget Omnibus Bill, or in some cases in regulations following the passage of the Budget Omnibus Bill.

We have commented previously how the government has expanded Budget Omnibus Bills and in doing so steadily eroded the authority of Parliament. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse we now have BILL C-4.
BILL C-4 includes an amendment to the Supreme Court Act, to clarify the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court from the Province of Quebec.  This issue arose almost six months after the tabling of the March 2013 Budget.  There obviously could not have been a reference to it in the March Budget.

In the March 2013 Budget, the Government indicated that it would “propose changes to the labour relations regime” but no details were provided. Now the President of the Treasury Board has announced the he would not provide any details on changes to the federal labour laws and procedures until after BILL C-4 receives Royal Assent.  How are Parliamentarians supposed to debate the merits of these changes without the details?   What is the Government attempting to hide?  For a Government that claims to be accountable and transparent, this doesn’t pass the smell test. 

The Opposition should ask for a ruling by the Speaker of the House as to inclusion of these proposals in the Budget Omnibus Bill.  The inclusion of these measures clearly violates the spirit and intent of budget legislation.  These measures should be presented in stand-alone legislation and debated by the appropriate committees of the House and Senate, rather than being buried, without sufficient details, in the Budget Omnibus Bill.   Allowing these measures to be included in the budget bill undermine the credibility of the Budget process and the authority of Parliament.

There is a clear lack of transparency and accountability in the Budget process. There is need to restore the role of Parliament and its committees in assessing and reviewing proposed legislation. Without sufficient information and a clear intention of the proposed initiatives, Parliament and its committees cannot properly assess the Budget. Parliamentary debate is stifled; public opinion is ignored; and, the implementation of good public policy prevented.

Canadians are not being served by this continued erosion of Parliamentary authority.

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