Bill C-38; Comprehensive Package or “Sneak Attack”?

What You Should Expect from its Approval

Written by Luis Fernando Arce, Chief Interviewer

Image obtained via Stephen R. Gilman on Flickr Creative Commons

Image obtained via Stephen R. Gilman on Flickr Creative Commons

As the days pass by, opposition to the Omnibus Bill C-38 – put forth as a Budget Bill by the Conservative Government – continues to grow exponentially from various groups including the three other political parties, other private groups and non-governmental organizations.

Both its long and short names – the former of which is “An Act to Implement Certain Provisions of the Budget Tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and Other Measures” – suggests that the main focus of the bill is on addressing budgetary issues. Indeed, the press releases and headlines by the government have placed the emphasis on what they say is the bill’s potential to bolster the economy, create jobs and improve the Employment Insurance (EI) program. However, at least a third of the 450-page bill, which has 753 sections and proposes a total of 69 amendments to existing laws, is devoted to modifying environmental laws, something which is not mentioned even remotely in the various press releases.

[pullquote] The three other Official Canadian Political parties have vowed to bring forth a total of over 871 amendments to the bill [/pullquote]So far, private petition-building websites and other domains that seek to foster public opinion have exploded with petitions asking the public to call on Government to stop this bill.  One of these websites – http://www.avaaz.org/en/sneak_attack_on_the_environment/?tta – declares that the bill is a “sneak attack…[to] secretly gut our environmental protection laws” and give the Conservative Government full discretion to approve pipelines and other such projects which have seen savage opposition from environmentalists, private citizens and First Nation communities.

From the tactical point of view, the three other Official Canadian Political parties have vowed to bring forth a total of over 1300 amendments to the bill (which have been trimmed down to 871 now), many of which are expected to overlap. However, as both NDP and Green Party leaders have voiced, the idea is two-fold: first, to draw-on debate over this piece of legislature which they feel has been rushed through parliament; and second, to possibly achieve the toppling of this government by amassing votes for each amendment proposed by the opposition, which they say equates to confidence votes lost.

On vote number 194 in Parliament on May 14, 2012, four of the seven issues being voted on were in one way or another accusing the government of what they considered unscrupulous behaviour in regards to the environment.

The different opposition parties agreed on every point of contention, including one of two undecided members (but it still wasn’t enough to defeat the 148 votes from the Majority Party). The most indignant issue seems to have been what was referred to as the erosion of democratic institutions and transparency by “over-concentrating power in the hands of government ministers.” Also attacked was what was seen as the Government’s deceitfulness by trying to shield itself on controversial non-budgetary issues by “bundling them into one enormous piece of legislation masqueraded as a budget bill.” It spoke against the silencing of the checks and balances on the government’s ideology by undermining the roles of “trusted oversight bodies [such] as the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, the CSIS Inspector General and the National Energy Board, among others.” Finally, the government was criticized for gutting the federal environmental assessment regime and for “[overhauling] fish habitat protection that will adversely affect fragile ecosystems and Canadian sustainability.”

Added to this conglomeration of opposition are two former Progressive Conservative Fishery Ministers. Also, former Alberta Premier (Reform Party) and former member of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NREE), Bob Mills has come out against the proposed elimination of the NREE. Bob was also a one-time environment critic on Harper’s Opposition Shadow Cabinet, but despite the Conservative Party’s victory in 2005, he was not called to serve on the position again. David Wilks, a rookie Tory MP in British Columbia, has also expressed his disappointment in the “lack of debate” over the bill. Also Tom Siddon, John Fraser, and Alberta Premier Allison Redford – all Conservatives – have spoken against the bill. Various websites and articles are calling on people to visit petition-websites such as www.avaaz.org or www.blackoutspeakout.ca and are also urging them to call their Members of Parliament and ask that the bill be amended if not killed.

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