House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was omnibus.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

The parliamentary secretary has the right to go ahead. It is a bit of a stretch, but obviously most of the time that has been used has been directly related to the topic before us. Go ahead.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will go back to the actual motion again, but to complete my thoughts I will ask members of the NDP this question.

The New Democrats say they are not supportive of a carbon tax and that in fact they did not purport to be in favour of a carbon tax in the 2011 election campaign. If generating $21.5 billion in revenues from Canadian taxpayers is not a tax, then what is it? We have not heard any member of the NDP stand and give an answer to that very simple question. If generating $21.5 billion through a cap and trade program is not a tax, then what is it?

Back to the motion again, I will reiterate a couple of points that I made in my earlier intervention. The Liberal Party had an opportunity to bring forward something of substance today, such as new policy ideas or initiatives. God knows, but the Liberals should probably be trying to do that since they will soon be entering a leadership race and will be trying to convince Canadians they are worthy of their support come the next election. Therefore, one would think the Liberals would want to bring forward something that is substantive in nature, but instead we get this feeble political posturing. Quite frankly, that is beneath any political party, let alone the Liberal Party of Canada.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have three questions, not 72 but only three.

I would first ask my colleague if he does not see any difference between a bill of 21 pages dealing with budgetary issues, which Mr. Milliken spoke about at that time, and the budget bill this year of more than 400 pages amending 72 laws. Is there no difference in his mind between those?

Second, there is no rush to change old age security eligibility to age 67. My colleague may think it is an important thing to do. I think it is a mistake. Why did we not have the time to debate this in a specific bill dealing with this issue? Is it because it would be embarrassing for the government to tell Canadians that it was doing that when it never said in the last election that it would do so?

Finally, I would like his advice on the next mammoth omnibus bill. If there is something in it that would decrease my pension, I would agree with that part of the bill because it would be good to make a sacrifice for Canadians. However, what am I supposed to do if I disagree with the other measures in this big omnibus bill? What are members supposed to do when they think that provision A is good in a mammoth bill, but provisions B through Z are bad?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that my hon. friend was not listening when I made my intervention. I pointed out on several occasions that the practice of introducing omnibus bills, regardless of size, has been ruled on by various Speakers as procedurally in order. I would invite my hon. colleague to go back to Hansard over the last three or four decades to find those rulings by the Speakers. They are in order. All Speakers have said that as long as there is a common thread among the pieces of legislation brought forward under the umbrella of an omnibus bill, in this case that of economic performance and economic generation, there is nothing wrong with any government bringing forward an omnibus bill.

I am glad he asked why we are not debating changes to the old age security program. I would love to do that. I thought that perhaps today, it being the last day for a Liberal opposition motion, the Liberals would debate that for an entire day in Parliament. Did they? No, they did not. They brought forward a 20-year old quote and tried to embarrass the government. Rather than bringing forward substantive issues for sincere debate and discussion in this place, they chose to avoid that. They chose to make some inane political posture, an excuse to try to embarrass the government instead of a legitimate policy debate. Shame on the Liberals.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government keeps on steamrolling democracy by not allowing debate on the real issues. Instead of looking at issues one by one, we are steamrolled and Canadians are not benefiting from a full debate on matters. The government keeps throwing out untruths and half-truths and a series of questionable statements that tend to misdirect the Canadian population.

Here I would quote Don Martin from September 18, in an article entitled “Truth dies when political warfare begins”, in which he stated:

Conservative stormtroopers have rolled out a welcome mat of sensational untruths.

There are enough cheap shots, personal swipes and fertilized lines of fact in the partisan parliamentary arsenal without unleashing outright fabrications to spread fear where it doesn’t exist....

[W]hen political warfare turns bloody, truth becomes the first casualty and lies live on in the public record.

When will the government stop treating Canadians with such disrespect and actually have a serious debate in the House on the real issues that matter to Canadians?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, let us make one thing clear: the member opposite is quoting an editorial writer, a columnist, an opinion-seeker. I quote from his party's platform. It is all right for Don Martin or any other columnist for that matter to give an opinion, but it is not fact, simply an opinion. I am quoting facts.

In its 2011 election campaign platform, the NDP said that the cap and trade program it would implement if it were elected would generate $21.5 billion in revenue. That is a tax. If we want to talk about half-truths and mistruths, the NDP members say they are not planning on bringing forward a carbon tax when their own election platform says they are. If someone wants to stand up here and correct the record, it should be the member opposite, not this government.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, the member is an experienced parliamentarian and has been here for a while in opposition and government. What does he feel about how the opposition has been pursuing the government? I was really struck by his comments that the NDP would rather see Canadians hurt by bad economics than see us succeed as a nation working together, because the former would be in their partisan interests. That is of concern. I wonder if the member could expand on that.

He also asked us to imagine what an NDP government would look like. That takes me to a very dark place. I know it will probably never happen but I wonder if he could just help me imagine what kind of country that would be.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, to answer the first question by the Minister of State for Transport, all opposition parties, regardless of political affiliation, from time to time use tactics to try to delay the legislation of the government of the day. That is just what they do. That is why they are in opposition. They believe that is the role of opposition. Most Canadians would disagree with that type of approach. However, all governments and all opposition parties have engaged in that sort of dance over decades. It is unfortunate. It should not happen. All parties should attempt to try to craft legislation that would work for the betterment of the Canadian people.

What is most disturbing to me is the rhetoric that we hear primarily from the official opposition, the NDP. That party continues to say that it wants to work with the government but it does not. Those members have proven that. All they want to do is to obstruct and delay. I gave an example. In this parliamentary session one piece of legislation has passed second reading and gone to committee. We have been here for a month and only one piece of legislation has passed second reading. The opposition keeps saying collectively that we have a majority and can pass legislation when we want, so let us just debate it. Tactically, procedurally that is not quite true: the opposition can use tactics and procedural processes to delay government legislation.

With respect to my hon. colleague's last question about trying to envision what this country would be like if there were ever an NDP government, all I can say is that Halloween is coming and even in one's worst nightmare I do not think I could find a scarier sight than an NDP government, regardless of what kind of costumes those members wear.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

October 16th, 2012 / 4 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my very distinguished colleague, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

I could not help but listen to the comments of the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, giving us advice as to which motions we should actually be drafting for discussion in opposition day motions and which other ones would be better than the one we are putting forward. He believes this is such a trivial technical subject that no one could possibly be interested in it.

In fact, the Canadian public is very interested in it. It is interested when a majority government systematically abuses its power and takes a decision of 20 years ago to use as justification for having a 450 page piece of legislation that we have to swallow whole, forcing the House to vote on amendment after amendment, moving closure after closure and making a farce of ministerial accountability. It put pensions in with environmental legislation, with all kinds of other measures that were added into the bill, then it realized in its own administration that it had to amend the law because it had made mistakes because the bill was so mammoth in terms of what it represented.

Therefore, the notion that this is somehow a technical question, a tiny issue with respect to how Parliament operates, is completely false.

Also is the Conservatives' adulation of various Speakers' decisions of the past. The House is master of its own regulations, of its own rules and every Speaker has an obligation to be the defender of the rules of Parliament. However, it is up to Parliament to change its rules when it sees the way the rules are abused by the government of the day. The House needs to change its Standing Orders so members are able to do their jobs, so we are able to hold the government accountable and so we are able, as a Parliament, to do what our constituents expect us to do.

This government loves to tell us that we voted against the measures in Bill S-3, against employment measures and against important government investments.

When the Prime Minister was in the opposition, he said the same things and asked why that was the case and why it was difficult. When so many elements are included in a single measure, the opposition has no choice but to vote against it.

That is why the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville clearly said that we were prepared for changes to the MP pension plan. We have no problem with that. However, we must insist that, as members of Parliament, we have the right to vote on a measure that changes legislation. But the government's mindset and actions do not allow for that.

The government has taken a tiny exceptional provision, in which governments for purposes of consolidating a discussion on issues that came together but which in fact affected different legislation, which is one thing, to justify wholesale changes to every piece of legislation in the name of saying that it is all part of its economic action plan.

This is the triumph of propaganda over truth. This is the triumph of twisting words and interpretations to justify the unjustifiable. That is why Parliament has no choice but to debate this question. Yes, of course we are going to debate it in a way that demonstrates how two-faced the government is being. When it was in opposition it recognized the impossible position that these kinds of bills could put members of the opposition into. We were asked to consider not one piece of legislation that dealt with one particular matter, but an entire book of laws and amendments and changes that flowed from the overall economic plan of the government. It in fact demolished environmental regulation, changed entirely rules with respect to how many aspects of government legislation would work and brought it all together in the name of one simple, single matter.

This is what happens when governments abuse their power. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he spoke up against what he saw as an abuse. Since he has become Prime Minister, he has taken zero action to limit the power of the executive in the ways in which he wanted to do. His government has attacked the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Conservatives failed to listen to the Auditor General of Canada when he criticized their behaviour. The Prime Minister has shown a singular lack of respect for the rule of law outside the purview of executive diktat. He forced the House last session to vote in favour of one bill which should have taken many different bills and the House to have serious discussion on all the matters that were put before us.

Now we know the son of omnibus is about to come before us. We wanted the House to have one opportunity to say to the government, “enough is enough”. When the editorial writers of every major national newspaper and other commentators independent of Parliament say that parliamentary rights and privileges are being abused and that these are terrible practices in which to carry out accountability and transparency, we in this party are going to continue to push this point. If it means embarrassing the government by forcing Conservatives to swallow the words of their leader whole, fine, let them swallow the words and let them understand how two-faced their standards have become as they moved from opposition to government.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for his very valid comments, and I assure him that he has my support for this motion.

There have been some preposterous instances, such as when the members opposite recently combined laws dealing with young offenders and laws dealing with pedophiles. But the ultimate was when fathers such as myself were told that we were siding with pedophiles. There is no need to explain how furious I was when I heard that.

I would like to hear what my hon. colleague has to say. How does this kind of conduct undermine people's respect for the work we do in the House?

I am even going to take a little jab at him: his own party introduced omnibus bills in the past. Why the about-face?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I must say that we now have the opportunity to change the Standing Orders of this House.

We are suggesting changes because, as I said earlier, there is a difference. When there is a theme or a single objective that affects many laws, then an omnibus bill can be introduced. Is that not different from the situation that occurred in the spring? I would like to make it clear to the hon. member that, in my opinion, there is a difference.

We should have continued to discuss the issue, but the government turned down any opportunity to hold this candid and clear discussion. In committee, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie proposed amendments and studies in order to discuss ways of accomplishing this goal. Unfortunately, since the Conservatives have a majority, they were not prepared to agree to that.

The second problem is that this gives the government the opportunity to attack members who vote against a measure because it is part of the legislation introduced by the government. However, the bill cannot be divided to show how different our opinions are.

Interestingly enough, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest said exactly the same thing when he was a member of the opposition. He said that it was not fair to insist that members take a position on a comprehensive measure, an omnibus bill, without having the opportunity to voice their opinions on the aspects of the bill with which they agreed.

What the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville clearly stated was that we want to vote in favour of the measures proposed by the government some but not all of the time. However, the government puts us in a difficult position. The Conservatives do this for political, partisan and propaganda reasons.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the omnibus bill was introduced, 625 Canadian scientists and scientists from all over the world protested the government's use of a budget bill to amend the Fisheries Act. Does that not say something when 625 scientists get involved on a budget bill? Does that not tell us that maybe the bill was not just about the budget?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have reached the point now where, if the government continues in the way it is going, at the beginning of a session, it may introduce one bill, one law, one big fat bill on every conceivable subject and tell members to go ahead and discuss it.

One of the great members of the House, Stanley Knowles, the member for Winnipeg North Centre when I was first elected to the House, pointed this out to the government 20 years ago. He said that we had to understand the implication of what was taking place.

Now we are seeing it go from a 20-page omnibus bill to a 500 to 600-page omnibus bill. Surely at some point the thread is lost and what we have is something that we can all recognize and identify when we see it: the abuse of power. That is what we are seeing.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal opposition motion urges us to put an end to the abusive and unprecedented use of omnibus legislation. It is a fact that bills to implement certain provisions of the budget have ballooned in size. They have grown at a spectacular rate since the Conservative government came to power.

A Maclean's analysis on budget implementation bills found that between 1994 and 2005, these bills averaged the length of just under 75 pages. However, from 2006 to today, they have averaged well over 300 pages.

And, as we know, this year, Bill C-38 was 452 pages long. However, it is not just the length of the bills that is in question; it is also the number of unrelated topics that are being crammed into one bill. Back in budget 2010, the government used the same scheme to amend no fewer than 24 laws, but this time, the government is smashing its own record. Bill C-38 amended no fewer than 72 laws. In almost every case, these amendments had little to do with the budget or any financial issues in general.

The government defends itself by saying that it has to act quickly because of the worrisome economic conditions. This argument would be more credible if the 452 pages of Bill C-38 actually had anything to do with fiscal measures. Such is not the case. Only 30 pages had anything to do with fiscal measures. In fact, no fewer than 151 pages amended laws concerning the protection of the environment.

The Standing Committee on Finance had to review a mishmash of issues as crucial as the weakening of many environmental laws and regulations, the end of protecting fish habit, the power given to the government to reverse decisions by the National Energy Board, the weakening of the Food and Drugs Act, the gradual change in the age of eligibility for old age security benefits to 67, the cancellation of thousands of immigration applications, the weakening of the Governor General's mandate, and so on.

Now the government plans to restart this fall with a new omnibus bill that would go in all directions. Some likely topics would be pension changes for public servants, pension changes for parliamentarians, a new mandate for the National Research Council and new oil tanker regulations. The Minister of Natural Resources repeatedly said that these changes were somewhere in Bill C-38, but no one was able to find them. It would also likely include the Rouge Valley national urban park and the renewal of the hiring credit for small business and so forth.

This is how the Conservative government transformed budget implementation bills into a steamroller that allows it to push through important measures that deserve a thorough review, without any serious, careful examination. Today's motion urges us to put an end to this suspect way of doing things, which is dangerous to the health and safety of Canadians.

Is it not as though there is no solution to this problem. In a recent communication, professor Louis Massicotte looked more closely at the practice in the United States.

He found a list of 42 U.S. states that have provisions that prohibit omnibus bills. For example, the Arkansas constitution states:

The general appropriation bill shall embrace nothing but appropriations for the ordinary expense of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the State; all other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one subject.

I am not sure we need to go as far as that. I am just saying that it is possible, if we have goodwill, to find solutions to the problem we are facing today.

Professor Massicotte notes that on January 23, 2012, representative Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the One Subject at a Time Act that goes to “end the practice of including more than one subject in a single bill”.

I repeat that, with good will, we could put an end to this contempt for parliamentary democracy, which is being criticized by Canadians everywhere.

For example, Professor Ned Frank said:

These omnibus budget implementation bills subvert and evade the normal principles of parliamentary review of legislation.

However, the most sincere criticism comes from one of our colleagues opposite, who was at the time, and remains to this day, the member for Calgary Southwest, the current Prime Minister. On March 25, 1994—as we have heard repeatedly here today—regarding a budget bill that was only 21 pages long and included only measures that were clearly budget related, that member said the following in this House:

...I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.

So why is the Prime Minister now putting us in a clear conflict with our own principles? Again quoting the Prime Minister:

...In the interest of democracy, I ask: How can members represent their constituents...when they are forced to vote in a block...? ...Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.

So, in the interest of democracy, why will the Prime Minister not divide his gigantic bill? He went on to say:

...only one committee...will inevitably lack the breadth of expertise required for consideration of a bill of this scope.

Why does the Prime Minister no longer feel the need to call on several committees instead of just one? If he will not listen to anyone else, the Prime Minister should at least take his own advice in the interest of democracy and simple common sense, so that we as legislators can do our job in service to Canadians.

I urge all of my colleagues to support this Liberal motion.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus Legislation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech and his party for bringing this matter forward.

I note that the member noted the speech by the then member for Calgary Southwest, now the Prime Minister of this country. If I could just reiterate, the Prime Minister at that time said that the omnibus bill, which was a little over 20 pages, was of a matter so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles. He further said:

...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

I would ask the hon. member, who has been in this House for some time, if he recalls the mantra of the Reform Party, which was open, transparent, participatory democracy?

I noted earlier that one of the members of the Conservative Party opposite said, well, Canadians voted for them, so essentially they should be able to do whatever they want.

They have taken the “progressive” out of the Conservative Party. Perhaps it should be the regressive Conservative Party. They no longer believe in participatory democracy.