Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here listening to the description of omnibus bills and I must say that when I was on city council and we heard that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper was passing an omnibus bill, we were thrilled. We thought it was a transit plan. We were wrong. It was not a transit plan.
The comparison of that particular bill to this one is remarkable. This legislation would amend the Criminal Code. It is all contained within one single ministry. I will talk about the changes a bit later.
By comparison, Bill C-43, was close to 600 pages long. This will perhaps help some members of the New Democratic Party to remember what a real omnibus bill looks like, especially if they are new to the legislature.
Let me read some of the acts that were changed by Bill C-43: the Income Tax Act, the child fitness tax credit, the Income Tax Regulations, and the Excise Tax Act. A selected list of financial institutions was impacted as was the Excise Act, 2001.
There was intellectual property, the Industrial Design Act, and the amendments to the act and exclusive right. There was also the Patent Act and the biological materials. There was also the Aeronautics Act, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station Act and the enactment of act for that. As well, there were transitional provisions, consequential amendments, and the Access to Information Act.
To continue, there was the Financial Administration Act; the Privacy Act; the Public Service Superannuation Act; the Criminal Code, which is what we are dealing with here today, one single act. As well, there was the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act; the Radiocommunication Act; administrative monetary penalties; the Revolving Funds Act, with an amendment to that as well.
Under the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration there was another set of acts and that is when the government went to court and pulled this out because the Supreme Court overruled some of the government's changes to the Criminal Code nine times. The government pulled medical assistance and health care for refugees, one of the cruellest acts of Parliament in the history of this country. That was buried in the middle of Bill C-43.
I am not even halfway through the list of acts that were amended by Bill C-43.
The Royal Canadian Mint Act was impacted by the omnibus bill. There was the Investment Canada Act with amendments as well. There were also related amendments to the economic action plan. The Broadcasting Act was hit, as was the Telecommunications Act. There was the amendment to the general administrative monetary penalties. There were also provisions for both administrative monetary penalties schemes and coordinating amendments. The list goes on.
The Northwest Territories Act was impacted. The Employment Insurance Act was touched. The government even opened up the Canada-Chile free trade agreement. There was the Canada Marine Act, where marine ports were given legislative powers and planning powers that superceded municipalities. Nobody was consulted on that. Members were not even consulted on the Canada Marine Act. That was one of the most egregious things that the Conservative government did.
That government gave power to the port authorities to basically override and ignore local planning authorities, local decisions, and local plans made on any property that it acquired. In other words, the government could rezone property retroactively after it purchased it, which meant it could buy low-income property, property with low purchase prices, and then suddenly turn it into something much more valuable, like residential property, in order to turn a profit so it could then fund its programs. The government could not actually fund its programs based on the way the Canada Marine Act was configured. This drove cities across the country insane because it was so ill-conceived. It ran so roughshod over local planning and local real estate laws. It was amazing. At the end, the government had to pull many of those provisions off the table because it was such an egregious piece of legislation.
There were also changes to the DNA Identification Act. There were amendments to the act and establishment and contents. There was the comparison of profiles and communication. There was also the removal of access to information that was changed. The list goes on.
There was the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. There was also the Public Health Agency. The Conservative government split the position of the chief of the Public Health Agency of this country into two, one who reported to cabinet and one who reported directly to the government.
Bill C-43 was a budget bill by the way. All of the acts they changed were administrative changes made to important parts of the department. The Conservatives also reduced the fees for bee breeding, one of my favourites.
They also increased tax on hospital parking. They thought if someone was going to visit his or her mother in hospital and they could find a way to tax that visit, they would do that. That was part of the omnibus bill.
What we said in our campaign promise was explicit. We said that budget bills would remain budget bills. Much of what the NDP complains about when they talk about omnibus bills is our budget enactment bills, which are omnibus bills by their very nature. They are exactly the kind we promised to sustain.
Budgets are not done one clause at a time. When fundamental policies across the breadth of government are changed, it is a coordinated budget, a coordinated piece of legislation, and we exempted that from our prohibition on omnibus acts. The legislation we introduced to prevent omnibus acts, which the opposition has used effectively in this term of Parliament, excludes budget acts for the very reason that a budget has to be passed all at once, otherwise we end up with a thousand votes and a thousand clauses.
I wait to see an NDP government in B.C. pass the budget clause-by-clause. It will take it six years to do that, and my sense after today's decision on the dam is that it may not have six years.
The issue we are talking about here today is reforms to the Criminal Code. The reforms are extraordinarily important. There are some elements of the code that are nuisance laws. There is a law prohibiting crime comics in our country. That would be taken away. There are rules and regulations that have existed and been on the books for a number of years that just do not make sense anymore. Those would be cleaned up as part of this process.
However, we are also bringing forth some critically important changes to the way sexual assault is prosecuted in the courts. We are taking steps to protect women and other vulnerable individuals who are sexually assaulted. Those deal with a comprehensive set of rules and regulations that tie together evidence laws and some of the practices and procedures in the court system. They need to be brought together in a bill because that is the way it is done. If we are going to make comprehensive change, we have to unite the issues and items that are related under a single ministry, or statute, or a single set of laws, like the Criminal Code, and make those changes as part of a comprehensive process. That is what is happening. This is not an omnibus bill. These are amendments to the Criminal Code. This is a legal bill coming from the Minister of Justice, and it is an appropriate set of bills.
The last thing I want to talk about is the changes to be made. I was a member of Parliament in the last session and watched as committees refused to entertain any conversation with anyone. That included not only the opposition but the witnesses. There were a number of times when Conservative members would come and tell me there was a mistake made in the drafting of legislation. I remember one instance dealing pharmacare and pharmacy regulations. Every single witness, the doctors, the hospitals, the patients' rights groups, the medical officials, and the science community, came forward and said “You made a small mistake here”. One of the opposition members said, “I know we've made that mistake, but we're not allowed to fix it. The Senate has said it will entertain no motions of change, at all, ever”. In fact, we would be hard pressed to find an amendment that was made to any bill that was printed for any committee over the last four years.
What we have in this process is a piece of legislation that was drafted. Through the committee process, with good evidence from Canadians coming forward, and our listening to that evidence, and members of the opposition and members of the government talking about how to make a bill better, which is in fact the committee process, rules were changed and the law was changed. That is as it should be. The notion that we can land a piece of legislation perfectly and never make a change to it ever again is absurd. It is the wrong way to approach Parliament. It is the wrong way to approach committees.
It does not mean that every opposition motion or amendment will be passed. That is wishful thinking, quite frankly. What it does mean is that when a good suggestion comes forward, the committee should seize that issue and the points raised and modify laws. That is the way a good committee process works. That is the way a good Parliament works, and we are being told we are weak or made a mistake because we did that.
The previous government was arrogant. We saw time and again the Harper government land legislation that it deemed to be perfect and not to be debated in the House, let alone changed at committee level and listened to by Canadians. Even the Senate, where they had a majority, would not entertain motions of change. The legislation was paralyzed from point of introduction to point of enactment. That is not good democracy. That is not good government, and that certainly is not a good parliamentary process.
Yes, a motion was changed. I expect good debate to change motions and to make them better, because as the Prime Minister often says, “better is always possible”. The opposite side often has good ideas. I have sat with them in conversation about a number of different projects and proposals, and asked them to get us to a better spot, because as I said, that is the way good legislation emerges.
We are here to listen and to talk. We are here to debate. We are also here to have conversations, and when those conversations result in reasonable propositions coming forward that fix legislation and make it better, our government, as a good government, is always going to be there to listen to Canadians, parliamentarians, and caucus. It will listen to differing views on all sides of the issues. I am proud to be part of a government that does that.
I am also proud to be part of a government that has put procedural mechanisms in place for House so that when a complex bill moves forward and the Speaker is asked to rule on whether or not it is an omnibus bill, there is a methodology, a process, that will allow that bill to be split so that members can vote differently on different parts of the legislation. That is not a bad thing, but a good thing. It does not mean that every one of the bills we present will be perfect. We are not expecting perfection on any side of the House. What we are looking for is honest effort, good contributions, solid thinking, wise Canadians being brought to Parliament to participate in the committee process so that all Canadians when they see legislation passed can see their voice reflected.
I want to remind the House about the omnibus legislation the opposition talks about. It is ludicrous to suggest that a budget cannot be passed unless there is clause by clause. Budgets are complete sets of expenditures, programs, and development. That is how they will be presented. The opposition can hue and cry about it all it wants, but it is wrong.
It is wrong on this legislation. It is wrong to characterize the other complex bills as omnibus simply because several ideas under a single ministry are brought together as a comprehensive set of reforms. That kind of complaint is really just wrong. A former New Democrat in Toronto used to talk about it and said that when the opposition complained about the process, it had conceded the argument. All it is trying to do now is just dumb us up with a conversation about process. We have seen that happen a couple of times in the House this session.
When legislation is brought forward that gives the opposition the right to challenge it as omnibus, it can avail itself of that process. Why is the opposition not doing it on this bill? It is because on this bill the opposition happens to understand why the bill is being brought into concert. It understands the process it went through as it went through the committee. We can actually hear the opposition members say that they effectively support the bill.
What are the opposition members talking about when they complain about the bill. They are complaining about something that was taken out already. In other words, they are complaining about being listened to. If the opposition members are going to be complaining about being listened to, how else are we going to engage with them, if they are not going to talk to us anymore? How else can we engage with them? When we listen to them, it is a good thing. They should be thanking us for it. Instead what the opposition members are trying to do is knock us down because of it. That is absurd.
This legislation, which is on its last few hours of debate, is an incredibly important for the reform of the way sexual assault is treated in the legal system. It also gets rid of a bunch of laws that really should not be on the books anymore. Every now and then governments need to do that as part of the Criminal Code reform.
At the end of the day, the legislation will be supported by the bulk of the members in the House, based on the speeches I have heard today, because government in fact did work with consensus, did work with the committee, and did work with the committee chair to make the changes that needed to made. For that, I am happy.
However, if the opposition members would like to go back to debating omnibus bill, I have Bill C-43 in front of me. I also have the other omnibus bills the Conservatives passed. If the members want disconnected pieces of legislation that go off in all directions at once, with sound and fury signifying, unfortunately, too much and too little, members can refer back to the previous Parliament. Then we can talk about real omnibus legislation. Real changes to fundamental policies that affected Canadians were slipped in, not mentioned in the budget speech, not printed in the budget book, not brought together as a cohesive or coherent economic argument, but simply added to a budget bill, and then made into a mandatory vote with no changes being proposed at committee.
That is what an omnibus bill is. This is not an omnibus bill under any definition of the word.