Yesterday in the Globe and Mail and in the National Post there were a couple of brief items about the passage of Bill C-9 through the Senate. It appears that this bill is coming up against some rough waters as it goes through "sober second thought" in the red chamber on the Hill.
For those of you who care, Bill C-9 is available here. It is essentially the Act that will implement the 2010 Federal Budget that was introduced on March 4th, 2010. It consists of 900 pages and 2200 sections of admittedly mind-numbingly boring legalese but buried in the Bill, are a very, very wide range of goodies for all.
I’ll outline a few of the wide ranging subjects:
1.) Declaring how much additional fiscal equalization payments certain provinces can expect after April 1, 2010.
2.) Outlining the management structure for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse Act.
3.) Allowing that the members of the Energy Supplies Allocation Board are entitled to be paid reasonable travel and living expenses incurred in the course of their duties.
4.) Stating that the Surveyor General is the Canadian member of the International Boundary Commission Act.
5.) Also stating that each member of the Standards Council of Canada shall hold office for a term not exceeding four years.
6.) Mentioning that despite sections 41 and 42 of the Old Age Security Act, the Agreement on Social Security between Canada and the Republic of Poland, signed on April 2, 2008, is deemed to have come into force in Canada on October 1, 2009.
7.) Noting that environmental assessments are not required for some federally funded infrastructure projects.
This omnibus Bill seems to cover everything from soup to nuts. Now, after 3 full months, the Opposition is complaining publicly that the Bill covers a range of items that are so disparate as to make the Bill abusive. Apparently, because the Opposition is so ill-prepared for an impending election, they gave a pass to the Bill just to avoid making the government fall as you’ll see later.
Apparently, one of the big sticking points is the section of the budget that would allow the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited without Parliamentary approval which kind of got stuck in the back pages of the document when everyone’s eyes were heavy with sleep.
Here’s part of the voting record on the Bill. Notice that out of 309 MPs, well less than 250 showed up for most votes:
As well, in 3 additional earlier votes, only 239, 208 and 263 MPs voted.
For the third reading of the Bill on June 8th, 2010, there were 138 yeas, 126 nays and 6 paired votes (abstentions) for a total of 270 votes out of a possible 309 MPs who should have been present in the House for this important vote.
Liberal MP Bob Rae has stated that he’s hoping that the Senate might be in a better position to divide Bill C-9 into smaller components so that each one can be passed on its own merit. In response, the Prime Minister’s campaign chief Senator Doug Finley threatened that his Party was prepared to go to an election over the matter. He also let it be known that "the planes, buses and war rooms are ready" if the Liberal Senators do not restore the budget to the state in which it left the House. Heaven help us, we have to rely on the Senate to look after us!
There is a solution to this problem. Why don’t our wise elected officials pass legislation that would prevent omnibus bills from being created in the first place. In the particular case of Bill C-9, it would prevent the passage of legislation that is completely unrelated to the 2010 Federal Budget. As it stands in the House at this point in time, the Conservatives can use a budget document to further their Party’s agenda on matters that have no fiscal bearing on Canada and that just strikes me as morally questionable at best.
The root of the problem in this case is different than would normally be found in the House. Under normal circumstances, in a minority situation the Opposition, who holds the balance of power, would be only to willing to vote against the government on this Bill and force an election. Unfortunately for the Liberals, polls show that with their current leader, they cannot hope to win even a minority government and, in fact, if trends continue, they may even be relegated to a third place finish.
However, that said, it is their problem and it should not be ours. We didn’t elect Liberal MPs (and for that matter, Bloc and NDP MPs as well) to sit on their behinds in Opposition and wait until their support levels reached reasonable heights before they take action against the Conservative government. They were elected to represent their constituents and provide meaningful opposition when the government’s actions require it. As Canadians, we should not be forced to put up with the passage of faulty omnibus bills just because the Liberals are trying to wait for the day when public opinion swings their way. We could certainly be waiting a long time for the Liberals to act and that is definitely not what we are paying them the big bucks. It’s not our fault that we have a lame duck Opposition but Canadians seem to be the ones suffering for it. And another thing, you’re not getting paid $157,731 a year (at a minimum) to stay out of the House when it comes time to vote on a Bill that you don’t like. That’s not democracy.
It could be an interesting political summer after all. And who would have thought that any excitement would involve the Senate?
Click HERE to read more of Glen Allen’s columns.