Raise your hand if you understand the omnibus bill (Bill C-38)

23 Jun

Okay, so until this morning, I would only be able to half raise my hand. Tentatively. With apprehension.  But this has been a hot topic in Canadian politics that affects all of us and I think it is important for voters to understand it.

Wikipedia defines an omnibus bill as a “proposed law that covers a number of diverse or unrelated topics.” (Side note: before you comment on my use of Wikipedia, let’s just remember Michael Scott’s quote – “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know that you are getting the best possible information.”) Basically, an omnibus bill packages all these diverse topics into one single proposal that gets voted on as one piece of legislature. Oftentimes, they are used by a government to get controversial amendments passed without proper scrutiny or notice. And they are perfectly legal and used within the Canadian political system.

So what is Omnibus Bill C-38? It is a huge budget bill proposed by the Conservatives called the “Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act” that tries to disguise a whole host of controversial measures. The bill is more than 400 pages long and seeks to amend nearly 70 different laws ranging from unemployment to Indigenous rights to food security to the environment.

Just a few of the laws proposed in Bill C-38:

- The bill changes the environmental assessment review process:

  • The bill gives way for rapid approval of huge industrial projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline
  • The bill will violate the obligation to consult with aboriginal communities on future projects

- Bill C-38 proposes changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Old Age Security and repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act

  • The eligibility age for old age security will be raised
  • This will affect the most vulnerable and underpaid workers in Canada

- The bill amends the Seeds Act and Plant Breeder Rights

  • It eliminates the enforcement of the” Product of Canada” label
  • It favours multinational corporations instead of local farmers

- The bill officially withdraws Canada from the Kyoto Protocol

  • There will be no separate debate or vote on withdrawing Canada from this International agreement

- Bill C-38 amends the Employment Equity Act:

  • It eliminates requirements that protect groups from discrimination
  • This will affect women, Aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities

- The bill enacts changes to the Fisheries Act:

  • It limits federal protection of fish habitats

Pros of the omnibus:

  • If the bill was broken up then the political process would be prolonged.
  • The government’s future priorities are moving forward more quickly.

Cons of the omnibus:

  • Since so many laws are being passed in one bill, less attention is paid to the details and the controversial measures. Proposed bills would be better if they were separate and received more consideration.
  • The government’s future priorities are moving forward more quickly.

The Conservatives want to pass Bill C-38 before Parliament breaks for the summer. The bill passed a final vote in the House of Commons, and is set to be voted on in the Senate. It looks like it will pass next week.

What do you think about the concept of omnibus bills? Do they have a legitimate place in Canadian politics? Is the Harper government utilizing the omnibus bill in an intelligent way, or is it sneaky and underhanded? Can you pass Elizabeth May’s quiz about the bill?

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6 Responses to “Raise your hand if you understand the omnibus bill (Bill C-38)”

  1. Declan Whelan July 10, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    Thanks for sharing Kyla. While I am familiar with the bill and some of the measures, I did not fully appreciate its audacious scope. I appreciate you sharing what you have learned. I do think it is difficult to do much about it when there is a majority and the span of the bill is so large – in some ways it would be easier to get traction when the issue is more focused and concrete. And the conservatives can always say ‘we won the mandate of the Canadian people and this is true democracy in action’. Sigh :(

    • kylamckee July 10, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Thanks for the comment. The opposition put up a great fight, and prolonged the process as long as possible, but ultimately all we can do is not vote Conservative in the next election. It is important that voters are aware of the actions of this party, so that they can make an informed decision while voting instead of blindly following how they have always voted.

  2. Alyssa July 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Kyla, I’m really glad you posted about Bill C-38. I couple weeks ago I was reading up on this and was thinking about writing a post about it. I did not end up writing it thought so I will reply to your post and questions :)

    I really don’t like the idea of the omnibus bill. I feel like it is an illegitimate way of dealing with Canadian laws that will have such a vast influence on Canadian citizens and even the international community at large (Kyoto, environmental acts). When I originally looked into this I was stunned by the fact that there were supposed to be more than 870 amendments made. However, there is a way they can group votes together so MPs can vote on a few different issues all at the same time. I found this to be interesting and troublesome because once voting starts, it continues 24/7 until all voting is finished. With this many votes it could last as long as 6 consecutive days.

    This raises the question “What is the lesser of two evils?” 1) group votes together to make voting faster, yet have less influence over those individual topics in the group; 2) vote on each issue individually, prolonging the voting process and have tired MPs. I mostly disagree with the omnibus bill because it is important to have a clear and informed understanding of a topic before basing a decision or formulating a position on. For this reason, I don’t think omnibus bills are the way to have the best outcome for Canadians.

    Sneaky, you took the word right out of my mouth. That was my first reaction when I first learned about this bill. As for Elizabeth May’s quiz, I answered the questions without looking at the bill. I answered 3 out of 10 correctly. Looks like I have more research to do for my own self awareness. As for the MPs who actually did the voting. I hope they Aced the Elizabeth May quiz.

    • kylamckee July 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Alyssa! I actually only got 4 out of 10 on Elizabeth May’s quiz – it’s tough! Unfortunately, only ONE MP (who is an independent) actually did the quiz – and he aced it. The rest either couldn’t be bothered, or knew that they would fail I guess.

      It’s a shame that this hasn’t gotten the attention from voters that it deserves because it is downright dirt.

  3. Jeannette July 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I would say I could life my hand halfway, kind of hesitantly. I definitely know about the bill, but not exactly what it all entails. I think I’m definitely not alone either, because I believe the bill was designed in such a way to sneak in piece of legislature quietly without being noticed. I won’t be reading hundreds of pages of the actual bill, so I rely on the media to inform me about what it includes (oh hey, wouldn’t you know?! CBC is getting serious cutbacks!). And while I was able to read about a lot of the things, including the ones you posted, I am sure there are lots of things going in there that I have no idea about.

    I think that the way the government is presenting this bill is very sneaky, and very undemocratic. It is easy to feel really helpless and hopeless knowing that there is a majority government that was able to pass it with just a bit of symbolic traction (though the opposition put up a fight, they couldn’t do anything to stop it). Of course we are never totally helpless, and there is always opportunity to speak up and talk to our MPs, especially conservative ones. But there also seems to be a great difficulty in engaging the public in these causes. I wonder how many people, even in our class or campus, knew about the omnibus bill C-38. I would guess it’s a minority. Without public engagement, nothing is going to change.

    • kylamckee July 4, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      You are so right about public engagement Jeannette. It is really sad that this bill has not gotten a lot of mainstream coverage. If “socially conscious” people like our classmates aren’t informed about political issues like this, do you think that there is any way to engage the average voter? Is it possible that Canadians get riled up enough to vote against the Conservatives in the next election? Or are we just stuck with an apathetic majority?

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