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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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