Parliament's bad Act 

Bill C-38 will impact us for years to come

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And so the 425-page omnibus bill — Bill C-38 — passed in the Canadian parliament after the Harper Conservatives quashed 871 amendments tabled by Green Party MP Elizabeth May in a marathon attempt to put a spotlight on what was going on.

Known formally, vaguely, as the "Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act: An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures" — a title that could have come from the Ministry of Truth in 1984 — it will impact this country for years to come.

I watched a couple of hours of votes on June 14 on C-PAC livestream, and by the end of it the Tories were whooping like they were rocking out at a Spinal Tap concert. It was a public display of finally exposing backroom strategies and they were having fun releasing the tension. All that testosterone. Mercy. No wonder people get turned off by what Parliament has become.

If the Opposition hadn't tried to prolong Bill C-38 debate through amendments, said B.C. MP Nathan Cullen of the NDP, "the lesson (voters) would have taken away and government would have taken away is that government doesn't matter."

This is because the Conservatives have consistently shut down normal debate in the House. Many non-budget issues were bundled together in this omnibus bill; Canadian citizens were not given the details, and in this case the devil really is in the details.

Some of the bigger issues got airtime thanks to those in and out of federal politics who are frightened as well as outraged.

Seventy laws have changed and they are sweeping changes. Some highlights: Canadians won't be entitled to Canada pensions until they are 67; environmental assessment times are poleaxed; the Kyoto Accord is formally rejected; employment insurance claimants must now demonstrate they are actively seeking "suitable work" by moving to where that might be. The list goes on...

The total impact of Bill C-38 will become more apparent in the future but will the voters remember? The Opposition NDP says this is the beginning of the 2015 election campaign.

Perhaps. I've always seen this extreme, non-negotiable approach as a form of political suicide — the relevance of political parties that take this route are diminished over the long term as they anger more and more voters (and non-voters) with so many decisions that simply don't reflect the country's values. The polls reflect this at the moment.

Our society needs people to desire to be engaged because they think their participation in democracy is meaningful. Always be suspicious of those who want to obscure their actions. This is the essence of the omnibus bill system, much like proroguing Parliament.

This won't be the last time we will see omnibus bills unless the public outcry is so great that the Conservatives blink, or they end up in costly court action thanks to conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The latter has already started. The Hill Times newspaper, which covers Parliament and politics, reported on June 18 that Bill C-38's changes to the environmental assessment process may violate the federal government's responsibility for consulting First Nations groups.

The Hill Times also reported on June 18 that Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page told the Privy Council that the Harper government is in violation of the Parliament of Canada Act because it won't make public the details of how it will cut $5.2 billion over the next three years. That may end up in court, too.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver spoke after the Opposition's attempt to derail Bill C-38 failed, stating that in the next election in three-and-a-half years "we will be judged on our record, and we'll be happy to be judged on it and this is as it should be."

But the government has an omnibus attitude when it comes to the public's right to know what they are doing on our behalf; so judging the government's record is not as simple as it should be.

It's disturbing. The pattern of a hidden agenda is the only clear thing, so clear that you could wallpaper your kitchen with it if it wasn't so ugly.

Stephen Harper said in a National Post article he wrote in 2000: "Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task."

His approach to governing in Bill C-38 suggests that he retained the strongman approach and is aiming for an unengaged electorate to allow him to push through third-rate neo-liberal strategies that do more harm than good for most Canadians. The proof of this will be acted out in what follows. I'd like to be wrong because I see in the worst-case considerable suffering ahead, but I don't think I am.

But don't take my word for it. Form your own conclusions. In terms of good sources of unbiased info, the Hill Times covers the daily workings of Parliament. They're a good place to start. And openparliament.ca is a website that covers all our MPs: how they vote, what they've done and said, what others have said about them in the media. It's also a solid bet for information.

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