After being snubbed by the federal Conservatives over a proposal to split a massive and multifaceted budget bill into smaller and more manageable parts, the opposition New Democrats are promising what they say will be an escalating series of actions to bring the government to heel.
The government and the NDP spent two days debating an NDP motion to divide the 420-page budget bill – much of which is a significant revision of Canada’s environmental protection legislation – into at least five parts that could be dealt with separately.
But Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan made it clear on Wednesday that the legislation would not be carved up before it is sent to the finance committee of the House of Commons for further study.
That sparked an outcry from the New Democrats, whose leader, Thomas Mulcair, had warned earlier in the day that said his party will no longer put up with tactics that close the door to public scrutiny. “You are going to see a crescendo of reaction to the government's actions,” he told reporters.
True to their word, the New Democrats introduced several motions on Wednesday afternoon to interrupt the debate on the budget bill.
The political manoeuvres of the opposition may cause delays, but the majority Conservative government will do its best to ensure that the omnibus legislation is passed in the House before MPs leave for the summer recess.
In addition to the environmental changes, it contains policy elements that are at the top of the agenda of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet. They include measures to:
Reform Old Age Security. The government intends to raise the age of eligibility for the program to 67 from 65 gradually over a six-year period starting in 2023, saying this is necessary to sustain the long-term viability of the program.
Eliminate a key oversight of Canada's spy agency. The office of the inspector general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would be scrapped, pushing more duties onto the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which is currently without a chairman.
Restrict employment insurance benefits. The bill would repeal the section of the Employment Insurance Act that allows recipients to turn down an available job because it is not their usual occupation, is at a lower rate of pay, or involves conditions that would not be expected of a good employer.
Beef up the scrutiny of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions would be given new authority over the Crown corporation, and banks would no longer be allowed to use mortgages insured by CMHC as collateral on covered bonds.