Opposition works to build outcry against Tory budget bill

OTTAWA — From Monday's Globe and Mail (includes correction)

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 9, 2012. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s opposition parties plan to make life difficult for the Harper government and its wide-ranging budget bill, throwing up procedural roadblocks with the hope of splitting up the massive document and drawing public attention to some of its more controversial aspects.

“If this were an entirely closed loop and there was no one but Parliament paying attention, then there would be very little chance of any changes or improvements,” Nathan Cullen, the NDP House Leader, said in an interview on Sunday. “But, it’s not, thankfully. And our effort is to get the public involved because the government has shown that, under public pressure, it will bend.”

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The 425-page bill would, among other things, dramatically rewrite Canada’s environmental assessment laws, increase the age at which Canadians can claim Old Age Security, make it harder to refuse work when receiving Employment Insurance, and scrap the office of the inspector-general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The House of Commons will vote on Monday to send it to the finance committee of the Commons for study.

The New Democrats, the Official Opposition, argue that by dividing the bill into pieces, all 752 of its clauses could be properly analyzed. After the government rebuffed that idea last week, the NDP promised a “crescendo” of action to delay the bill’s passage and introduced motions to interrupt debate.

Mr. Cullen said his party intends to make life more difficult for the government because the government is making life more difficult for Canadians. But the disruptive tactics are mostly an attempt to engage the public, he said.

“Both in Parliament, and, in particular, outside,” said Mr. Cullen, “we will be looking at ways to bring as many Canadians to the table as possible, which is the opposite initiative to that coming from government.”

The Conservatives say the bill has already received more debate than any federal budget bill introduced in the past 20 years. The government has also agreed that a subcommittee of the finance committee will study the environmental sections of the bill separately.

But none of the opposition parties agree that compromise is adequate.

Marc Garneau, the Liberal House Leader, said his party will be using its own “procedural tools” to delay the legislation from becoming law. They could include the introduction of amendment after amendment when the bill comes back from the committee to the House of Commons.

“We all share the same concern and we want to make as much noise as possible about it to show Canadians that we think this is wrong,” said Mr. Garneau. “Ultimately, will we stop the government if they are hell bent for leather on passing this and they are not going to listen to public opinion? No. But we will make it difficult.”

Editor's note: A previous web version of this story cited an incorrect number of pages in the Conservative budget bill. The correct number is 425.

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