Bill C-38

I sent a letter to the Senate about Bill C-38.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted June 27, 2012 in Blog (Last Updated June 29, 2012)

On June 19, 2012, I sent the following email to the members of the Canadian Senate:

Dear Senators,

If ever a piece of legislation cried out for sober second thought, it is Bill C-38: a sprawling omnibus bill that makes so many changes at once, it's almost impossible for Parliament, let alone the electorate, to get their heads around it.

  • It is not sound governance to replace clear, consistent rules with discretionary ministerial regulations that are susceptible to political interference and regulatory capture.
  • It is not prudent stewardship to cut back the Fisheries Act so that it only pertains to commercial fish stocks. If the collapse of the Atlantic cod industry has taught us anything, it is that a commercial stock cannot survive without the broader ecosystem that supports it.
  • It is profoundly anti-democratic for a government to attempt to impose a chill on non-profit organizations that challenge its agenda. It is only through vigorous, open debate that the best public policy can prevail.
  • It sets a dangerous precedent to grant the Immigration Minister the power to overrule national immigration policy and reject applicants to Canada whose applications meet the rules. Will we be governed by the rule of law or by the caprice of de facto letters patent?
  • Similarly, it is dangerous and capricious to grant the government the power to overrule the rulings of the National Energy Board in order to expedite energy and resource projects. Combined with the narrowing of the mandate of environmental assessments and the exclusion of non-business stakeholders, this all but guarantees that resource extraction projects will be determined on the basis of narrow private interest, not the broader public interest.

Even this broad swath of policy implications barely scratches the surface of Bill C-38, which crams so many changes into one package that those changes cannot be properly evaluated. Certainly they do not belong in a bill that is supposed to implement the annual budget!

As one member of the House of Commons noted:

We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.

The bill contains many distinct proposals and principles and asking members to provide simple answers to such complex questions is in contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House.

That member was Stephen Harper, and his prudent appraisal of a 2005 omnibus bill is as true today.

Just today, I received a reply from Senator James S. Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate:

Dear Mr. McGreal:

Thank you for your email about Bill C-38, the Harper Government's omnibus Budget Bill.

I agree with you - the bill is highly objectionable. I too have concerns both about the substance of the bill, and the abuse of our democratic traditions in the way the bill was rushed through Parliament.

The Bill is over 420 pages long and contains over 720 clauses. It amends or repeals some 70 statutes, including as you mentioned, Canada's environmental assessment laws and the laws that protected fish habitat. It dismantles the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the National Council on Welfare, Rights and Democracy, the Public Appointments Commission, the Inspector-General that acts as a check on CSIS - the list goes on and on. It makes extensive changes to Canada's social safety net, including Employment Insurance and Old Age Security.

These - and many other provisions in the bill - go far beyond what should be contained in a single bill, and are flatly bad public policy.

The Conservatives have rammed it through Parliament, with as little possibility for scrutiny or input from Canadians as possible. In the House of Commons, the entire bill was sent to a single committee, the Standing Committee on Finance - and it had to deal with the entire package in 10 sitting days. Frankly, the changes to Old Age Security or Employment Insurance alone would have deserved that attention.

Here in the Senate, the Liberal opposition was able to get the government to agree to send the subject matter of the bill to six different Senate committees for "pre-study", but even this, while better than the cursory study possible in the House of Commons, was simply inadequate to properly examine this mammoth bill.

The Conservatives have repeatedly shut down debate and study of this bill, and this is continuing now that the Bill is before the Senate.

My Liberal colleagues and I have tried to place on the record our concerns with both the substance and process. Our debate on the Bill - which was again cut short by the Conservatives - can be found at the following link:

Although the process in the Senate is still on-going as I write, it is clear that the Harper government has no intention of allowing real debate and study. It will continue to force the bill through to final passage, over our strong objections and those of many Canadians like yourself.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to me on this important issue.

If you want to send a letter to the Senate, here is a list of their email addresses.

Update: I also received a reply from Senator Elaine McCoy.

Hello, and thank you for your email about the omnibus budget bill. I just wanted to let you know that I voted against C-38, as a matter of principle, last Thursday night. A copy of my speech is attached for information. Sadly, the vote did not succeed in stopping the bill as the Conservatives overwhelmingly supported it.

You can see the results of the standing vote (as well as other speeches against the bill) by clicking here and scrolling to the section titled Jobs, Growth and Prosperity Bill.

Although you and I have not succeeded in persuading the government to follow a different course of action in this instance, I feel it is important we continue to speak out about issues of importance to Canada. I know I will. I hope you do too.

Warm regards, Elaine

Alberta Senator