OTTAWA —The Conservative government is planning only four meetings — or eight hours — to hear witnesses testimony on the sweeping budget bill introduced last week.
The Conservative budget bill covers everything from balanced-budget legislation to sick leave for public servants, from legislating the government’s right to revoke a passport to boosting child-care benefits, and from changing security procedures on Parliament Hill to amending a handful of federal laws.
A handful of sitting days are left before Parliament packs up for the summer — and, likely, an election. But the giant piece of legislation is expected on Wednesday to begin debate for the first time; that’s only the second of many steps any bill has to take before becoming law.
Bearing in mind all the areas this bill covers, the official Opposition was asking for a considerable amount of time to hear testimony and iron out any potential kinks in the legislation.
“The budget bill contains a number of different measures, some of which may ultimately not stand up in court,” said NDP House leader Peter Julian. Several Conservative bills have wound up quashed by the Supreme Court, including the bids to retroactively change parole eligibility, introduce mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes and force internet service providers to provide warrantless access to law enforcement of their clients’ names addresses and phone numbers.
“There doesn’t seem to be the willingness from the Conservative government to hear from witnesses who may be willing to point out aspects of the budget implementation act which ,at first glance, might appear to be OK,” Julian said.
The office of Conservative MP James Rajotte, who chairs the House of Commons finance committee, told Global News the plan is to hear testimony from May 26 to June 4 during their regularly-scheduled meetings held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each meeting lasts two hours, with the first expected so far to be devoted to officials from Finance Canada.
Noting the finance committee’s “work plan to deal with this bill,” a spokesperson for government House leader Peter van Loan said “it is important” this legislation becomes law before everyone packs up for the summer.
The spokesperson wouldn’t say what the government would do to ensure the Commons has the time it needs to discuss and debate the bill, or whether there is an intention to limit debate during any of the remaining legislative hurdles the bill has to pass.
So is eight hours enough to study nearly 200 pages of sweeping legislation?
“Obviously not,” said Julian. “The size and scope this bill has, we would be willing to put in a lot more time to hear from witnesses.”
MPs could sit as late as June 23 and rise as early as one week into June. Next week is a scheduled break, when MPs will return to their ridings.
“There is time, but the Conservatives have to be willing to work longer hours, willing to work on amendments and listen to witnesses that come forward,” Julian said.