NDP calls Conservative budget plan public relations ‘show’

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash is calling on Ottawa to fix a credit union tax problem revealed by accounting firm Deloitte. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA – The NDP is accusing the federal Conservatives of fast-tracking its omnibus budget bill, calling the government’s plan to divide the legislation into smaller pieces for study a public relations campaign.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said she doubts the Conservatives will allow the 128-page budget bill to be properly studied by Parliament – even if the government follows through on its promise to break up the bill and send it to different committees.

“This is really PR. This is for show. Ultimately, this is all going to be rammed through the finance committee,” she said.

Nash criticized the government for imposing time allocation on the bill, which means debate in the House of Commons is limited to five days before it goes to the committee stage, likely by next Thursday.

“The Conservatives should not just be ramming this bill through the House, which is what they’re doing,” she said.

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“It should be broken up into separate pieces and studied by the appropriate committees.”

Nash introduced a motion at finance committee this week to see the bill – which affects existing 50 laws, including collective bargaining at the CBC and changes to foreign takeover rules – split up and sent to five committees for study. Her motion was defeated.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has signaled the bill will be broken up for study, but it is yet unclear what the process will be. Flaherty’s spokeswoman, Kathleen Perchaluk, said Shelly Glover, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, will be moving a motion at finance committee shortly.

In the House Tuesday, Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies said the bill is only at the primary stage.

“We felt that five days was more than adequate. We will then move the bill to committee and, once again, to make sure that we have more than adequate time to debate all of the clauses, the bill will go to more than just the finance committee this year,” he said.

Perchaluk said the government already held a detailed technical briefing for all MPs and Senators, and there will be committee studies in both the House and Senate.

She said the budget promotes jobs and economic growth, such as tax relief for investments in machinery and equipment by Canadian manufacturers, providing $165 million in multi-year support for genomics research and expanding tax relief for home care services, among other things.

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“We all want this important legislation to receive timely consideration, as we do not want these important initiatives and their positive impact delayed,” Perchaluk said in an email. “We’d be disappointed if the opposition would want to play political games – instead of focusing on the economy.”

Nash said even if the bill is broken up, she doesn’t believe the government will allow it to be studied for long.

“Being able to call government officials to one meeting is not exactly examination by different committees,” she said.

“That’s what happened the last time. Some committees didn’t even have the time to call any witnesses. And some only were able to call government officials.”

Nash said the danger of not properly studying a bill is that you could pass problematic legislation. For example, she said in last fall’s omnibus bill, it was only recently discovered that the entire Humber River was no longer environmentally protected.

“The reason we have these different steps for passing a bill is so that you get any of the criticisms, any of the concerns, the problems, you hear that from witnesses, from MPs, and you have the time to reflect on laws before they are finalized,” she said.

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