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Grant Mitchell

The Hon. Grant  Mitchell, B.A., M.A., C.F.A. Senator Grant Mitchell has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in March, 2005.

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Third reading of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures

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Statement made on 28 June 2012 by Senator Frank Mahovlich (retired)

Hon. Francis William Mahovlich:

Honourable senators, I rise today to add my voice to the long list of those concerned with the massive size and scope of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures. This piece of legislation is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is divided into four different parts and has over 700 clauses in total. It deals with everything from environmental issues to border security issues, to Employment Insurance and pensions, and many other things in between.

Not all of the items in this so-called "fourre tout" bill are bad. Some, as Senator Day pointed out in his speech last week, are quite reasonable, but perhaps they could have and indeed should have been brought before Parliament as separate pieces of legislation that can be studied individually.

I would like to quote one person's thoughts on omnibus bills.

First, there is a lack of relevancy of these issues. The omnibus bills we have before us attempt to amend several different existing laws. Second, in the interest of democracy I ask:

How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

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.

Honourable senators, this quote really hits the nail on the head. Since parliamentarians are here to work in the best interests of Canadians, how can we expect to do that when the matters of this bill are so diverse? The speaker of this quote clearly shares my concern with having so many different issues wrapped up in one bill.

Honourable senators, I should point out that this quote comes from someone we are all quite familiar with. It is from none other than our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper.

Obviously, he was not speaking of the bill that is before us today, but rather of the Budget Implementation Act of March 1994. Nearly 20 years have gone by since a relatively new Reform MP from Calgary gave his speech condemning the decision of the government of the day, and I find it amazing how his views have changed. It is a flip-flop.

Honourable senators, I cannot stand here and say that the hands of previous Liberal governments are clean from the use of omnibus bills. Certainly, Bill C-17 from February 1994 is a good example of that. That does not, however, reduce the concern I have with regard to the magnitude of this budget implementation bill.

Given the fact that the government holds the majority in both chambers, why not separate the pieces of legislation and pass them individually? The government could have easily implemented the numerous policies found in this bill in separate pieces of legislation over the parliamentary session. By doing so, the government would have allowed the voice of Canadians to be heard on each issue, rather than being drowned out by the abundance of issues in a single bill.

An example of an issue that is in this bill that could have easily been its own piece of legislation with thorough discussion and study is the topic of Employment Insurance. In this bill there are a number of proposed changes that will seriously affect Canadians' abilities to obtain EI when they are out of a job and for assistance to try to find new employment.

Honourable senators, I will not go into all of the changes that will come as a result of the 2012 Budget and the subsequent Bill C-38, but one example is the ending of funding to the Community Access Program. The federal funding of this program, which has brought computer and Internet technologies to Canadians across the country, was eliminated by the 2012 Budget. It should be noted that 48 per cent of low-income Canadians do not have access to the Internet at home. The loss of this program will not help their situation, especially given the fact that another proposed change in Bill C-38 is to inform unemployed Canadians about job opportunities in their area with email alerts. How does the government expect the 48 per cent of low-income Canadians without Internet access at home to get these emails advising them of these job opportunities? Perhaps if this issue were a bill in its own right, Parliament could have worked to find a solution that included and indeed helped all Canadians.

I believe in this case the Senate had great insight in doing a pre-study on this bill so that senators had the opportunity to uphold one of their most important roles, to act as sober second thought. I would like to thank the many senators and committee staff of six different Senate committees that had dozens of meetings on the subject matter of this massive bill.

Honourable senators, I realize that this bill has all but been passed by Parliament. Members of the other place have already gone back to their ridings for the summer. The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance has completed its study of the bill and has reported it back to the Senate without amendment. It is my sincere hope, though, that in the future, the government heed the call of the young Reform M.P. from Calgary West and divide bills into several components where there is a lack of relevancy of the issues so that parliamentarians can express their views and the views of their constituents when the matters are so diverse. In his own words, it is in the interest of democracy.

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