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Liberal senators denounce passage of Bill C-38 as undemocratic and regressive

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Posted on 29 June 2012

OTTAWA – While Conservative senators voted today to pass Bill C-38, the government’s omnibus Budget Implementation Act, Liberals in the Upper Chamber strongly denounced both the content of the bill as well as the process by which it was adopted.

Despite the fact that the Liberal opposition joined their Conservative colleagues to conduct an important pre-study of the bill weeks before it came to the Senate, in the end the government still refused to recognize the need for improvements to be made, rendering the pre-study a mere symbolic exercise.

Given the size of this bill, which at 420 pages contained more than 750 clauses that modified over 70 different laws, its reach and scope went far beyond any Budget bill previously tabled in Parliament and had to be sent to six different Senate committees to be appropriately studied. Over the course of their pre-study, these committees held 42 meetings to hear 72 hours of testimony from more than 200 witnesses, many of whom noted serious flaws.

The Chair of the National Finance Committee, Senator Joseph A. Day, expressed some serious concerns with the astonishing number of non-budgetary measures contained in the Budget bill. These include changes that weaken the environmental assessment process and fish habitat protection, as well as significant immigration reforms. These provisions should have been the object of distinct bills and separate studies, enabling senators to do their jobs effectively.

Senator Day also highlighted the growing amount of power that is being handed over to Cabinet through an increase in Ministerial discretion in several areas, while denying any opportunity for parliamentary oversight. Furthermore, the Auditor General is being relieved of an important number of financial audits – 17 in total – as well as the performance audit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Revenue Agency, two of the agencies most affected by budget cuts.

‘’With more power in the hands of Cabinet and oversight taken away from Parliament and the Auditor General, who exactly will keep this government in check? They are trying to get rid of all scrutiny and dissenting voices,’’ said Senator Day.

Senator Art Eggleton, Deputy Chair of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee, expressed his concern with some of the issues that were highlighted during his committee’s study of the budget, and in particular those related to immigration matters. Amongst these are changes to the wages of temporary foreign workers, which could lead to a permanent 15% reduction of wages in certain sectors, as well as the deletion of the immigrant application backlog, which is seen as highly unfair and arbitrary.

‘’This will harm Canada’s reputation and integrity in the immigration field, undermining public confidence, and operating counter to Canada’s interests. It is also an issue of fairness,’’ said Senator Eggleton. ‘’These applicants have been waiting in the queue for years, putting their lives on hold while following the rules. Now they are told that the government has changed their mind and they have to reapply under new rules.’’

The Banking, Trade and Commerce Committee’s Deputy Chair, Senator Céline Hervieux Payette, for her part pointed to the interference of the government in matters of provincial jurisdiction, such as a clause that will give the federal government more powers in the banking sector and will eliminate provincial laws relating to consumer protection. She also criticized the Conservatives’ regressive attack on employment equity, erasing decades of social progress on that front.

“By removing the requirements of the Federal Contractors Program, the Harper government is abandoning women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities because companies are no longer required to be civic-minded. This is the reformist’s version of morality: a return to every man for himself and God for us all,” added Senator Hervieux-Payette.

Meanwhile, the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee conducted hearings to examine sweeping changes to environmental assessments and environmental protection that were inserted in the budget.

‘’The extent of these historical changes are totally inappropriate for inclusion in an omnibus bill. For instance, Bill C-38 contains changes that will significantly reduce protection for fish and will allow fish habitat to be damaged,’’ stated Senator Grant Mitchell, Deputy Chair of the Committee. ‘’This legislation will have serious consequences to our fisheries.’’

In addition, this bill neglects to address First Nations’ rights to fish for a moderate livelihood. This exclusion is an example of insufficient consultation, which Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo described as ‘’a derogation of established and asserted First Nations rights.’’

‘’C-38 is an affront to Aboriginal people and their right to be consulted on legislation that could dramatically affect their livelihoods,’’ added Senator Mitchell.

Finally, the new streamlining process now gives the government almost unlimited power to decide who can participate in the public consultation process and could create serious gaps between federal and provincial environmental assessment processes.

Senator Pierrette Ringuette, on behalf of her Liberal colleagues, proposed a series of amendments aimed at some of the most regressive aspects of the bill, including provisions dealing with Old Age Security, Employment Insurance, fisheries habitat, First Nations rights, employment equity and veterans benefits. Regrettably, all of these amendments were defeated at 3rd reading by the Conservative majority in the Senate.

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For more information:

Marc Roy
Office of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

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