Opposition parties vowing hundreds of procedural hurdles to block budget bill

OTTAWA – The Harper government will have to scale potentially hundreds of procedural hurdles — erected by three different opposition parties — in order to secure passage of its massive budget implementation bill.

The Conservatives’ majority ensures the 400-plus-page bill will eventually win parliamentary approval.

But procedural ploys promised by the NDP, Liberals and lone Green MP Elizabeth May mean it could take days — or even weeks — longer than the government had hoped.

“Our objective is to show the government that what they are doing is profoundly anti-democratic,” said Liberal House leader Marc Garneau.

The huge, complex bill is stuffed with a host of non-budgetary matters, including controversial changes to environmental regulations, immigration law, fisheries management and Employment Insurance.

Opposition parties are hoping they can delay passage of the bill long enough that the government will eventually bow to their demands to split it up into manageable chunks that can be scrutinized more closely.

While their goal is the same, the three opposition parties are not working in concert. Indeed, they appear to be competing over which party can mount the most effective opposition to the controversial budget bill.

The NDP began Wednesday with a series of procedural tricks that prevented debate on the budget bill. The aim, the party said, was to ultimately delay a second-reading vote on the bill planned for Monday.

On Thursday, debate on the bill resumed and the government remained on track for Monday’s vote. But NDP House leader Nathan Cullen told reporters to “stay tuned” for other manoeuvres to delay the vote.

Meanwhile, Cullen announced a new tactic: New Democrat MPs will propose motions at 20 Commons committees, asking that each committee undertake studies of various chunks of the budget bill, pertinent to each committee’s area of expertise.

The Liberals accused the NDP of turning clumsy, inexperienced “procedural cartwheels” that will do nothing to stop or even delay the bill while robbing MPs of the little time allocated for debate on it.

Garneau said the Liberals will keep their powder dry until what’s known as report stage, when the bill returns to the House of Commons after examination by the finance committee. At that point, he said the party will move amendments to delete specific clauses in the bill.

He wouldn’t say how many amendments the party is planning but added: “Let’s just say there are over 700 clauses.”

May, the Green leader and the party’s lone MP, similarly vowed to propose numerous amendments at report stage. Because she is not eligible for membership on Commons committees, she can go further than the Liberals and actually propose substantive amendments to alter the bill.

An environmental lawyer and longtime activist, May said the bill will gut 30 years of environmental regulations.

“However many amendments the Speaker rules are in order, as long as I can find parliamentary support to make sure my amendments are seconded, I will not back down and we will not be there until four in the morning; we could be there for days,” she told a news conference.

May will have no trouble finding the support she needs from other opposition parties. Garneau said the Liberals have been talking to her for weeks and called the Liberal and Green tactics “complimentary.”

Cullen said the NDP will also propose amendments at report stage but isn’t willing to wait until then to start procedural machinations.

“That’s more than a month away,” he noted, adding that the NDP’s objective is to “bring the light of day to what’s actually going on.”

“There was no mandate given to this government to do the things that it’s doing and by cramming it into a Trojan Horse bill, it is ignoring the will of Parliament and the accountability that Parliament demands.”

Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, refused to speculate on whether there’s any way to avoid the amendment marathon being promised by the opposition parties. But he suggested such ploys will backfire, angering Canadians who want to see action to bolster the fragile economy.

“I hope the Liberals and … Elizabeth May won’t engage in the same kind of delay and obstruction tactics the NDP have. I think the NDP have discredited themselves by not really focusing on the substance of job creation and economic growth but instead focusing on delay tactics,” Van Loan said.

“Our (economic) environment is still very fragile and that’s why we have to continue to stay focused on that economy and make decisions.”