Se­nate passes bud­get bill with­out dis­cus­sion

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - BILL CURRY PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY RE­PORTER OTTAWA

Tory lead­er­ship backs quick pas­sage even though it means car­bon pric­ing, small-busi­ness tax changes be­come law

Sen­a­tors passed the gov­ern­ment’s bud­get bill with­out amend­ment, mean­ing fed­eral car­bon-pric­ing plans and small­busi­ness tax changes will soon be­come law.

Sen­a­tors ap­proved the 556page om­nibus bill on Thursday af­ter­noon with­out a stand­ing vote or dis­cus­sion at third read­ing.

Some sen­a­tors were planning to de­bate the bill fur­ther and the speed of the de­ci­sion came as a sur­prise.

“It caught us off guard,” said In­de­pen­dent Sen­a­tor Robert Black, who was planning to raise con­cerns about how car­bon-pric­ing mea­sures will af­fect farm­ers. “There were a num­ber of sen­a­tors lined up to speak.”

The Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship in the Se­nate said they sup­ported quick pas­sage of the bud­get bill to al­low more time for the Se­nate to de­bate the gov­ern­ment’s mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion. In con­trast, Con­ser­va­tive MPs in the House of Com­mons pro­posed pro­ce­dural de­lay tac­tics on Thursday to protest the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to car­bon pric­ing.

The Se­nate had pre­vi­ously di­vided the bill be­tween eight Se­nate com­mit­tees for study. Those re­views led to a se­ries of re­ports that raise is­sues with some sec­tions, but sen­a­tors ul­ti­mately de­cided to ex­press their con­cerns in the form of ob­ser­va­tions rather than amend­ments.

The bill in­cludes a new law called the Green­house Gas Pol­lu­tion Pric­ing Act, which sets a na­tional car­bon-price regime that will ap­ply in prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries that have not es­tab­lished an equiv­a­lent car­bon tax or ca­pand-trade pol­icy.

The Se­nate com­mit­tee on en­ergy, the en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral re­sources re­ported that while it sup­ported the in­ten­tion and pol­icy ap­proach of that sec­tion, the change “is sig­nif­i­cant and sub­stan­tial enough” that it could have been in­tro­duced as a stand­alone bill.

An­other sec­tion will limit ac­cess to the small-busi­ness cor­po­rate in­come-tax rate for busi­nesses with pas­sive in­vest­ment in­come of more than $50,000 a year.

It was the fi­nal part of a pack­age of small-busi­ness changes that Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau first an­nounced in the sum­mer of 2017 and later mod­i­fied in re­sponse to strong op­po­si­tion from small-busi­ness own­ers.

The Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness (CFIB) and a coali­tion of other na­tional busi­ness groups had urged sen­a­tors to de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pas­sive in­vest­ment changes to Jan. 1, 2019, in­stead of the 2018 tax year.

The na­tional fi­nance com­mit­tee noted in a re­port that “a num­ber of com­mit­tee mem­bers con­tinue to be­lieve that the pro­pos­als need more study.”

CFIB pres­i­dent Dan Kelly said his group was un­able to find a sen­a­tor who would lead a charge to amend the bill.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing,” he said. “There were loads and loads of sen­a­tors that were in­cred­i­bly sym­pa­thetic, but it was very hard for us to find a cham­pion that was will­ing to go up against the gov­ern­ment.”

An­other area of con­tro­versy raised dur­ing Se­nate hear­ings related to changes to the Bank Act that would ex­pand the abil­ity of banks to en­ter into part­ner­ships with fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, or fin­techs.

Fed­eral Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner Daniel Ther­rien told sen­a­tors the pro­vi­sions failed to strike the right bal­ance be­tween pro­mot­ing in­no­va­tion and pro­tect­ing the pri­vacy of con­sumers.

The Se­nate bank­ing com­mit­tee re­ported con­cern that the bill could in­tro­duce “po­ten­tial cy­ber­se­cu­rity risks.”

JUSTIN TANG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner Daniel Ther­rien fears laws on part­ner­ships be­tween banks and fin­tech firms fail to strike the right bal­ance be­tween in­no­va­tion and con­sumer pri­vacy.

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