End these ‘tricks’

Toronto Star - - WORLD -

Colour us con­fused. The Trudeau gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced a mas­sive piece of leg­is­la­tion that looks very much like the type of om­nibus bill it de­cried when the Con­ser­va­tives brought in the same thing. And it’s do­ing it at the same time it’s push­ing an­other law that would do away with such par­lia­men­tary ma­noeu­vres.

The op­po­si­tion calls the whole thing “hyp­o­crit­i­cal.” The gov­ern­ment replies that it’s just busi­ness as usual. Both ap­pear to be right.

The two ma­jor par­ties have been on both sides of this is­sue over the years. When the Lib­er­als were in power, they found it con­ve­nient to pack­age a lot of mea­sures to­gether in one big bill and force it through Par­lia­ment — to the con­ster­na­tion of the Tories. When the Harper Con­ser­va­tives got into of­fice, they did the same thing while the Lib­er­als cried foul.

The dif­fer­ence this time is that the Trudeau Lib­er­als cam­paigned on a prom­ise to end this tire­some game, which makes it a lot harder for the op­po­si­tion to prop­erly ex­am­ine pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

“We will not re­sort to leg­isla­tive tricks to avoid scru­tiny,” the Lib­er­als vowed in their “Real Change” 2015 cam­paign plat­form. Fur­ther, they said: “Stephen Harper has . . . used om­nibus bills to pre­vent Par­lia­ment from prop­erly re­view­ing and de­bat­ing his pro­pos­als. We will change the House of Com­mons Stand­ing Or­ders to bring an end to this un­demo­cratic prac­tice.”

Now, though, the gov­ern­ment has tabled an ex­ten­sive bud­getim­ple­men­ta­tion bill that tips the scales at 307 pages. It in­cludes a host of mea­sures to put into ef­fect its lat­est bud­get, as well as mak­ing changes that ap­pear to un­der­mine the in­de­pen­dence of the Par­lia­men­tary Bud­get Of­fi­cer.

The op­po­si­tion calls it an om­nibus bill, the very thing the gov­ern­ment promised to do away with in 2015. And to muddy the waters fur­ther, the gov­ern­ment has ac­tu­ally floated a se­ries of changes to par­lia­men­tary rules that would end om­nibus-style leg­is­la­tion.

So the bot­tom line is that a gov­ern­ment that promised to end om­nibus bills, and has ac­tu­ally pro­posed chang­ing the rules to do that, is now push­ing leg­is­la­tion that ap­pears to be the very thing it os­ten­si­bly op­poses. Con­fus­ing? Yes in­deed.

For its part, the gov­ern­ment says there’s noth­ing to see here. A spokesman for Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau says the new bill con­tains “no sur­prises for any­one.” Oddly enough, that’s ex­actly what the late Jim Fla­herty, Harper’s fi­nance min­is­ter, said when he was at­tacked (by Lib­er­als) for bring­ing in a 443-page om­nibus bud­get bill in 2012. “No sur­prises,” he in­sisted.

Cyn­ics may see noth­ing new in all this. Par­ties say one thing when in op­po­si­tion, they will ob­serve, then con­ve­niently change their tune once they are safely in­stalled on the gov­ern­ment benches.

But the Trudeau gov­ern­ment was not elected to add to the sum of po­lit­i­cal cyn­i­cism in the coun­try. It promised “Real Change” and should de­liver just that. It could start by ac­tu­ally fol­low­ing through on its prom­ise to end un­demo­cratic om­nibus bills.

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