Jun 052012


By PAUL McLEOD   Ottawa Bureau

Green leader argues C-38 breaks rules

Green Leader Elizabeth May asked Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to rule the Conservatives’ budget bill out of order.  (PETER PARSONS / Staff)

Green Leader Elizabeth May asked Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to rule the Conservatives’ budget bill out of order.  (PETER PARSONS / Staff)

The fate of this year’s and all future omnibus budget bills will be placed in the hands of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, rose Monday in the House on a point of order to argue that the Conservatives’ budget bill is so broad, it breaks parliamentary rules.

She asked Speaker Andrew Scheer to rule the bill out of order, thus sending it back to the government to be chopped into smaller pieces.

“I think there’s nothing less at stake than the future of the respect of the Canadian public for parliamentary democracy,” May said in an interview.

“This bill is an outrage.”

Scheer reserved his decision. The other opposition parties have signalled they want to weigh in before he rules.

May’s lengthy point of order centres on the parliamentary rule that “no bill may be introduced in either blank or imperfect shape.”

Bill C-38, the budget implementation bill, spans 430 pages, but May takes care to stress she is not objecting to its size.

Instead, she argues that much of its contents have no relationship to the budget itself.

May cites extensive rulings by past Speakers that omnibus bills are supposed to tie together pieces of legislation that share a common theme. House rules call for an omnibus bill to have “one basic principle or purpose which ties together all the proposed enactments.”

May says the budget bill has no common theme and was introduced improperly, and thus imperfectly.

She argues that even simply “the budget” cannot be a theme for the bill as many sections of the bill were never mentioned in the budget.

She lists as examples changes to the Fisheries Act and granting new power for governing pipelines to the National Energy Board.

And she says there is no logical “or even illogical” link between the budget and changing the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The budget does include a reference to streamlining duplicate environmental reviews, though May argues it is a stretch to link this to the budget bill’s repealing and rewriting of the Environmental Assessment Act.

“To allow C-38 to masquerade as a legitimate omnibus bill will bring our institutions into greater disrepute,” reads the point of order.

The NDP and Liberals expressed some support for May’s charge. Liberal Leader Bob Rae said allowing C-38 to stand would open the door to governments introducing one massive piece of legislation each year containing all of their ideas.

Speaker Scheer’s ruling will likely be precedent-setting. If he sides with May, he will effectively set limits on how wide-ranging future budget bills can be. If he rejects her appeal, he will provide written justification that governments will be able to point to in defending future omnibus bills.

Scheer, who is in his first year as Speaker, is the Conservative MP for Regina-Qu’Appelle. He has so far sided with the government in his most high-profile rulings involving the Vikileaks Twitter account and scurrilous claims made to constituents of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

As Speaker, Scheer must act as the independent arbiter of the House. May said she believes her point of order will get fair consideration.

“It is for him to rise above the fact that he was elected (as a Conservative),” she said.

“He’s not a partisan actor in the House of Commons, and I think he will be fair, he will be impartial.”

There is no timetable for Scheer to reach a decision.

(pmcleod  AT  herald.ca)

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