Local government officials have now weighed in on the Conservative government’s controversial omnibus budget bill, and will be looking to the national stage for more support.
In addition to required budget implementation language, the massive Bill C-38 also contains amendments to Employment Insurance, immigration, environmental and fisheries legislation. That prompted Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Director Tom Siddon to bring the issue to the board earlier this month.
“I just feel that the federal government is just rushing too fast, and they’re rolling a whole lot of different legislation into this so-called omnibus bill on the grounds that they want to fast-track economic projects,” said Siddon, a former federal fisheries minister in the 1980s.
Siddon’s main concern is that the bill will have the province and other bodies taking on the role of environmental assessment, as well as speeding up the process, which he said could lead to projects that could seriously harm fish habitat and watersheds.
He convinced his RDOS colleagues to unanimously back his motion asking the federal government to break up the bill and separate out the environmental components for a full and thorough committee review.
“By breaking it up this way, it allows us to give what Parliament is supposed to be all about: sober second thought and careful deliberation, before we rush to pass this.”
Siddon’s motion will also be forwarded to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities during their annual general meeting this weekend, which could give the motion the national attention Siddon hopes for. He isn’t alone in his concerns.
The NDP Opposition had pushed to have the bill broken up into different sections that could be voted on separately, a move that was denied by the Conservatives, who only allowed a sub-committee to review the environmental changes. The Tories then effectively shut down the committee’s work by dispatching three cabinet ministers to give long statements and limit questions from Opposition members.
NDP natural resources critic Peter Julian later said according to published reports that the government was “trying to shut down the process and ram through a bill that has profound negative impacts on the environment and a whole range of other activities.”
Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas defended his party’s handling of Bill C-38: “At second reading, we’ve allowed for more time than any other budget implementation act in over 20 years.”
Albas also challenged critics to offer up ideas rather than complaints.
“What we’ve done is put forward a list of things that we believe Canada needs to take to maintain our economic prosperity long term. So if the Opposition doesn’t like the process, that’s an argument, but the thing is that people should be coming to the House or to the committee with their own ideas of where Canada should go,” he said.
“Rather than just being critical of the process, I think at some point we have to come to a decision.”
There was, however, some short-lived opposition from within the Conservative Party’s own ranks.
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks was caught on video lamenting both the lack of influence held by party members outside of the cabinet and the broad range of areas the budget bill would impact, saying there was a “barrage” of Conservatives that shared these concerns.
Wilks later issued a statement reinforcing his support for the budget bill.
The Conservatives are looking to pass the 420-page bill by the end of June.