Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told the House of Commons last Thursday MPs would know what was in the Harper government's second omnibus budget implementation bill if only they had read the budget last March.
It's true that Flaherty's media event on the day the bill was tabled did feature the extension of a small business-friendly hiring tax credit that was heavily marketed around last spring's budget. A dozen or more other tax changes are also featured in the first section of C-45.
Although it has more pages than the first omnibus budget bill last spring, some of the changes this time are more technical and incremental.
Nevertheless, there's a fair bit for MPs to review, including things they weren't expecting inside the Tories' second doorstopper.
Here's more about what's in the fine print:
Public service pension changes
On Friday, the Harper government sought and received unanimous consent to split C-45, hiving off the section of the bill that dealt with MP pension reforms and passing those clauses unanimously in a new bill, C-46.
But the public sector pension changes first revealed in last March's federal budget remain part of C-45.
Federal public servants hired after Jan. 1, 2013 will become eligible for their pensions later (age 65 instead of 60) and will have to contribute more to their plans with changes phased in over the next five years: eventually, the employer (taxpayers) and employees will split the costs 50-50.
Three different Acts that cover the federal public service, the RCMP and the Canadian Forces pension plans are all changing. However, it's not known whether they're all changing on the same timeline, or to the same extent.
For the Canadian Forces pension plan, the defence department says the changes "are currently under consideration with Treasury Board" and "the intent is to increase the rates towards a 50-50 cost sharing model."
But because the changes to the military's pension plan are still "under consideration," defence spokesperson writes, "it would be inappropriate to speculate on precise ratios at this time."
Another official suggested costs for the military's plan may not be shared in an even 50-50 split. Nevertheless, the rank and file of the Canadian Forces will see their pension contributions increase over a five-year period, like those for other federal civil servants.
It's unclear whether Canadian Forces members will also become eligible for their pensions at a later age. One official suggested the age of retirement changes in the other plans do not affect military pensions.
3 more environmental measures
The first omnibus budget legislation last spring made substantial environmental changes. There's nothing quite that broad this time, but the Harper government is again using omnibus legislation for environmental measures that wouldn't normally be expected in a budget bill.
- Navigation Protection Act: The former Navigable Waters Protection Act changes more than just its name, as major pipeline and interprovincial power line projects become exempt from earlier requirements that would have forced proponents to prove they wouldn't damage or destroy navigable waterways in Canada. A schedule attached to the omnibus bill provides a list of federally-protected waters. Lakes or rivers not on this list are no longer protected by this Act.
- Fisheries Act: The second omnibus budget bill actually amends the first omnibus budget bill's changes to the Fisheries Act. Among the changes this time: a redefinition of the term "Aboriginal fishery," one of three types of fisheries (along with commercial and recreational) that must exist for a particular waterway to be subject to fisheries protections. The fisheries department says it was necessary to adjust the definition to make it consistent with one used in land claim agreements. C-45 also changes the administration of the Environmental Damages Fund, which collects fines for Fisheries Act violations. In the future, the money will be spent to "further enhance the conservation and protection of Canada's fisheries resources."
- Environmental Assessment Act: The March federal budget also overhauled the environmental assessment process, and details were found in the first omnibus bill. The second bill tweaks things further with "technical amendments," including amending a "transitional provision" to make the new rules apply to designated projects that would have required an environmental assessment under the old rules.
Cut: one Crown corporation, one agency and one board
C-45 continues the process of downsizing the federal government and eliminating bodies no longer deemed useful by the government. In each of these cases, authority that previously rested with independent bodies will move to a specific cabinet minister:
- Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board: A Crown corporation run by a seven-member board – established by the Conservatives only four years ago – that sets EI premium rates and supervises EI funds is being eliminated. An "interim" means of setting premiums will replace it. The change is part of the Harper government's overall transfer of control over EI to cabinet.
- Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission: The arms-length agency responsible for scientific regulations around what substances are deemed hazardous will be eliminated and its authority transferred to the health minister. The commission also convenes independent, tripartite boards to evaluate the scientific evidence presented in appeals of these regulatory decisions.
- Merchant Seamen Compensation Board: The three-person board that hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen injured or disabled on the job who are not covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits will see its authority transferred to the labour minister.
Pay raises for judges
The Judges Act sets the remuneration for Canadian judges, including those on the Supreme Court, Federal Court, Federal Court of Appeal and provincial and territorial Superior Courts. Salaries in the Act have not been amended since 2006, however they have been revised upward for each year since.
Judicial salaries are automatically adjusted every April 1 based on Statistics Canada's measurement of the yearly percentage change in average wages and salaries across the country.
Bill C-45 enshrines in legislation salary increases that are 24 per cent higher than what judges received in 2006.
The new salaries, effective April 1, 2012, following recommendations from the (independent) Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada:
- Chief Justice of Canada: $370,300 (in 2006 was $298,500).
- Other Supreme Court Justices: $342,800 (was $276,400).
- Chief Justices of the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal: $315,900 (was $254,600).
- Other judges on Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal: $288,100 (was $232,300).
- other salaries for the Tax Court of Canada, and each province's Court of Appeal and Superior Court also increase by the same proportion.
There is no longer a direct link between judicial salaries and those of MPs and Senators.
Indian Act changes
In addition to changing the definition of "Aboriginal fishery" in the Fisheries Act (above), there are changes to the Indian Act itself, designed to make it faster and easier for First Nations to "take advantage of economic opportunities," according to a government official.
The amendments would allow First Nations communities to lease designated reserve lands based on a majority of votes from those in attendance at a meeting or in a referendum, instead of waiting for a majority vote from all eligible voters. The onus would be on the First Nation members to turn out if they wanted to have a say.
The aboriginal affairs minister would be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering a surrender of the band's territory. The minister could also accept or refuse the land designation after receiving a resolution from the band council.
Last June in Windsor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announce the federal government's support for the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River. Fears remain that regulatory concerns or lawsuits from bridge opponents could block or delay its construction.
The government is using C-45 to enact a Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act to facilitate its speedy progress: changing some legislation and exempting this bridge from other Acts which would have otherwise applied, including the Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act (which is being amended too, see above), and the Species at Risk Act.
More 'freedom' for grain farmers
The last review of the Canada Grain Act was in the 1990s.The grain industry felt regulations were not keeping up with how farmers and grain companies do business. C-45 amends the Grain Act in several ways:
- ending "inward inspection," the practice of inspecting every railcar of grain as it's unloaded, even though grain is often shipped from an elevator to a terminal both owned by the same company. Canadian Grain Commission inspectors and grain company staff will no longer duplicate their efforts by inspecting the same shipments.
- allowing different types of security to be used for shipments, rather than being limited to the single option of bonding.
- simplifying the classification of grain terminals.
- allowing third parties to weigh and inspect grain and providing recourse if this is not done properly.
- repealing grain appeal tribunals.
- giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the industry.
Following the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's sales monopoly this year, the Commission will start to impose cost recovery fees on grain farmers next fall to pay for the new services it provides. Some of these above changes are intended to reduce the Commission's operating costs in advance of the calculation of the new fees.
Even finer, fine print
There are many more changes in C-45, including:
- Immigration and Refugee Protection Act amendments, to prepare for changes in electronic travel authorization in accordance with the Canada-U.S. "perimeter plan" on cross-border traffic and trade.
- Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act amendments to remove the age limit for people from outside the federal public service being appointed or continuing as president or director of CMHC.
- Canada Shipping Act regulatory changes, including allowing third parties acting on the transport minister's behalf to set their own fees for services.
- Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act updates to reflect recent International Monetary Fund reforms.
- Measures to implement the Harper government's newly-passed Pooled Registered Pension Plans.
- Measures to implement new pension income-splitting arrangements.
- New rules for the financial services sector for the administration of the GST/HST.
- New tax-sharing arrangements with the provinces and territories for specified investment flow-through (SIFT) entities and employee profit sharing plans (EPSPs.)
- Amendments to allow public sector investment pools to invest in federally-regulated financial institutions.
- Canada Pension Plan amendments based on its most recent triennial review, giving more authority to the Review Tribunal and Pension Appeals Board.
- Changes to Registered Disability Savings Plans and the taxation of employee health benefits and profit-sharing plans