In what may be the clearest indication yet that life on Parliament Hill is returning to normal following last week's attacks, New Democrat finance critics Nathan Cullen and Guy Caron have officially come out against major provisions in the government's latest omnibus budget bill, which was tabled in the House of Commons last Thursday.
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Spoiler alert: They're not impressed.
At a mid-morning press conference, Cullen lamented the move to change "dozens of laws with a single stroke of a pen," and called it a "failed opportunity" to harness cross-partisan goodwill.
He also outlined his party's concerns over several aspects of the 458-page bill, including:
- Lifting the prohibition on provincial residency requirements, which could restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants
- Implementing the previously announced Employment Insurance premium freeze for new hires by some small businesses
Cullen called the proposed changes to residency requirements a "mean-spirited attack on refugee claimants," and noted that it actually had its origin in a private members' bill introduced by Conservative backbencher Corneliu Chisu that was "so controversial" its sponsor never spoke up in its defence in the House.
He also pointed out that there's no indication the provinces have been pushing for such a change.
"Taking a refugee claimant and their family off social assistance is robbing them of basic human needs," Cullen told reporters.
"It's certainly got an element of cruelty to it that has no justification to be found."
As for the EI credit, Cullen described it as a "complete waste of money."
'Kitchen sink' bill
He also highlighted NDP-backed initiatives that the Conservatives have thus far failed to adopt, including an air passenger bill of rights and a more sweeping ban on forcing consumers to pay for paper bills.
Cullen did point to one measure that his party strongly supports, however: a proposal to expand the DNA database to include the family members of missing persons.
As for the now traditional practice of cramming dozens of legislative tweaks into an omnibus budget bill, Cullen noted that his party will be briefed Tuesday night on the contents of what he termed a "kitchen sink" bill, even with debate expected to start as early as Wednesday.
Cullen said the briefing will begin at 7 p.m. ET, and will go on "for hours and hours and hours."
"Good luck trying to digest 460 pages of technical legislation, and what it means to Canada and our economy …. they have to bring the entire federal government to the briefing to explain it to us."
Meanwhile, although it went unmentioned, also missing from the bill was any move to give politicians and political parties unfettered use of proprietary news footage in their advertising.
Earlier this month, a leaked cabinet document suggested that the government was planning on using the budget bill to tweak Canada's copyright laws to exempt political parties, candidates and other agents from having to ask permission to make use of that material.