Flaherty tables slimmed-down budget bill

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has tabled a bill to implement his 2013 budget that is much slimmer than last year's two controversial "omnibus" budget bills, joking that this year's version is a "minibus" bill.
Finance Minister speaks to reporters after tabling his budget implementation bill 4:51

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has tabled a bill to implement his 2013 budget that is much slimmer than last year's two controversial "omnibus" budget bills, joking that this year's version is a "minibus" bill.

"We did a lot of the heavy lifting in the budget last year," Flaherty told reporters outside the House of Commons after tabling the bill Monday.

Flaherty said there will be a second budget bill in the fall "as usual."

Budget implementation bills are designed to spell out the way that savings and spending outlined in the budget are to be carried out.

Opposition parties complain that too many non-budgetary items are being loaded into the budget implementation bills, even though anything in a budget implementation bill is supposed to be linked to a reference in the budget.

There were two budget implementation bills last year for Budget 2012, and their combined pages numbered close to 900. They also included amendments to several existing laws, and so were referred to as "omnibus" bills.

By contrast, this year's bill — known as the Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 — is about 100 pages, Flaherty said. The document released Monday is actually 125 pages, include title page, blank pages and summaries.

Changes to Crown corporations

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper enter the House of Commons to table the federal budget on March 21, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

One significant item that wasn't detailed in Budget 2013 is that a government official will be able to sit at the table when Crown corporations, such as Canada Post or the CBC, negotitate collective agreements with their employees. The bill further proposes that the government must approve any offers to change employees' terms and conditions.

Another part of Budget 2013 will be in a second budget implementation bill that will be tabled this fall. MP Kelly Leitch, parliamentary secretary for human resources, said Monday it will contain the Canada Job Act to train workers with the support of provinces and employers.

The bill introduced Monday reiterates many measures that were announced in Budget 2013, including:        

  • A tax credit for expenses before adoptions takes place, as well as for personal care services in homecare, and a biggger tax credit for first-time charitable donors.
  • An end to the tax deduction for having a safety deposit box and no more GST/HST excemption for the Governor General.
  • A promise to modernize the Investment Canada Act to clarify the treatment of proposed investments in Canada by foreign state-owned enterprises. This issue came to light during the takeover of the Calgary-based oil and gas company Nexen by the Chinese state-owned enterprise CNOOC.
  • No more clawback for veterans who are receiving disability benefits if they also receive other benefits.
  • More money for training for palliative care, for library services for the blind, and for housing construction in Nunavut.
  • The integration of CIDA into Foreign Affairs.
  • The removal of tariffs on imports of baby clothing and certain sports and athletic equipment.
  • The addition of  tariffs on an array of goods including tricycles and bicycles.
  • Changes to the way dividends are taxed.
  • Changes to the temporary foreign workers program.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said in a press conference Monday afternoon that the bill is "once again an omnibus budget bill. We call it omnibus 3.0."

Break up the bill: NDP

Nash said that the bill ought to be broken up into several distinct bills that could be studied, debated and voted on separately. She said that the NDP plans to introduce its own bill that would split the bill into several parts.

Last year, the NDP proposed dividing one of the two 2012 budget implementation bills into five separate pieces of legislation, but the government nixed the idea.

Last year's first budget bill, Bill C-38, at 452 pages, contained measures such as removing the responsibility for fish habitat from the federal government. It also eliminated the position of Inspector General at CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Opposition MPs charged that these, and other changes, were not part of Budget 2012. In response, the opposition filibustered as much as it could and then drew out the voting process in an around-the-clock session in the House of Commons.

The second budget bill, C-45, introduced last fall, removed federal protection from most of Canada's waterways, replacing the more than 100-year-old Navigable Waters Act, a move that was so contentious it helped fuel the First Nations Idle No More protests and hunger strikes.

The opposition introduced thousands of amendments to Bill C-45 and although the House Speaker whittled these down to a more manageable number, the voting process was slowed down, although C-45 was passed as well.