NDP, government debate splitting omnibus budget bill

New Democrats are calling for MPs to vote to split the budget implementation bill, a 400-page document detailing major changes to subjects as varied as environmental regulations and immigration law, but Conservative MPs say they're just trying to stall.

NDP wants 400-page omnibus bill split into five measures; Tories accuse them of stalling

New Democrat House leader Nathan Cullen says the party is calling for all MPs to vote to split the budget implementation bill, a 400-page document detailing major changes to subjects as varied as environmental regulations and immigration law. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

New Democrats are calling for MPs to vote to split the budget implementation bill, a 400-page document detailing major changes to subjects as varied as environmental regulations and immigration law.

The party is tabling a motion in the House Monday to split the bill so that MPs can debate it by section and so it doesn't go as a whole to finance committee rather than the subject-specific committees who deal regularly with some of the issues covered in the budget.

"This bill contains many distinct proposals and principles. The Conservatives' 400-page omnibus bill does little to help our economy or get people back to work. But it does gut environmental protection and rewrite Canada's fisheries laws," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said, referring to two of the measures included in the budget bill.

New Democrats want the bill broken into at least five sections, Cullen said, including the environment, fisheries and other subjects. While it's supposed to be a budget bill, two-thirds of it concerns environmental measures, he added. 

"It is inappropriate to put so many sweeping changes to so many different areas in the budget bill," he added.

"A bad budget lasts a year. These implementations will last perhaps a generation."

The motion calls for some sections of the bill, C-38, to be pulled out and grouped under the heading C-38A. It would start the process at second reading in the House, the stage before it goes to committee for study.

Cullen was due to meet with Government House Leader Peter Van Loan late Monday afternoon. The New Democrat said he was optimistic because the government asked for more information about his proposal.

Opposition can use subcommittee to study bill

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver defended the government's use of an omnibus bill to pass changes to environmental regulations, arguing he has spoken to Canadians about it and the opposition can put knowledgeable MPs on the committee studying it.

The finance committee studies budgetary measures. Oliver says a subcommittee will look at the environmental changes in the bill.

"The study will be a public exchange with witnesses from every side of the debate," he said

"The membership of the committee will be set by each party’s whip to ensure that relevant critics can study these important changes."

Cullen says the government is becoming what they used to oppose before Stephen Harper became prime minister.

"Not only could they do this the proper way and probably just with the votes that they have win, the challenge they have is they want as little scrutiny as possible. This is a pathology within this government."

The government isn't interested in splitting the bill, a spokesman for Van Loan said. That means the NDP likely won't garner enough support to break the bill apart for more scrutiny.

"Today's proposal by the NDP is just another attempt to delay this important job-creating bill. The NDP's opposition is simply an ideological response to the budget which they opposed from the moment it was introduced," Van Loan said in a statement.

The budget bill contains measures to repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, set timelines for environmental assessment hearings, gives the federal cabinet the authority to approve new pipeline projects and overhauls the Fisheries Act to focus only on major waterways.

'Scandalous,' 'illegitimate' bill

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called what the government is doing "scandalous" and "illegitimate."

"They’re actually gutting key pieces of environmental law that were never once mentioned in the budget," she said.

"It’s an extremely complex piece of legislation, badly drafted, it is certainly not user-friendly to industry or other levels of government."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says all the measures are part of the government's economic plan.

"The budget is a comprehensive document. It is a general statement of government policy, not just for the next year but for the next decade and the next generation. And, yes, it requires a lot of legislation but Parliament can work hard and we’ll get it done," he said.

Environment groups not 'accused of criminal activity'

The government has had a testy relationship with environmental advocacy groups, with Oliver referring to some as radical. 

Last week, Environment Minister Peter Kent accused some environment groups of money laundering, although he wouldn't name any of the ones he had in mind.

"Essentially what our government is doing through the finance committee is investigating allegations that offshore funds have improperly been funnelled through — laundered if you will, that's a fairly accurate word — through Canadian organizations that have charitable status to be used in ways that would be improper given that charitable status," Kent told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics, on Tuesday.

Pressed whether the use of the word "laundering" suggests criminal activity, Kent said: "There are allegations — and we have very strong suspicions — that some funds have come into the country improperly to obstruct, not to assist, in the environmental assessment process," Kent said.

The environmental review process is intended to determine whether a project poses adverse environment effects and whether those effects can be mitigated.

Money laundering is a crime where the proceeds of illegal activity are concealed or converted to look like they came from a legitimate source.

Imagine Canada, an umbrella group that represents charities, has demanded Kent name the charities or retract the comments.

Asked for his view, Oliver said, "I haven’t used that term and I don’t think people were being accused of criminal activity."

with files from CBC News