NDP sets up roadblocks to budget bill

New Democrat MPs have begun slipping procedural knots over Parliament in a bid to prevent the Harper government from speedily passing its massive budget implementation bill.

Tories refused to split up massive budget bill

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, in the House of Commons Wednesday, says his party has reached a breaking point in terms of government's lack of respect for Parliament. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

New Democrat MPs have begun slipping procedural knots over Parliament in a bid to prevent the Harper government from speedily passing its massive budget implementation bill.

The NDP triggered a series of procedural delays Wednesday, just two hours after the government rejected the official Opposition's proposal to split the 400-plus-page bill up into manageable chunks that could be scrutinized more closely.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said more obstacles will be rolled in the government's path in the days to come. The legislative roadblocks are aimed at  preventing the government from proceeding with a second-reading vote on the omnibus bill planned for Monday.

Cullen said the government has no one to blame but itself after refusing a reasonable offer to split the bill up into five separate bills. 

"The government made their bed, now they have to lie in it," he told reporters. "We're trying to put a little water in the wine of the government and say, 'You may have some technical powers here but there are still rights and privileges for MPs and the people we represent and the people we represent want to see a fair hearing of this bill and want the worst parts taken out."'

Government House leader Peter Van Loan insisted the bill needs to be passed speedily in order to "deliver results for the economy."

"We're in an era now of significant global instability and you just look over to Europe to see the problems that happen when you have political indecision and political impasse and Canadians don't want to see that. So we need this bill passed in time."

No support for NDP from Liberals

The NDP got no support for their manoeuvring from the Liberals. They complained the tactical manoeuvres only managed to eat up several hours of the limited time allotted for budget debate, robbing at least eight MPs of the chance to speak while doing nothing to stop the government from forcing Monday's vote.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae took to Twitter to scoff at what he portrayed as a naive and ineffective attempt by the NDP to force the government's hand.

"Tories are limiting debate, and NDP are preventing debate, so Bambi and Godzilla deserve each other," he tweeted.

The bill contains more than 400 pages and makes major changes to some 60 laws that have little or nothing to do with budgetary matters, including environmental regulations, fisheries protection, immigration, and employment insurance, among other things.

Opposition parties contend the government is trying to sneak controversial changes through with little scrutiny by stuffing them into the budget bill.

The NDP prevented three hours of planned debate on the bill Wednesday by dragging out discussion on what should have been routine acceptance of a fisheries committee report on snow crabs.

They forced time-consuming recorded votes on a number of motions, including one to recognize another NDP speaker and two seeking adjournment of the House. After the second reading vote, the bill is supposed to go to the Commons finance committee for closer study. The government has refused to allow the disparate parts of the bill to be examined by different committees with expertise in each of the various subject areas.

It has said only that a sub-committee of the finance committee will be created to deal with the non-budgetary portions. Cullen said the government is taking an unprecedented step to ensure that only finance committee members are allowed to examine the bill, excluding other MPs with greater expertise on the environment or other matters who normally would be able to sign up as associate members of the committee.

"They're declaring holy war on it now," Cullen said in an interview. However, a spokesman for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Cullen is mistaken; opposition parties may put any MPs they choose on the sub-committee. The government has agreed to allow various Senate committees to examine different portions of the bill once it arrives in the upper chamber. Van Loan did not explain why the same could not be done for Commons committees.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said his party has reached "a breaking point" in terms of the government's lack of respect for our parliamentary institutions. He vowed that the NDP's response will accelerate with each attempt by government to "shut down Parliament."

"The government is basically laughing at Parliament on the most crucial thing that we do as elected members, which is to hold the government to account on how it spends public money," Mulcair said. "They're saying, 'You're going to look at 60 different modifications to 60 different laws, 400 pages of text, and you're going to do that in a few hours.' ... Obviously, we're not going to put up with that."