Opposition vows to keep up pressure on budget bill

Opposition MPs returned to Ottawa this morning after a week in their constituencies and said Canadians aren't happy about the budget bill. The Liberals and NDP promised to keep trying to get the Conservatives to back down on it.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had his first opportunity to ask the government about changes to the Employment Insurance system announced last week, as MPs returned to the House of Commons Monday after a break week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Members of Parliament were back in Ottawa Monday after a week in their constituencies, and the opposition parties said they heard that Canadians are worried about the Conservatives' massive budget bill.

The Liberals and NDP both vowed Monday to keep pressuring the government to back down on the "sweeping" changes contained in Bill C-38.

The NDP held a series of public meetings last week across the country and solicited feedback from Canadians online about the budget implementation bill and the party's House leader Nathan Cullen said they heard from hundreds of people.

"People are concerned about the budget and worried about the changes that are going to be happening to their lives. Canadians are unhappy about the cuts to Old Age Security, new restrictions on employment insurance and cuts to environmental protection," he said at a news conference Monday morning.

"Conservatives have a majority and will pass their bill, our goal is to make sure that they aren't allowed to just sneak through these changes without the voices of Canadians being represented," he said.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said the overriding opinion from the Canadians who spoke out was that the Conservatives weren't up front about their plans and that so many policy changes are contained in one single bill. The budget implementation bill is more than 400 pages and it seeks to repeal several laws, amend dozens of them and implement a new environmental assessment regime.

The NDP said it will continue to listen to Canadians over the coming weeks, present their views to the Commons finance committee which is currently studying the bill, and will pressure the government to accept amendments to it.

Hearings on the budget bill continue this week. The Commons finance committee is hearing from officials from 14 different government departments Monday night and the subcommittee established to study the environmental assessment portion of the bill also meets Monday.

Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau said his party will also keep pressuring the government to listen to public opinion and reverse course on the budget bill. He said public outrage has worked before to prompt the government to change its own legislation and the Liberals hope that will happen with C-38.

Garneau told reporters that his party is trying to engage Canadians in the debate and that when it comes to the next vote on the bill, the Liberals will send a strong message to the government.

Garneau said when the bill is back at report stage the Liberals will propose clauses they want to see deleted.

"We feel this is the best approach rather than to hyperventilate and make lots of noise. This procedurally is the best way to approach this because this government is clearly abusing democracy," he said.

Garneau also said the Liberals will appeal to backbench Conservative MPs to listen to the concerns of their constituents and vote against Bill C-38.

Liberals team up with Green MP Elizabeth May

He referred to Tory MP David Wilks, who made headlines last week when a video of him meeting with constituents was posted online. The British Columbia MP said he has some concerns about the number of policy changes that are packed into a single bill, but later he issued a statement saying he fully supports the bill.

Garneau also said his party is teaming up with Green MP Elizabeth May to propose amendments to Bill C-31, the government's immigration and refugee bill, at the report stage.

The Liberals tried to amend it at the committee stage but few of their 28 proposals were accepted, said Garneau. The bill is due to be debated at report stage Tuesday night – if it is not delayed by back-to-work legislation for Canadian Pacific Railway workers – and because May isn't allowed to sit on committees, she is permitted to propose substantive amendments at the report stage.

She will propose similar amendments to the Liberal ones that were rejected. Debating May's amendments could substantially delay a vote on the bill.

"We've very, very clearly indicated that we are the real opposition here because we found that the best way to deal with this is to work with other parties, in this particular case with the Green Party," said Garneau.

The budget implementation bill aims to reform the employment insurance program and Monday's question period was the opposition parties' first opportunity to react in the House of Commons to some of the details announced last week by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

The government wants to toughen up the rules for EI claimants and intends to take a person's EI history into account when determining how long someone can collect benefits before having to broaden their job search and accept work with lower wages than their previous job.

Opposition MPs said the Conservatives are attacking seasonal workers with their proposed changes and criticized the government for not consulting enough with provincial and territorial leaders.

Finley defended the government's plan and said the changes will address labour shortages and connect unemployed Canadians with available work in their local areas.

The government also defended its introduction of back-to-work legislation for Canadian Pacific Railway workers who went on strike last week. The bill was tabled after question period. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said earlier the bill was necessary to protect Canada's economy and international reputation.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan