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Potential for marathon week for MPs as Speaker set to rule on budget amendments

NDP MP Guy Caron speaks on September 13, 2011 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

OTTAWA - Opposition politicians throwing hundreds of amendments at the Conservatives' omnibus budget bill are set to find out which ones are going to stick.

What could be a marathon week in the House of Commons begins Monday with the Speaker expected to decide how over 1000 changes proposed to Bill C-38, the government's budget implementation bill, will be dealt with in the House.

The 400-plus pages of legislation amends some 70 laws, including the process for environmental assessment and the rules around Old Age Security and Employment Insurance.

The government argues all legislation contained within the bill is to the economic benefit of the country, but critics say jamming so many major changes into a single bill means they aren't getting the scrutiny they require.

But with a Conservative majority, the bill is set to pass, so all the Opposition parties have pulled procedural rabbits of their hats.

The New Democrats and the Liberals gave notice of over 1000 amendments seeking to delete various clauses of the bill. Technically, a vote is required on each one, which could keep the Commons sitting around the clock for days.

"The content is flawed in many respects and they just want to bulldoze through the whole process," said NDP deputy finance critic Guy Caron.

Both parties had also suggested changes at the committee studying the bill but those were rejected by the Tories.

On Monday, the Liberals will try anew, asking for elements relating to fisheries, environmental assessment, EI and old age security removed and introduced as separate legislation.

Meanwhile, since neither the Bloc Quebecois nor the Green Party had the ability to propose changes at committee, they have put forward their own suggestions in the Commons.

The Bloc wants 22 changes, while the Green Party is proposing 320 amendments.

Green Party leader, and lone MP, Elizabeth May said her changes seek to respect the intent of the bill while at the same time remove some of its more egregious elements.

"They are in fact serious efforts to revise C-38 in a way that, if my amendments were accepted, the government's purpose would be met but environmental protection...would be preserved," she said.

Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan suggested the government may look at some of the proposed changes, but argued the lion's share are merely procedural games.

"It appears to me that the Opposition is simply looking to delay our important job creating measures," said Van Loan said.

"It's a foolish thing to do at a time when these are important economic measures and the global economy is facing very fragile circumstances."

To what extent the amendments will bog down the Commons is in the hands of Speaker Andrew Scheer.

Scheer, a Tory MP, has at his disposal a power granted in 2001.

That year, the governing Liberals invested the Speaker with the authority to refuse to allow votes on motions he deemed of a "repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings."

The introduction of that rule followed a series of contentious debates in the Commons that saw Opposition parties introduce thousands of amendments to legislation like the Young Offenders Act and the Nisga'a land claims treaty.

That piece of legislation was stalled by the precursor to today's Conservatives, the Reform Party, which introduced hundreds of amendments, some as simple as requesting changes to punctuation.

So Scheer now has the ability to merely toss some or all of the amendments out. He could also bundle them together for votes.

The ruling on the amendments will set the stage for the week ahead.

"We'll wait to see how that gets interpreted and we'll move forward from there," Van Loan said.

The Opposition parties say the government's assertion that they are merely playing political games with the amendments is untrue.

"What we are defending are the democratic principles of Parliament that says the job of each and every MP, everyone, Conservatives included, is to hold that government to account and to understand what the impacts of each of these things will be," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told Global TV's West Block on Sunday.

"And a bill so massive, and absolutely so far reaching —there is nobody in that House that can understand each of those impacts and our job is to show that to Canadians."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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