Real governments don’t stuff important non-budgetary policy changes into bloated omnibus budget bills
NationalPost.com – FullComment
Sep 20, 2012. Marni Soupcoff
The Tories’ last budget bill was huge and bursting at the seams with items unrelated to the actual budget. Now, all signs are pointing to an impending omnibus sequel.
The government is expected to table a second bloated omnibus budget bill this year, crammed with policy changes to everything from urban aboriginal strategy to MP pensions. Whether the new measures are good or bad (reducing MP pensions is a positive step, at least), it will be a shame if they really are all jammed into a massive budget bill along the lines of last March’s 400-page behemoth. (Rumour has it, this latest budget bill will be even larger.)
Parliament is not designed to operate like a python, which can happily eat an entire antelope at one sitting, then stay pleasantly satiated for weeks. Our system of government is more of grazer — it works best when issues are kept to small bite-sized pieces of legislation that can be consumed gradually, one at a time. That way each issue can be properly examined and debated by the opposition and specialized committees, and the public can at least harbour a decent hope of keeping track of what their government is doing before it becomes a done deal. Giant omnibus bills give our parliamentary democracy indigestion.
The point holds particularly true when it comes to significant non-budgetary policy changes. For example, in the last budget bill, the Conservatives included provisions that gave U.S. law enforcement agents new powers, allowing them to cross into Canadian territory while armed and arrest suspects on Canadian soil. This was a major change that posed an array of potential civil liberties and sovereignty concerns. Given the impact it had on Charter rights, the primacy of local law enforcement and basic notions of due process, it warranted discrete investigation and attention. The matter should not have been squeezed in amongst a phone-book’s worth of other, unrelated measures that were rushed over in parliament’s haste to get the budget through. If the government truly believed in this expansion of police power to a foreign entity, it should have been willing to have it stand alone on its own merits. The same is true for all non-budget items of any consequence.
Budget bills used to be about tax changes — nothing more, nothing less. The Tories should return to that model, saving measures on unrelated topics for separate bills that can be scrutinized and voted on independently. It’s a fairer, more transparent way to govern. And it’s but a small sacrifice of convenience for governments with nothing to hide.
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