Friday, June 8, 2012

Omnibus bill obliterates role of elected MPs

Did you enjoy Celebrate Barrie this past Saturday? I certainly did. But if you passed by Barrie MP Patrick Brown’s office on your way there around mid-day, you would have seen me with dozens of other local citizens standing outside with signs about Bill C-38. Similar actions took place at 73 other MP offices across Canada. What was that all about?
A short answer might almost be, what was it not about? Because Bill C-38 is puts the term “omnibus” to shame. At over 420 pages, it introduces, amends, or repeals nearly 70 different federal laws. In the history of Canada, the only other bills this long or longer have been similar omnibus bills from the Harper government.
You may have heard the many ways C-38 undermines Canada’s environment, by essentially doing away with federal environmental assessments and weakening the Fisheries, Navigable Waters Protection, Species at Risk, and Parks Canada Agency Acts with looser regulations or funding cuts. It entirely repeals and replaces the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In seems to be doing away with any regulation that might even slightly delay a pipeline or other resource extraction project.
While it weakens environmental regulations in the name of expediting growth, it also weakens and defunds many scientific agencies that monitor air or water quality or help clean up spills. It’s as if they believe that if we can’t measure pollution, it doesn’t exist.
Of course, C-38 also makes it harder to claim Employment Insurance, delays Old Age Security and outright repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, so it’s not all about the environment by any means.
Here’s a big one: C-38 lets American police pursue and enforce their laws across our border. It’s ironic that on the bicentennial of winning the War of 1812, the Harper government has decided to retroactively surrender.
But with all that crammed in, there are still some things missing. Many Conservative MPs have assured us that there are increased environmental safety measures in this bill, such as more frequent pipeline inspections or increased navigation and surveillance for tankers. Yet those aren’t actually anywhere in the text! Apparently, in the hurry to erase every conceivable safety-related delay to oil extraction, these countervailing safety measures were overlooked.
All told, there are hundreds of measures in this bill that deserve debate and votes, but debate is being kept short (compared to the length of the act) and it all comes down to a single yes-or-no vote next week. The role of our 308 elected MPs, to represent each of their ridings for each new law, has been obliterated.
The strangest thing is that, with his majority, Stephen Harper could introduce and pass each of these measures on their own. So why are they all mashed together? Why not let our MPs do the job we elected them for?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

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