The language used in Parliament can sometimes get pretty obscure. Over the last few weeks, for example, many people have asked: “What is an omnibus bill?”
A “bill” is the written proposal that a government presents to Parliament to create a new law or change an existing one. Bills are very specific. Every word is scrutinized to make sure it’s the right word to convey Parliament’s exact meaning, with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed.
Usually, each bill deals with only one topic, so the debate on its principles and the expert committee work to examine its details can be thoroughly and professionally done. And so the voting on whether to approve it can be clear-cut.
An “omnibus bill” is one that includes several different topics bundled together.
Within reasonable limits, omnibus bills can be managed by Parliament – if all the different topics in any such bill are actually inter-related and inter-dependent. And if the overall volume is not overwhelming.
Before the Harper government took power, omnibus bills were used to implement the core provisions of federal budgets. They averaged fewer than 75-pages and typically amended a handful of laws directly related to budgetary policy.
Under the Harper regime, the “omnibus” procedure has been pushed to unprecedented extremes, causing massive abuses of power. Conservative omnibus bills since 2006 have averaged well over 300 pages.
That is why, last week, in advance of the government’s tabling of new budget legislation, Liberals introduced an Opposition Day motion to clamp down on the misuse of omnibus bills. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), the Conservatives killed it. And within two days, they introduced a new omnibus budget bill, which has 556 sections, fills 443 pages, and touches on more than 24 disconnected topics – everything from navigable waters to grain inspection, from disability plans to hazardous materials.
It’s a complete dog’s breakfast, deliberately designed to be so humongous and convoluted in a single lump that it cannot be intelligently reviewed by Parliament, and any votes will be largely meaningless.
Such abusive tactics have been condemned by none other than Stephen Harper himself. But now in power, he behaves like a Third World despot – seemingly afraid of a properly functioning Parliamentary democracy.
That fear of democracy is also evident in Conservative election financing violations (for which they’ve been charged and convicted), robo-call schemes to manipulate voters, and vicious attack-advertising. It’s all beneath contempt.