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The new federal budget tabled in the House of Commons is 430 pages long and as an omnibus bill, amends or introduces 51 Acts of Parliament, which has MPs complaining it will take a lot of time and work to unpack and debate the contents.
“I’m am not sure I am really clear how we as a finance committee can give proper scrutiny to something like this,” Manitoba Conservative MP Marty Morantz said at a House of Commons finance committee meeting on May 2.
“I’m not the only one who feels this way when it comes to this sort of omnibus legislation.”
A second follow-up bill to C-47, the Budget Implementation Act, is expected to be presented this fall.
Morantz said when the Liberal Party was sitting as opposition in government, they called catch-all omnibus budget bills “undemocratic,” according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
He noted that in 2013, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then the Liberal MP representing Papineau, Quebec, criticized the Conservative government for unwieldly omnibus bills. According to Morantz, Trudeau said: “‘Omnibus bills prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating proposals; we will bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”
Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie suggested the finance committee “would need at least 100 hours” to go through the budget legislation. He said, “I think it’s important that every member of the finance committee gets the answers to all their questions before voting on the bill.”
Hundreds of Pages
It has been a common complaint from MPs that omnibus bills are being passed by the House and Senate with most parliamentarians never having a chance to read or understand the bills, which sometimes run hundreds of pages long.
Parliament passed two separate omnibus bills, C-74 and C-86, in 2018, that together came to 1,411 pages, the largest in Canadian history.
In 2012, an omnibus budget bill under the Conservative government was 452 pages. In 2013, the budget bill was 309 pages, and in 2014 it was 478 pages, Blacklock’s reported.
“I thought there was a lesson learned,” Morantz said on May 2.
The MP said that a few years ago in a budget bill, a section amended the Criminal Code to allow for deferred prosecution agreements. “That initiative led to a major scandal,” he said.
That omnibus bill, put forward by the Trudeau government and passed by Parliament in 2018, allowed prosecutors to suspend criminal charges against companies in some cases of alleged corporate wrongdoing.
Bill C-74 modified the Criminal Code to allow a “deferred prosecution agreement,” and was hidden in budget legislation 582 pages long.
The Liberals said it was to encourage companies to self-report corporate crimes to avoid facing criminal charges like bribery, corruption, and inside trading. The legislation listed 31 qualifying offences, including bribery of a foreign public official, municipal corruption, fraud, theft, forgery and insider trading. The government called it a “remediation agreement regime.”
At the time, a House of Commons finance committee, made up of all parties, said they were not aware of the change until they heard testimony of a senior official from the justice department.
Then-Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who is now parliamentary secretary to Trudeau, told the committee the change seemed to be “a little slap on the wrist” for white-collar crime. “I do have some serious questions about this,” said Fergus. He said that despite reading through most of the bill, he had not picked up on the deferred prosecution provision.
Bill C-74 was enacted in June 2018 and generated controversy after SNC-Lavalin, facing criminal charges and accusations of corruption dating back to 2015, sought a deferred prosecution agreement in 2019.
SNC-Lavalin was accused of trying to bribe public officials in Libya, including dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and of lobbying the Prime Minister’s Office to get a prosecution deferral. In 2021, the company became the first corporation to be offered a settlement agreement using the clause. Executives of the company have since pleaded guilty or been convicted of fraud, bribery, bid-rigging, breach of trust, laundering the proceeds of crime, and making $109,616 in illegal contributions to the campaign of the Liberal Party.
On May 2, Morantz asked the committee if there were any changes in the omnibus budget bill that would “benefit any one particular company,” Blacklock’s reported.
“Anyone? Anyone here can answer that? You don’t know? There might be? There is a lot of silence around the table, Mr. Chair.”