In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I wish to put forward one final argument to persuade you to reject Bill C-38, which violates the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. My argument is this: the respect of the body politic of this institution is at stake.
I recall the words of the late journalist, a great Canadian, James Travers. We happened to both be on the CBC program Sunday Edition in the spring of 2009, discussing threats to our democratic institutions. He commented that we really no longer have a democracy in Canada, and if we visit Ottawa today, what we will see is a democracy theme park. The buildings are still there and we can tour Parliament, but we will no longer see democracy.
I refuse to accept that is the case. I acknowledge that democracy is not a permanent state of existence. It can be won, as in Arab Spring, and it can be lost. It can be lost through violence; it can be lost through neglect. It does not survive without the constant application of checks on the abuse of power. It needs openness. Those things done by stealth invariably breed an unhealthy loss of respect in our democratic institutions. Sunlight is a great antiseptic. The myriad, unrelated pieces of legislation under cover of Bill C-38 should, to respect Westminster parliamentary democracy, be brought out of the shadows, be tabled separately and studied on their own merit.
To allow Bill C-38 to masquerade as a legitimate omnibus bill will bring our institutions into greater disrepute.
Bill C-38 is widely understood in the popular media as a fraud. I will cite a few examples of respected commentators on our system of government.
Andrew Coyne wrote that Bill C-38 “… is not remotely a budget bill despite its name.” He wrote that, while throwing non-budgetary matters into a budget bill is not unknown, in Bill C-38 “the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy but a sort of compulsory buffet.”
John Ivison in the National Post, noting that the excuse for this omnibus approach is the urgency to move projects to approval, maintains:
… it’s not so “urgent” that it justifies an end-run around 145 years of parliamentary tradition…. Someone, somewhere deep within the Prime Minister’s Office took the decision to try to cram as much contentious legislation in one mega-bill to minimize the political fallout. It was a dumb move and it has blown up in their faces…. condemned by all but the most blinkered of partisans.
Terry Glavin wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that:
Bill C-38…is a heck of a thing. It’s an omnibus bill that purports to be a budget bill but isn’t. It’s a statutory juggernaut that introduces, amends, or repeals nearly 70 federal laws. It’s been presented to the House of Commons in a manner that may be without close precedent in Canadian parliamentary history.
Dan Gardner wrote just this weekend in the Ottawa Citizen that:
…the government’s mammoth Bill C-38, which is theoretically the budget implementation bill, but is in reality a vast number of pieces of legislation that have nothing to do with each other, or the budget. Piling most of the government’s legislative agenda together in one bill ensures scrutiny will be kept to a minimum, which is in keeping with the government’s unprecedented use of time allocation and closure to shut down parliamentary debate.
We, as parliamentarians, must be the bulwark against abuse of power, even in a majority government. Our only shield is our traditions, the standing rules, precedent and our respect for the same. Our only hope is in a fair judge. I turn to you, Mr. Speaker, without fear or favour, sine timore aut favore, to rule fairly and protect Westminster parliamentary democracy, to restore public faith in our institutions and to order Bill C-38, a bill imperfect in form and shape, to be withdrawn pursuant to our standing rules.