Omnibus Bills and Social Protest in Canada

It is remarkable that not one but two great national social protest movements have been sparked by Conservative omnibus “budget implementation” bills that were brought in shortly after the Conservatives gained a majority in Parliament after the last election. That says a lot about the character of this government and Mr. Harper’s leadership style in particular. But it also says a lot of the health of our democracy, and of civil society NGOs in particular.

During the years of Conservative minority government 2006-2011, Political scientists like myself worried publicly about what a government like Harper’s, which had already begun muzzling scientists and indulging in unprecedented back-to-back prorogations of Parliament in order to evade accountability, would be like if it gained a parliamentary majority. It didn’t take long to find out: just as premature prorogation was the weapon of choice in minority government, omnibus budget legislation became a key tool to fast-track Conservative priorities while minimizing accountability.

In the summer of 2012, a young Phd student named Katie Gibbs organized a protest in response to the infamous Budget Bill C-38 that killed funding for numerous federal science positions and research labs coast to coast. It also radically curtailed environmental assessments. You can learn more about the protest at http://www.desmog.ca/print/8240, (and more about the three-part CBC radio documentary  Science Under Siege at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/science-under-siege-part-1-1.3091552 ).

Just  a few months later, in October 2012, four women in Saskatchewan — Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld— – became concerned about Bill C-45, the Conservative government’s second Omnibus Budget Bill, which had just been introduced in Ottawa.  It included amendments to the Indian Act that would “streamline” the voting and approval procedures associated with land designations; and amend the Navigable Waters Act in a way that affected First Nations interests (See my  January 2013 editorial in the Prince George free Press here: http://www.pgfreepress.com/idle-no-more-spotlights-shortcomings/  ) .
My conclusion to that op-ed article rings just as true two and a half years later:
“It is great that Harper government issued an historic apology to First Nations for the residential schools in 2008. But that does not excuse the cavalier fashion in which native interests have been treated whenever they conflict with the government’s economic priorities. Like the F-35 fiasco, the determination to close the Onsite clinic and build more prisons regardless of either expert or public opinion; the breath-taking “any treaty is a good treaty” rush to sign trade deals, the Prorogation crisis, the unilateral cap on health spending, and the omnibus budgets themselves, the C-45 amendments are an example of Stephen Harper’s general downgrading of democracy and proceduralism in policy-making. I for one find the prime minister’s whole approach to be a step in the wrong direction. The First Nations do not protest too much; the rest of us protest too little.”
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