COLUMN: Solberg – Democarcy ain’t dead, despite omnibus bill

- June 18th, 2012

Opposition to get its licks at budget bill

by Monte Solberg

In the last two weeks, bathtubs of ink have been spilled claiming the Conservatives are killing democracy by pushing through the Budget Implementation Act.

Critics claim there were too many things in the bill that had nothing to do with the budget.

How, they wondered, could individual budget measures be properly scrutinized by parliamentarians?

You see, debate on the bill was to be limited through “time allocation.”

These criticisms imply that the budget and the measures in the budget will not be reviewed or debated again.

The problem with Parliament is that it’s complicated and some people are cynically exploiting that fact to scare the public.

Perhaps the most important factoid that needs to be grasped is the vote on the Budget Implementation Act is just one of dozens of opportunities for MPs and senators to scrutinize and vote on budget measures. In fact, much of what Parliament will do over the next year involves reviewing budget measures.

For instance, the government will present to Parliament its 2012 budget spending commitments for the year in the form of the supplementary and main estimates.

This will happen four times within the year. If you’re lucky enough to catch the votes on the estimates on CPAC on a cool autumn evening, you can watch MPs spend your tax dollars in chunks of $30 or $40 billion at a time.

A government loss on any of those votes would cause the government to fall.

You can also go to the individual standing committees of the House of Commons and watch MPs review the estimates by questioning ministers and public servants about the specific spending plans for their department.

There are also 22 days a year when the opposition members get to pick the issue to be debated in the House. Given the hullabaloo they have raised over the Budget Implementation Act, we must assume they’ll use all 22 days to condemn the government for its budget.

In other words, the time allocation that restricted debate on the Budget Implementation Act to 18 hours is on top of scores of hours of debate that will occur over the next year in the House of Commons and in committees.

Besides, 18 hours means as many as 108 scintillating speeches on the budget. Oh yes, and let’s not forget that MPs already spent several days debating the budget when it was first unveiled back at the end of March.

Actually there are many opportunities for MPs to criticize the government’s budget but because those meetings and debates wouldn’t typically be covered by the media, often the opposition just won’t bother.

None of this is to say that the Conservatives are being overly considerate of the Opposition in how they have bundled up the bill. Stephen Harper plays politics with his elbows up.

That said, the democratically elected Conservatives are playing within the rules established by previous democratically elected Parliaments.

So, despite cries that democracy is dying coming from certain dramatic opponents of the government, democracy will survive.

It will even survive the drama queens who breathlessly and cynically proclaim its death.

Categories: Politics

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