Opposition threatens legislature slowdown over ‘omnibus’ bill, CBC – 29 March 2016
article by Jacques Poitras, CBC
“It goes from amending legislation dealing with agriculture, to legislation dealing with car salvage, vehicle salvage. So it’s from soup to nuts. It’s nuts.”- David Coon
Opposition politicians are threatening to slow down the work of the New Brunswick Legislature to protest a so-called “omnibus” government bill that’s 77 pages and would amend 14 different laws.
Liberal cabinet minister Victor Boudreau introduced the bill, An Act to Implement Strategic Program Review Initiatives, on Tuesday.
Boudreau, the minister responsible for the review, told MLAs that grouping all the amendments in a single bill “would make the best use of our time” in the legislature.
“Nothing in this legislation would be new to anyone who followed the Strategic Program Review and the outcomes that flowed from the budget that was tabled in February,” he told reporters afterward. “So we’re just trying to be as efficient as possible.”
Boudreau rejected comparisons to the omnibus bills introduced in the House of Commons by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, such as a 457-page bill in 2012 that amended 64 laws.
Those bills, routinely criticized by federal Liberals, implemented budget measures but also contained a range of other unrelated initiatives.
“We’re not in Ottawa, we’re in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and as I said, this is all tied to the one initiative,” Boudreau said.
“This isn’t taking a bunch of different initiatives and bringing them together under one piece of legislation. This is all tied to (the) Strategic Program Review.”
But opposition MLAs accused the Liberals of trying to ram through legislative changes without proper scrutiny by grouping them together and wearing down the opposition.
“This is a Liberal strategy to try to push everything in a very short period time, to overwhelm the opposition, to overwhelm the media, to overwhelm stakeholders and push everything into this bill,” interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch said.
Green Party Leader David Coon, who saw the bill moments after it was introduced, said “it goes from amending legislation dealing with agriculture, to legislation dealing with car salvage, vehicle salvage. So it’s from soup to nuts. It’s nuts.”
Boudreau says the bill will reduce the number of agencies, boards, and commissions, will streamline government processes, and will update policies.
“This legislation simply enacts the decisions that were laid out in that budget,” he said.
But with eight other bills introduced Tuesday, the opposition is wondering whether all the legislation can get a proper examination in the three sitting weeks remaining before the summer break.
The government plans for regular sitting days this week, next week, and the week of May 17. It plans to hold committee hearings the weeks of April 19, April 26, and May 3, with breaks during the weeks in between.
But because there’s no time limit on the examination of bills in committee, both the PCs and Coon say they may force the legislature to hold extra regular sittings to study the bills.
“It could last more than three weeks, based on the amount of bills that are being put on the floor, and the depth of those bills,” Fitch said.