Conservatives back down on portions of omnibus bill

In a significant concession, the Conservative government has agreed that portions of its mammoth budget implementation bill will be sent to specialized House of Commons committees for detailed study.

It means that budget bill inclusion of significant changes to the Canada Grain Act affecting the operation of the Canadian Grain Commission will be sent to the Commons agriculture committee once budget bill C-45 is approved in principle by MPs.

The government has limited debate on the 400-page plus bill to four days before it is approved and sent to committee, likely next week.

Members of the Commons agriculture committee say they could begin hearings on the Canada Grain Act changes quickly, perhaps scheduling evening meetings since normal Tuesday and Thursday morning meetings currently are used to study Bill S-11, food safety legislation.

“We asked that they send budget bill sections to appropriate committees so I think we have an obligation to deal with them expeditiously, perhaps in extra evening sittings,” NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said Oct. 25.

Opposition MPs applauded the government decision to allow specialized committees to study parts of the bill relevant to their area of expertise.

Initially, the plan was to send the entire bill that proposes changes to dozens of statutes to the Commons finance committee, where debate would be limited and MP understanding of the impact of legislative change even less.

On Oct. 24, Winnipeg MP Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, opened debate on the budget bill by announcing that portions of it will be sent to 10 different committees including agriculture for detailed hearings.

The budget bill proposes significant changes to the way the Canadian Grain Commission operates including ending mandatory inward inspections of grain moving between elevators and terminals owned by the same company, replacing existing grain trader bonding requirements with an insurance system and abolishing regional appeals tribunals in favour of appeals directly to CGC commissioners.

Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said in an interview the Conservative agreement to let specialized committees study various parts of the massive budget bill is a good first step.

“But they also should allow separate votes on each of the separate areas,” he said. “There are parts of the bill we could support and some we cannot. Making MPs vote in the end on the entire bill really makes the vote meaningless.”

The budget bill vote could come as soon as mid-November.

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