The Conservatives won a procedural fight in Ottawa Tuesday, seeing House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus deeming Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall economic update implementation legislation as “omnibus” and ordering it to be split up for votes.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer first raised concerns in December, shortly after Freeland tabled Bill C-59, the “Fall Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2023” on Nov. 30.
The legislation spans more than 500 pages and includes a series of tax and legislative measures tied to both the latest fiscal update, but also tying up some loose ends from the 2023 federal budget.
Among the disparate measures contained within this bill: creating a new Department of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities; introducing a 15-week shareable Employment Insurance adoption benefit; implementing the “Digital Services Tax”; and extending a GST rebate to new co-operative housing builds.
Last month, Scheer asked the Speaker to treat the bill as “omnibus” and divide it into more than a dozen pieces for voting purposes at second and third reading stages.
“In the case of Bill C-59, calling it a budget implementation bill would be exceedingly generous,” Scheer said.
“In my respectful view, the fact that a series of measures may have been previewed in a fall economic statement does not amount to a so-called common element,” Scheer said. “It is my submission that the mere inclusion of an item in a fall economic statement cannot be sufficient to overcome the treatment required for an omnibus bill.”
Fergus came back to MPs with his decision on Tuesday, concluding he was in agreement and the Liberal bill will be split into nine portions when it comes up for votes.
“Bill C-59 does indeed contain many measures, some of which stemmed from the budget documents, other from the economic statement. However, some measures are not to be found in either,” he said Tuesday.
As a result, Fergus has ordered that the legislation be split up into nine separate votes, including one dealing with the 2023 budget items, one focused on affordability measures, and one on the various Canada Labour Code changes.
The Liberals came into power promising to end the use of omnibus bills, which they said were used “to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating” matters, calling it “undemocratic.”
In 2017, the Liberal government amended the rules of the House of Commons to allow the speaker to split up omnibus bills for votes when there isn’t a common thread through various parts of the legislation.
While not intended to apply to budget bills, this provision has been used by past speakers to split up sizeable Liberal budget bills.