MPs resolve deadlock over 440-page price range invoice after Conservative push for extra hearings

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on May 11.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government’s latest large budget bill would apply Canada’s Criminal Code to the surface of the moon, an example Conservative MPs cited this week in their effort to resist a Liberal timeline to get the legislation through committee hearings.

This is the first budget bill that has been introduced since the NDP announced in March that it would support Liberal budgets and budget bills in exchange for a range of policy concessions.

The House of Commons approved the budget bill at second reading on Tuesday, meaning it is now before the finance committee for a more detailed review.

Conservatives used delay tactics for two days to protest against the government’s proposed May 30 deadline to wrap up all finance committee work on the bill. Late Thursday, MPs reached a unanimous deal that will give them until June 3. The motion also allows for more time than originally planned for other committees to hold simultaneous studies. The agreement still gives the Liberals time to have the bill passed into law before Parliament’s summer recess.

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Coming in at 440 numbered pages and a 22-page index, Bill C-19 is the latest in a long line of Liberal omnibus budget bills that cover a wide range of areas, with some only vaguely referenced in the actual budget.

For instance, this latest budget bill includes changes to the operations of the Senate that were proposed as stand-alone legislation in the previous Parliament.

Another section would ensure that Canadian astronauts working on a planned lunar space station or “on the surface of the moon” would still be subject to Canada’s Criminal Code.

Conservative finance critic Ed Fast said the new lunar law illustrates the wide-ranging nature of the legislation and why it should be the subject of extensive committee hearings to gather opinions from experts.

“It’s comical to see a government using an omnibus bill to push through that kind of legislation,” he said.

Conservative MPs put up strong resistance to the government’s original deadline to wrap up committee hearings, accusing the Liberals of “bulldozing” the bill through Parliament.

“It’s an omnibus bill. It doesn’t only deal with money matters,” Mr. Fast said in an interview on Thursday. “It deals with issues that have really no specific financial implications attached to them. And it’s a way of the Liberals ramming through without proper oversight initiatives that Canadians need to know about, and that we as opposition members should have a good look at.”

The budget bill includes some of the government’s higher-profile budget announcements, such as tax incentives for zero-emission technology manufacturers and funding approvals for housing programs and local transit budget shortfalls.

Two areas of the bill that the Conservatives have said they want to study further include updates to the Competition Act that would expand the definition of anti-competitive conduct and increase the investigative powers of the Competition Commissioner, as well as implementation of new luxury taxes that some opposition MPs say could hurt Canadian manufacturers.

The changes related to the moon are part of an entirely new law – the Civil Lunar Gateway Agreement Implementation Act – that would be created via the budget bill.

The budget document said the government would bring in “new legislation” to ratify a 2020 Canada-U.S. treaty related to participation in a planned crewed mission to the moon. The Canadarm3 is also set to be part of a space station called Lunar Gateway that will orbit the moon.

The lunar legislation in the budget bill states that Canadian astronauts on the space station or “on the surface of the moon” are still subject to the country’s laws.

During a finance committee meeting on Thursday, Conservative MPs spoke at length in objection to the time available for debate.

Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz said the proposed 20 hours of committee debate was in line with past practice. She accused the Conservatives of wasting committee time that could have been used to hear from witnesses.

NDP MP and finance critic Daniel Blaikie ultimately broke the impasse, obtaining unanimous consent for a motion that gave the committee more time for hearings. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Blaikie told The Globe he was frustrated by the Conservatives’ tactics.

“This is not the most egregious case of an omnibus budget bill, by any stretch,” he said.

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