The Cynicism of Politics

Dealing with politics, politicians and bureaucrats, it is impossible not to become cynical about the process and the people.

My current descent into cynicism comes with the federal government’s budget implementation Act, Bill C-10.

The government – or probably more specifically Prime Minister Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty along with whatever bureaucrats and other advisers as were part of the process – put together their stimulus bill which is supposed to save our collective financial asses.

But they had other fish to fry in addition to their budget package.

So, knowing that the Liberal opposition was in no position to force a confidence vote on budget legislation, the government embedded some little goodies within the bill that had nothing to do with stimulus and everything to do with some other agendas.

As follows:

  1. Changes which would end the right of federal civil servants to take pay equity complaints to the federal human rights commission, instead, forcing them to be dealt with as part of the normal bargaining process between union and management.
  2. A cap on wage increases for federal government workers for the next two years at 1.5 per cent annually. Additionally the caps are retroactive to 2006 which may mean wage rollbacks for some workers.
  3. Raising the threshold for a government review on foreign takeovers from $295 million to $1 billion. Also gives the government new powers enabling them to refuse any foreign takeover on the grounds of “national security”
  4. The ceiling on the amount of foreign ownership allowed in domestic airlines (read as Air Canada) from 25% to 49%.
  5. Amendment to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA).

All of these items had their detractors who were offended and angry that they had been slipped into a budget bill where there was no real chance or inclination to debate the issues. My involvement was #5, the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

The NWPA was originally passed in 1882, making it one of the oldest pieces of legislation on Canada’s books and the intent of the Act, then and now, was to protect the integrity of navigable waters across the country while also allowing projects on those waterways, even those that interfered “substanially” if the project was approved by the Minister of Transport. The irritant was that the Minister’s approval automatically triggered an environmental assessment that tied projects up in a great deal of red tape. Therefore, in our new era of encouraging development at any cost the NWPA – in the eyes of both federal and provincial governments – had to be weakened, and weaken it they did.

To detail the problem with these amendment would make this blog far too long, but for anyone wanting the details you can start here and here.

There was immediate pressure from a wide range of groups and individuals to decouple the amendments to the NWPA from Bill C-10 and at least discuss the proposed changes openly as an independent piece of legislation. The government showed no inclination to do that and of course the Liberal opposition was not prepared to defeat the legislation and after 3rd reading the budget bill was sent to the Senate for review.

The Senate was apparently inundated with e-mails, phone calls and letters in opposition to the amendments to the NWPA – reportedly far more than they had ever received on any previous piece of legislation. E-mails came back from Senators stating their own concerns but then it went to the Senate Fiance committee who listened to a presentation by a senior government bureaucrat who informed them that everyone opposing the amendments was misinformed – presumably, I suppose, including outside lawyers who had looked at the legislation – and that there was no threat at all to the status of navigable waters in Canada.

So the Senate dutifully send the budget bill back to the government intact and unchanged, where it now goes to the Governor General for ratification.

I am cynical because the government embedded these separate pieces of legislation within Bill C-10 in the first place, knowing that they would not get open and fair discussion.

I am cynical because the opposition parties paid lip service to the concerns that were directed to them but in the end voted for the politics of the situation because, the Liberals in particular, were not prepared to defeat the government on a budget bill and force an election at this time.

I am cynical because the Senate talked a good game but despite the overwhelming response from the public against the amendments to the NWPA and their opportunity to decouple the NWPA amendments from the budget bill they also played the political game and sent the bill back to parliament with no changes. The Conservative Senators voted for the bill to support their political counterparts in the House. The Liberal Senators voted for it because they didn’t want to risk bringing down the government on a non confidence vote and trigger an election that their counterparts in the House weren’t ready for.

And I am cynical and even embarrassed for all of them when during the Senatate Finance committee it was belatedly discovered that if Bill C-10 was not approved before March 31st unemployed individuals would lose 5 extra weeks of employment insurance benefits. Whether this was a devious insertion by the government to ensure speedy passage of the budget bill, and damn all of the other considerations, or just incompetence on some bureaucrat’s part, but it did give the Senate and the loyal opposition the opportunity to bail out.

As e-mails from Senators said:

Stephen Harper’s Conservative budget included not only matters relating to the economic situation, but also made amendments to 42 non-budget related acts.  While the Liberal caucus does not believe that these amendments are necessary, we passed Bill C-10 in order to ensure that unemployed Canadians would receive five extra weeks of employment insurance benefits.  Hidden in the Conservative budget was a two week retro-active provision, which provided for these benefits and which would not have been available to a great many workers and their families had we not acted swiftly to allow the bill to pass when it did.

So there you go. It was all done for noble reasons.

I’m probably being a bit too hard on them, as most of this (as US President Obama has been known to say) is above their pay scale – although god knows their pay scale is pretty good. But shouldn’t someone have noticed this problem long before it even got to the Senate? Did any of the opposition MPs or their staff even read the bill? Did the government even know that the bill was written in this manner?

Nice to know that the country is in good hands.


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2 Responses to “The Cynicism of Politics”

  1. Gary Mauser Says:

    Wow! What a solid analysis! And well written too.

    You rock, John!

  2. Ryan Says:

    Thanks for posting a link to our info. Anyone wishing to learn more about our NWPA work, visit

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