Ever notice how many important and potentially controversial pieces of legislation are first brought to the public’s attention as riders, or perhaps in the fine print, of much larger bills?
For example, in 2003, the Campbell government brought in Bill 75, the Significant Projects Streamlining Act, as a small portion of a press release titled, “Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment.” Sometimes referred to as the “steamrolling act,” it gave ministers the power to override local laws deemed impediments to provincially significant projects. It has never been used, partly because local governments banded together to set up a fund to fight the move in court if a municipal government was ever “Bill 75ed.”
This week’s of the measure to reclassify 2.36 hectares of land from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park for the proposed Sea to Sky Gondola was introduced in similar fashion — as something like the eighth paragraph of a press release headed, “Province expands protected areas system.” Sure, it was likely to happen anyway, but it’s almost as though the Clark government expected an outcry and wanted to mute the response by saying, “Hey, but we’re protecting all this over here…”
A far more egregious example is the Feds’ inclusion of controversial Fisheries Act and Environmental Assessment Act amendments in the 2012 budget bill. The measures will make it easier for industries — especially ones named Enbridge — to get their projects through, while jeopardizing the health of Canada’s environment.
While we can argue about whether the changes are actually needed for the Tories and their friends to have their way, the manner in which they’re being introduced is a smackdown to those radical foreign devils (and perhaps a few ordinary Canadians) who care about the Earth. Wrote the Ottawa Citizen’s Terry Glavin, “There was no need for great chunks of legislation to be retrofitted into a 420-page omnibus budget bill that looks to have been intended to confound every effort by the House of Commons to scrutinize its contents intelligently.”
Canadians can look at it as a stealthy way to bring closure to the debate on some of the Tories’ most reviled moves to date — one that lots of us will remember when the next election rolls around. After all, parliamentarians have to pass the budget, don’t they?
— David Burke