Nick Rose, writing for Vice News, gives a great overview of how Bill C-51 is only the latest example of Harper’s authoritarian tendencies to come out through the various omnibus bills his government has forced through parliament (“Some Kind of Monster: A Brief History of Harper’s Big Fat Omnibus Bills,” Vice News, 12 March 2015):
Bill C-51 is an omnibus bill, meaning that it is creating two laws but also amending roughly a dozen others from the Department of Fisheries Act to the Criminal Code to the Income Tax Act.
Omnibus bills are sometimes appropriate, Rose notes, but he goes on to describe how the Harper government has abused this legislative tool to prevent scrutiny or debate.
Fast-forward five decades and omnibus bills are now being championed by the Conservatives, who have passed eight of them since winning a majority government in 2011.
Mike Spratt is a criminal lawyer from Ottawa who has testified numerous times before House and Senate committees about the detrimental effects of omnibus legislation on the criminal law landscape in Canada, from increasing jail time for minors to minimum jail sentences for possessing more than five marijuana plants.
“I have appeared a bunch of times before Parliament on these bills—they are insane,” Spratt told VICE. “These omnibus bills prevent meaningful study. Critics are demonized—you are either with us or against us. The government says these crime bills are about keeping the public safe but quite often the evidence shows that the opposite is true. That demonstrates either insanity or crass politicking. I don’t know which is worse.”
“C-51 is a good example of omnibus legislation. It is obviously responding to very serious events and national security concerns, but when you cloak a bill in rhetoric and link it to fear and you demonize those who may have contrary opinions, which are based on evidence… it’s very hard to subject these bills to rigorous and intellectually honest criticism.”
The article goes on to describe how Bill C-51 could be used to target aboriginal and environmental groups.
Rose also quotes Harper’s now ironic opposition to omnibus legislation in the 1990s:
In the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
What’s responsible for Harper’s change of position on omnibus legislation? The article suggests it is an expedient way for the prime minister to force through his authoritarian agenda. Politics trumps principle.
Read the full article here: Some Kind of Monster: A Brief History of Harper’s Big Fat Omnibus Bills
Photo credit: Chris Huggins, Flickr