Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gaming the budget

A point on the shift from studying the budget bill in the Senate to immediate passage. There appears to have been some confusion over the time frame within which parliamentarians had to act. The Liberals believed they had until April 1st to pass the legislation, that none of the measures would take effect until then and all the while, the Conservatives have quietly said nothing publicly to disabuse parliament of that understanding. Why didn't they?

The Conservatives apparently would prefer to sit back and let the opposition walk into a political trap rather than urgently point out that the Conservative written legislation included a backdating provision over EI benefits. Is it not the duty of a government, acting responsibly while people are waiting for EI, to make that crystal clear? Or would they prefer to let Canadians waiting for EI hang in the balance and suffer as a result of such a misunderstanding? I think they made their preference clear today, that they were prepared to risk it. Reports: CP, CTV, CBC.

There is plenty of fodder to be tossed in every direction here but the ultimate responsibility is of course the Conservative government's. For the record, here is the Liberal explanation on the move to quick passage:
* Mr. Flaherty’s appearance before the Senate National Finance Committee yesterday alongside his departmental advisors brought to light an important part of this legislation that in the six weeks since the Budget, the government has failed to disclose.

* Buried inside this omnibus bill is a provision that allows the five-week extension of EI benefits to be applied retroactively from the date the bill receives royal assent by approximately two weeks.

* This is contradicted by the budget, which has no funding identified for extended EI benefits before March 31st (page 121) and the government’s own accountability report at page 74 which states that “Funding to Flow/Benefits Available – April.”

* The passage of this bill will ensure that eligibility for extended EI benefits will be available immediately.

* The provision itself reads:

Coming into Force

231. (1) Subsection 224(1) is deemed to have come into force on the second Sunday before the day on which this Act receives royal assent.
Best up the legislative review team, the Conservatives clearly can't be trusted to be straight with Canadians.