Tis the Season (for Omnibus Bills)

3 minute read

Look out committee staff, omnibus season is once again upon us. Legislation will start to move quickly through the House as attention shifts to shepherding priority government bills. With only three weeks remaining before the six-week winter break, we’ll lay out expectations for government priorities and opportunities for stakeholders to provide their input in this dynamic legislative environment. 

The most notable absence from the Order Paper in the lead up to next month’s adjournment also happens to be the main act. The government’s Fall Economic Statement (FES) Implementation Act has yet to be introduced and it remains unclear when exactly it will drop. 

As many wait for further details on their FES wins (or losses) to be spelled out in legislation, the government is playing its cards close to its chest. So far, they’ve only indicated a bill relating to the FES will be debated sometime this week. A Ways and Means motion to enable new government spending? Also conspicuously absent. 

The government docket

The government has a number of bills moving through the House of Commons that are broad based and far reaching including Bill C-56 (housing and competition reforms) and Bill C-27 (privacy and AI). The House of Commons and its committees are working hard to examine these two omnibus bills This is no small feat considering they both propose sweeping frameworks with lasting implications for companies operating in Canada.

Bill C-27 is a priority bill for the government as it works to catch up to international counterparts on privacy and AI regulation, but stakeholders and experts are sounding the alarm that they haven’t been afforded the opportunity to provide input. 

The issue of inadequate consultation was further compounded when Industry Minister Champagne appeared before the INDU committee and commented, without providing clear details, that the government planned to substantially amend the legislation. 

The government is also expediting the passage of Bill C-56 through the House via an NDP supported procedural motion. This is as a result of further policy concessions by the government. 

Stakeholders who care about housing policy and Competition Act reforms will be given a single hearing to comment publicly before committee members amend the bill and report it back to the House. 

As a direct result of packaging housing and competition reforms together, with procedural support from the NDP, the Liberal government will be able to deliver a badly needed win on affordability. 

Coming down the pipe

Bill C-58 stems from a central policy demand that the NDP outlined in the supply and confidence agreement – a ban replacement workers. While the bill doesn’t fit the necessary qualifications to called an omnibus bill, it’s another major piece of legislation proposing big changes to labour relations.

Along with the Fall Economic Statement Implementation Act expected this week, the government has also hinted they will also introduce a pharmacare bill ahead of the winter break. 

However, both the NDP and Liberals have stated publicly that talks remain ongoing, and NDP sources have signalled that they may be open to waiving the end-of-year deadline on pharmacare legislation. When legislation is introduced, the question remains – will it be stand-alone or part of another omnibus bill to pull the NDP in line to deliver on the government’s wider agenda? 

We’ll be watching for procedural motions to speed passage and curtail debate on Bill C-58, the FES bill, and pharmacare as they dramatically impact engagement strategy for stakeholders on a wide range of issues. 

The government recently managed to behave like a majority government because of strategic bargaining with the NDP in exchange for support on key initiatives. Stakeholders with an interest in Bill C-27, Bill C-56, Bill C-58, the FES Implementation Act and pharmacare should remember that the governing Liberals want to deliver quickly to turn around negative public opinion polls. This means we may see more omnibus style legislation as the government limits regular consultative and legislative processes by packaging NDP-supported initiatives with their own key policies.

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