May 25, 2012 – It’s no secret that CARP and the vast majority of members oppose changes to the OAS eligibility age. The facts and arguments in favour of the change are tenuous and the poor and vulnerable are most likely to be affected. When Prime Minister Harper first announced the impending change in Davos, more than two-thirds of CARP members registered opposition in our CARP Poll and we launched the Hands-Off OAS campaign.
So, when the government decided to issue a 425-page Omnibus Budget Bill (C-38), that lumped together and limited debate on approximately 70 separate laws, including OAS changes, CARP took action again.
We sent an open letter to MPs urging them to vote to separate OAS from the omnibus bill for further consideration and due debate. In a special edition of the CARP Action Online Newsletter, we polled CARP members and asked them to use E-Voice to write their local MPs, stating their opposition to Bill C-38 and the limited debate on such a key issue.
CARP Members Oppose Bill C-38 in Force
The vast majority of CARP members – around 85 percent – stated strong opposition the passage of Bill C-38. Members overwhelmingly wanted to see the bill separated into manageable parts and they expected due debate in Parliament over such a fundamental shift in public policy.
Government tactics on this issue propelled members to shift their political preference away from the Government and towards the Opposition. Support for the NDP had risen to 39 percent, notably more than the 31 percent support for the Conservatives, representing a dramatic shift in party preference. For much of the past year, support for the Conservatives has hovered above 50 percent.
When CARP asked members to write MPs, nearly 1,000 emails were sent from across the country largely to government backbenchers. Reaching out to backbenchers and local MPs is more important than contacting high profile ministers and critics, since they have the same single vote as the backbenchers. It also means a lot for MPs to hear directly from their voting constituents. And, members took the time to write their own personalized message, which is more impactful than simply copying from a template.
Nonetheless, after Second Reading, the government exercised its majority and the House voted 149 to 132 to send the bill to Committee, which means Bill C-38 will remain bundled, debate will be limited, and no substantial changes are likely to be made.
Prime Minister Harper once criticized these tactics as anti-democratic. In 1994 as an Opposition MP, he said “it has become a standard practice with governments to bring in omnibus legislation following every budget under what we might call the kitchen sink approach”.
In his very articulate arguments, he cautioned that MPs would not be able to “represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns? We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.”
The Official Opposition has vowed to continue the fight by holding town halls across the country to rouse support for splitting Bill C-38 and to apply pressure on the Government. But, procedurally, the Opposition can do little more than attempt to slow the progress of Bill C-38 in its current form.
Currently, Bill C-38 is before the Standing Committee on Finance, which has limited powers to change legislation. It is then scheduled for the Reporting Stage to the House, before moving on to Third Reading and ultimately to the Senate for approval.
CARP will continue to press the Government and the Opposition to separate OAS from the rest of the budget bill and allow proper debate the issue – as it deserves and as Canadians expect on such an important issue.