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Today, across the country, concerned individuals are expected to rally outside offices of Conservative MPs, while the controversial federal budget Bill C-38 is debated in the House of Commons.
Bill C-38 has been heavily criticized for introducing changes to over 70 existing pieces of legislation, which will severely impact issues such as fisheries, employment insurance, immigration and environmental policies.
"This bill is simply too big and too diverse to be examined by the finance committee. There are many sections of this bill that weren't announced in the budget and do not come under the purview of the finance committee," said Peggy Nash, the opposition finance critic.
Resistance to Bill C-38: In Parliament and in the streets
Members from the opposition parties have introduced 871 amendments, in order to break down the proposed changes, so they can be further examined. Andrew Scheer, the House Speaker, grouped all those amendments into 69 groups although they could be up to 159 votes. On Tuesday, the government's House Leader limited the time to debate the bill to 10 hours. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May described this effort to curtail discussion an "outrage."
According to the government, however, this bill is essential for economic prosperity.
"Our government chooses prosperity, for all Canadians," said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in the budget speech. "We will take decisive action to ensure our economy will create good jobs and sustain a higher quality of life for our children and grandchildren."
While Bill C-38 is expected to pass over the course of the next few days after a marathon of votes, it has created an unprecedented form of resistance from the public. Concerned Canadians from different walks of life are rallying together against it. On the day the budget was introducted, a group of people in Ottawa - including seniors, workers, and students - interrupted the speech by shouting: "Where are we in your budget, this is not our budget".
On May 1, unions, in collaboration with community groups and other organizations, held rallies across the country bringing together thousands of people from different movements to collectively oppose the budget.
Perhaps, most surprisingly, Bill C-38 has alarmed an audience that is not typically known for its support for protests. Conservative voters, MPs and former ministers are speaking up against Bill C-38.
Former Tory ministers speak out
Tom Siddon and John Fraser, two former Conservative ministers, have expressed concerns about the bill. "[W]e believe there is genuine public concern over the perceived threat this legislation poses to the health of Canada's environment", they said in an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "We find it troubling that the government is proposing to amend the Fisheries Act via omnibus budget legislation in a manner that we believe will inevitably reduce and weaken the habitat-protection provisions."
On June 4, over 500 organizations, companies and individuals took part in 'Black Out Speak Out,' a national action that consisted of replacing the website content with a message protesting the environmental changes proposed in the bill.
Earlier, on June 2, Leadnow.ca, an online advocacy organization, held a national day of action as part of its Blackmark campaign. Thousands of people of all ages, political views and affiliations gathered outside 104 local MP offices to protest the changes to the budget and voice their concerns about the democratic process.
"Over 3,000 people turned out for our Blackmark Day of Action, and we know that included conservative voters. People feel the urgency, and they know what's at stake with the Omnibus Budget Bill," said Jamie Biggar, Leadnow.ca's Executive Director. "We are building on this momentum, and doing everything we can to give Conservative MPs courage to stop the Budget Bill from passing unchanged."
Now today, June 13, Leadnow.ca is organizing a second day of action, which is expected to again bring out thousands of people, calling on 13 Conservative MPs to "be heroes" and vote against Bill C-38. Thirteen votes in addition to the opposition is what it takes to vote the bill down.
Interestingly, the idea was first brought up by David Wilks, a Conservative backbencher, who said in a video: "I will stand up and say the Harper government should get rid of Bill C-38."
He added that there isn't much that he could on his own, and encouraged Canadians to find 12 other MPs who would be willing to do the same. A few hours later, however, he changed his position in a statement on his website: "I support this bill, and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians."
If passed, Bill C-38 would drastically change policies across the board, especially as it relates to environmental protection. However, it is creating an opportunity for Canadians to come together in unprecedented manner in defense of Canada's democracy.
Crystel Hajjar is an Ottawa-based organizer and climate justice activist. She is a Local Actions Coordinator with Leadnow.ca and a writer with the Leveller newspaper. She was also with the Canadian Youth Delegation's communications team to the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa.
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