Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson writes that Stephen Harper has been "unbound." What that really means is that he has neutered Parliament. If you don't believe that's true, writes Andrew Coyne, take a look at Bill C-38, the government's "omnibus" budget bill:
When the Harper government packages legislation these days, it is in the form of omnibus bills. That means that there is all kinds of legislation which never gets debated.
The bill runs to more than 420 pages. It amends some 60 different acts, repeals half a dozen, and adds three more, including a completely rewritten Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It ranges far beyond the traditional budget concerns of taxing and spending, making changes in policy across a number of fields from immigration (among other changes, it erases at a stroke the entire backlog of applications under the skilled worker program), to telecommunications (opening the door, slightly, to foreign ownership), to land codes on native reservations.
Under the guise of a spending bill, the Harper government is waging war on the environment:
The environmental chapters are the most extraordinary. Along with the new Act, they give cabinet broader power to override decisions of the National Energy Board, shorten the list of protected species, and abolish the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act — among “other measures.” For much of this the first public notice was its inclusion in the bill.
There was a time, Coyne writes, when Canada's elected representatives -- including Stephen Harper -- would have risen in noisy rebellion:
Once upon a time such insults could be relied upon to produce unruly scenes in the House, obstruction of government business and whatnot. The packaging of several pieces of legislation into one omnibus energy bill in 1982 provoked the opposition to refuse to enter the House to vote. The division bells rang for nearly three weeks until the government agreed to split the bill. The insertion of a single change to environmental legislation in the 2005 budget bill, a note from the Green Party reminds us, so enraged the then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, that he threatened to bring down the government.
But Stephen Harper is no longer the Leader of the Opposition. He is prime minister. And he claims his office gives him the power to blindfold Parliament and tie its hands. He has taken Parliament hostage.