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MP warns about omnibus bills
Bevington says bills have wide-ranging implications

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 22, 2012

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington is working to raise awareness of what he sees as a dangerous tactic being used by the Conservative government.

Last month, the NDP MP released a report he commissioned about omnibus budget Bill C-38 and its implications for Canada's North. C-38 was passed in late spring of this year.

The danger with omnibus bills is they drive through a whole bunch of legislation without proper scrutiny, said Bevington. Even the simplest bills often need amendments, he said, but the Conservative government didn't allow for amendments to any part of C-38. C-38 changes 57 existing laws, creates three new laws and eliminates seven agencies.

"These are laws. They impact people for a very long time," said Bevington.

The bill affects the rules related to a number of issues including the protection of fish and species-at-risk, food safety and employment insurance. Realizing in advance the complex bill would pass, Bevington committed to putting together a report on it.

"If you look at a lot of these things by themselves, they don't look like much," he said.

"People need to understand how it all fits together."

By explaining to Northerners the bill's implications, Bevington said he hopes people will be able to decide if this is how they want their country to be run. It's too late to do anything about C-38 now but during the next federal election voters can choose a different path for Canada, said Bevington.

"In order to do anything you have to have good knowledge," he said.

In the Deh Cho, which is an unsettled claim area with a great deal of concern for environmental issues, people should be aware in particular of how C-38 affects environmental protection, said Bevington.

For example, the bill weakens the Fisheries Act. The new Fisheries Act only prohibits serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreation or aboriginal fishery.

This change reduces the scale and direction that environmental assessments can take, Bevington said. What about protection to sub-species that support the main fish species or creeks that support their habitat, he questioned.

C-38 also allows for the downloading of fisheries responsibilities to provinces and territories. It will be difficult for the NWT to fill the void left by the new Fisheries Act because the territory has no legislative foundation to build on related to fisheries, he said.

"It's a terrible thing what's happening really."

Allowing for different levels of protection for fisheries across Canada instead of having one cohesive plan goes against hundreds of years of knowledge gained about the best way to protect the environment, said Bevington.

He also pointed to the new version of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act laid out in C-38 and how it will affect environmental assessments in the NWT.

In particular, the act imposes timelines of 12 months for environmental assessments done by the National Energy Board. The tight timelines could make it difficult for First Nations to participate in assessments, he said.

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