Omnibus, we missed you so

The government's latest budget bill quietly survives its first few days

Adrian Wyld/CP

“Division 19 of Part 3 adds declaratory provisions to the Supreme Court Act, respecting the criteria for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Canada.” —a measure in the government’s second budget bill

How do you even choose between all the uncommonly dramatic plots unfolding in Ottawa? Mike Duffy attempted a showdown with the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Pamela Wallin got personal with her former friends in the Senate, Patrick Brazeau quietly—relatively speaking—defended his honour in the Red Chamber, and Tom Mulcair prosecuted Harper in the House of Commons.

Whatever comes of this, Duffy and Wallin and Brazeau and Mulcair and Harper are trading places on the nation’s front pages and the political world they inhabit is entranced by the whole series of affairs. Their names are on the tips of tongues. Meanwhile, the forgotten news of the week quietly slips past public consciousness: the government tabled an omnibus budget bill.

Two stories have emerged, albeit barely, from the legislation, and Aaron Wherry’s watching both of them: an attempt to amend the rules governing who can be a sitting judge; and an attempt to amend myriad bargaining rules for public servants. Both are not uncontroversial. There’s a strong case to be made that changing the qualifications of eligible judges requires a constitutional amendment, not a legislative tweak. Federal unions say the proposed labour-related changes strip them of much bargaining power.

The merits of the government’s proposals are at least questionable, but perhaps legitimate. What’s stunning is how normal it has become to toss such changes into a bill designed to authorize government spending. This is now basically routine. The amendments to the Supreme Court were actually tacked on to the very end of the bill—whoops, we almost forgot the thing about the judges!

Expect much consternation in coming days and weeks about this latest piece of legislation. When the capital city tires of Duffy and Wallin and Brazeau, or at least their stories hibernate until the next leak or claim or scandal, the “budget” bill, such as it is, will command attention. Soon, a feisty parliament will board the bulky omnibus.


What’s above the fold

The Globe and Mail Prince George was christened at Saint James Palace.
National Post Sen. Mike Duffy gave the PM an opening for a solid defence.
Toronto Star Rob Ford posed for a photo in front of what cops call a “drug house.”
Ottawa Citizen Sen. Pamela Wallin accused two senior Conservatives of ruining her.
CBC News Georgia is reconsidering a rule that spares the death penalty for low-IQ killers.
CTV News U.S. spies allegedly tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s cellphone.
National Newswatch Liberals could win government if they maintain their high polling.

What you might have missed

THE NATIONAL Wildrose. Alberta’s feisty opposition party will trade ideas at a convention this weekend meant to cleanse the party of some of its more controversial policy positions. Leader Danielle Smith said members want to reconsider several policies, including stands on climate change and human rights commissions that proved unpopular with the voting public.
THE GLOBAL Berlusconi. The former Italian prime minister was indicted on a charge of bribing Senator Sergio De Gregorio to join his centre-right coalition prior to a 2008 election. De Gregorio received a 20-month sentence for corruption as part of a plea bargain, but Berlusconi and co-defendant Valter Lavitola—a former newspaper editor—maintain their innocence.
THE QUIRKY Grenades. A 94-year-old woman walked into a police station in St. Thomas, Ont., armed to the teeth. But she didn’t intend to wreak havoc; instead, she was turning over her late husband’s collection of munitions—including grenades, a tank round and aircraft bombs. The military was called to the station to handle the material, much of which was donated to a local museum.

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