- September 22, 2012 - 20:10
Budget bills have always been omnibus bills, increasingly so in the last several decades. That is because the size and reach of government has ballooned out of control. Government is expected to do nearly everything for us. That means the government's budget is an enormous and incredibly complex plan touching on a multitude of different laws. If budget bills were broken into separate bills for each item, parliament would never be able to pass all the items in a budget before the end of the fiscal year, and then it would have to start over. However, budgets already receive a lot of scrutiny. First the budget motion is debated for a week and voted on, after MPs have had a chance to read in plain language all the measured contained in the budget. Then the legislation necessary to implement those measures is drafted in the form of two separate budget implementation acts - one in the spring and one in the fall. This is normal. Each bill typically receives weeks of debate in the Commons, then gets referred to committee for a couple of weeks of study, usually with sub-cmmittees created to study different parts of the bill, then the Commons debates the bill again, as well as any amendments the opposition wants to put forward, and then there is a final vote. Then the whole process is repeated from the start in the Senate. By this time, Senators are well aware of which sections of the bill are most contentious or complex, and have had months to study the bill. After the budget implementation acts are passed, the spending proposed in the budget still cannot take place until it is approved by parliament in a series of appropriation acts. Each appropriation act authorizes spending that is detailed in one of four volumes of government estimates. And each appropriation act must follow the same process of debate, commitee study, amendments, more debate and a final vote in each of the Commons and the Senate. All together, the approval of government spending probably takes up about a third of the time of parliament throughout the year. Only those who do not know the process, or who wish to score political points by exploiting public ignorance of the process, claim that government spending is not sufficiently scrutinized by parliament.