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It clearly was April Fool’s Week in Ottawa last week as MPs began debate on the Conservative government’s latest omnibus budget bill while the price of postage increased by 37 percent for most individuals and small businesses.
The newest omnibus budget bill, officially named “Harper Government Creating Jobs & Growth While Returning to Balanced Budgets With Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1,” is now before Parliament.
Like the other monster budget bills tabled by the Conservatives, it is long, complicated, and contains a variety of non-budget related items in an effort to avoid scrutiny.
The new omnibus bill is more than 350 pages long, has almost 500 clauses, and amends dozens of different acts of Parliament.
Upon a first read through, I found two clauses, in particular, that I cannot support. The first imposes the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) at the cost of Canadians’ privacy rights and amidst questions about the constitutionality of the U.S. attempts to get private financial details on dual citizens.
Another clause further reduces federal transparency by eliminating reporting requirements for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and abolishes the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation while it is in the middle of a probe by the Auditor General.
The first point seems to me to be a clear breach of privacy for Canadians, and means that citizens who hold dual citizenship with the U.S. now will have their private Canadian financial and tax information handed over the U.S. Internal Revenue Agency without their say or permission.
On the second point, it looks as though the Conservatives have found some wrongdoing and are in damage control mode as they move to abolish one Crown corporation chock full of partisan appointees while throwing a blanket over another so that Parliament and the public can’t find out what goes on behind its closed doors.
How do these items belong in a “budget” bill again, and why would Conservative MPs actually support less transparency?
While there is plenty of “bad” in this latest omnibus, some “good” also can be found in the document. Among other items in the budget, three specific requests of New Democrats appear to be addressed.
This bill would reverse the irrational application of the federal portion of the HST on hospital parking that the Conservatives tried to sneak through in the 2013-14 budget, it increases the adoption tax credit for parents, and it finally caps wireless roaming rates for cellphone users–after years of repeated requests from the NDP caucus.
While we were busy reading the federal budget and looking for hidden landmines for consumers and families, our postage rates went through the roof on April Fool’s Day.
Sad but true, the old tax-cutting Conservatives just blasted consumers and small business with an increase in our postage fees of 37 percent in just one year as it now costs $1 to mail a single letter or postcard in Canada.
Ironically, the greatest impact of this change is likely to be felt by those who own or run a small business.
A survey of the members of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents more than 100,000 small- and medium-sized business owners in Canada, found that almost 40 percent of its members send at least 50 pieces of letter mail each month.
With small profit margins as it is, this massive hike in postage fees is just another blow to those owners struggling through weak economic growth under this Conservative government.
So it was quite the April Fool’s Week in Ottawa. Another massive budget bill that has little to do with budgets was introduced in Parliament while our postage fees inexplicably jumped by 37 percent.
The joke clearly is on Canadians—but this time I don’t hear anyone laughing.