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Budget protesters target Saxton

MP defends legislation as necessary

PROTESTERS who descended on North Vancouver MP Andrew Saxton's office on the weekend say their actions weren't just about stopping a piece of legislation, but about protecting Canada as we know it.

The 100 or so demonstrators who appeared outside Saxton's West Third Street office Saturday were part of a larger nationwide action organized by an advocacy group called leadnow.ca to oppose the passage of the Conservative government's Bill C-38.

The 450-page ominibus budget legislation, in addition to enacting this year's federal budget, contains amendments to dozens of other laws touching on everything from species at risk to old-age pensions to the role of the auditor general.

The opponents who gathered on the weekend said that taken collectively, the changes would alter the fabric of our country.

"The budget bill isn't really a budget bill," said Jamie Biggar, executive director of leadnow.ca, who attended the local rally. "It's a sweeping agenda to remake Canadian society. It's undemocratic for all these changes to be put together in one bill and then rushed through Parliament."

Of particular concern to the leadnow group, and to numerous other organizations who have spoken up in recent weeks, are a list of provisions they say will gut the country's environmental regulations.

"There are some really significant changes that have been made to the Fisheries Act in particular that nobody has had time to fully study yet," said Biggar. "We believe (they) will make it much easier to do damaging development around ecologically important streams and habitat that support salmon in B.C."

To stop the changes, leadnow is hoping to recruit 13 "hero" MPs - North Vancouver's Saxton among them - to join the cause and prevent the bill's passage. Since the vote will be considered a vote of confidence, it's unlikely Conservatives will oppose it in Parliament, said Biggar, but it might be possible to convince some to persuade their party behind the scenes to revisit its plan.

"We have heard from private conversations that quite a few Conservative MPs have significant reservations about this bill, but at this point still feel compelled to vote for it," he said. "We feel it's our job to keep turning out more Canadians and turning up the pressure."

But in an interview with the North Shore News Tuesday, Saxton made it clear that he, for one, had no intention of changing his mind.

"I will definitely be supporting this with my vote," he said. "This is a big bill; it's a big bill because we've got a lot of work ahead of us, and we've got a lot of legislation that has to be passed. . . . This is our plan to go forward (and) to create jobs and create economic growth."

Concerns about the changes to environmental regulation are overblown, said Saxton.

"We're streamlining the process," he said, referring to a provision requiring assessments to be complete within two years.

"We don't expect the environmental process will be compromised in any way; what we're doing is giving certainty to those companies and corporations that are willing to invest sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, we're giving them certainty as to a timeline."

In fact there will even be some improvements, he argued, pointing to new powers of enforcement attached to the Environmental Assessment Act.

Just because the bill's big, doesn't mean it hasn't been debated, said Saxton.

"It's had the most scrutiny and the most debate in the House as well as in committee that any budget bill has had in the last 20 years."

This week, federal opposition parties announced they planned to hold hundreds of votes on amendments to the legislation in coming days - all of them confidence votes -in an effort to trip up the government and cause its defeat.

If those efforts fail, and if the bill later makes it through the Senate, Biggar said his group will open a wider front.

"Basically, it will be the launch of a new prodemocracy movement in Canada," he said. "We've got some really passionate people who are deeply troubled by the direction the country is being taken."

jweldon@nsnews.com