Nova Scotians at a series of protests Wednesday asked the province’s Conservative MPs to back away from their party’s omnibus budget bill.

British Columbia MP David Wilks, a Conservative, expressed anxieties over the bill last month and said many fellow Tory MPs shared his concerns about the mammoth budget, which includes more than 70 pieces of very different legislation, including major changes to employment insurance, Old Age Security, the fisheries and the environmental protection system.

But just hours before they went into a marathon voting session over the bill Wednesday, Nova Scotia’s MPs said they stand behind the bill and the process their party has chosen.

The onus is on the government to get its mandate through “as quickly and as succinctly as possible, so that we don’t end up in a position like we see European countries in now,” said Scott Armstrong (Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley).

“Many of these countries have 11 or 12 parties, some of them, and they get caught in gridlock and they can’t make the necessary changes. They can’t make the tough decisions they need to make in the middle of a recession. And when you’re in the middle of a recession, you need to take strong and bold action, and that’s what we're doing.”

The Speaker has allowed the bill, Armstrong said, and previous governments, most notably Paul Martin’s in 2005, introduced far-reaching omnibus budget bills.

“For the Liberals to criticize that, it’s a bit hypocritical,” said Armstrong. As for the NDP, he said the official Opposition finds every way to slow down Conservative legislation.

“That’s what they try to do every time we try to bring in legislation that’s good for the country,” he said. “This is why we have to use the tactics we use to get our agenda pushed through.”
Critics don’t accept the argument that omnibus budgets should be the new normal in the House of Commons. About 200 protesters gathered at Halifax’s Grand Parade on Wednesday, many holding signs saying “Stop C-38. Split C-38. Start Over.”

Smaller protests were planned at Conservative MP’s riding offices across the province, part of a string of similar events across the country.

“I’m disappointed in our politicians if they want to take on American-style politics where they use dirty tricks and questionable tactics to push their agenda,” said Greg Sutcliffe, a retired power engineer from Dartmouth who came to the Grand Parade.

“There’s a headline for each bill, if it’s done separately,” he said. “I would hope there’d be better media attention and the public would have the chance to be informed.”

A spokesman for the Central Nova MP, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, referenced Europe, as Armstrong did, when explaining why MacKay supports the omnibus approach. (MacKay was in the House and unavailable to comment himself.)

“As the global recovery remains fragile — especially in Europe —Canadians want their government to focus on what matters to them: the economy. That is exactly what this bill will accomplish,” the spokesman said.

Greg Kerr (West Nova) did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman said he couldn’t speak on Kerr’s behalf.

Gerald Keddy (South Shore-St. Margarets) also didn’t respond to a request for comment. But when more than 60 protesters showed up at his Bridgewater office last week, he said the job cuts are “modest” and the omnibus bill is necessary to keep the economy from faltering, according to the South Shore Now newspaper.

“I would ask the question why this same group didn’t protest when the provincial NDP cut education and important interventions like reading recovery? Maybe they just hate education as much as they hate a balanced budget,” he wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Neither round of protests was organized by the NDP. The earlier one was co-ordinated by the Council of Canadians, and Wednesday’s was organized through, an online political forum.