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The Trudeau government says its Throne Speech will chart a new course through the pandemic, but without the opposition’s help, they’ll be headed for a political reckoning instead. Check back here for the latest coverage

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Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

After a six-week break, MPs are back in Parliament next week for a Throne Speech in which the Liberals will lay out new plans to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and repair the economic damage it’s caused so far. Canadians will see familiar faces in unfamiliar roles – a new Finance Minister, for instance – and they may hear MPs talking at length about how they don’t want to trigger an election this fall, but they’re ready to fight one if it comes. Here’s a catch-up on the issues Parliament faces and what to expect next.


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Glossary of terms

  • Prorogation: The temporary suspension of a parliament’s activities. The federal Parliament has been prorogued since mid-August. Proroguing is a routine practice in British-style parliaments to end one legislative session and start another, but since the Harper government’s controversial prorogations in the 2000s, it’s had a mixed reputation in Canada among critics who say it can be abused for political purposes.
  • Throne Speech: The statement of goals a government gives when a new session begins. The Governor-General’s delivery of the speech is the main event when Parliament resumes on Sept. 23. MPs get to vote on the speech, but not necessarily soon: The last Throne Speech was given early last December, but wasn’t passed until late January.
  • Confidence vote: To govern, the party with the most seats in a minority Parliament needs to show it has the confidence of the House. There are two ways to show that confidence has been lost, each of which can be considered confidence votes: The defeat of a Throne Speech or budget, or the success of a motion of non-confidence in the government. Either would result in the dissolution of Parliament and a new election.
  • Hybrid model: An arrangement in which some MPs are physically present in the legislature for votes and debates, while others take part virtually. Various parliaments, including Britain’s, have tried forms of this to keep legislators safe from COVID-19. Over the summer, Canadian MPs could speak in debates remotely, but only the ones in the House could vote; Mr. Trudeau wants all MPs to be able vote electronically, but the Conservatives oppose that.

What’s new since August, and what isn’t

Changes at the top

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Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole begin the parliamentary session in new roles.The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail/The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail

The Throne Speech will be Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s parliamentary debut as the new Finance Minister, a post she was appointed to last month. Her predecessor, Bill Morneau, quit as a cabinet minister and MP after reports of disagreements with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (which he denies), and amid an investigation of his role in the WE Charity controversy (more on that later). As for the opposition, the Conservatives have a newly elected leader, Erin O’Toole, who ran as a more right-wing candidate than his leading opponent but has since sought to appeal to a wider constituency of Liberal and NDP supporters.

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A masked student peers through the window of a school bus as she arrives at a Montreal elementary school on Aug. 27.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

The pandemic and the economy

When Parliament was last in session, Canada’s COVID-19 caseload was declining and some of the summer’s relief measures, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, were in the process of winding down. Now, infections are rising again in parts of Quebec and Ontario and the federal government has decisions to make about how to manage new lockdowns while keeping Canadians employed and the economy afloat. With this year’s federal deficit nearing $400-billion, the government is also under pressure from the opposition and economists to spend less freely than they did in the initial months of the pandemic. Ms. Freeland has promised a “wise and prudent” economic plan in the Throne Speech, while Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Ottawa is working with provinces on a “much more surgical approach” to COVID-19 restrictions than the broad lockdowns Canadians endured over the summer.

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Marc and Craig Kielburger appear as witnesses via videoconference at a House finance committee hearing on July 28.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

The WE Charity affair

Three parliamentary committees – finance, ethics and government operations – are looking into conflict-of-interest allegations against Mr. Trudeau, who took part in a cabinet decision to hire WE Charity to administer a student grant program despite his family’s past paid work at its speaking events. All committee hearings were put on hold by the prorogation, but not independent federal watchdogs like the ethics and lobbying commissioners, each of whom is now investigating the WE affair separately. As for WE Charity itself, it said on Sept. 10 that it would shut down all Canadian operations and its co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, would step aside.

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A pro-China supporter holds a flag during a rally to celebrate the approval of a national security law for Hong Kong on June 30.Kin Cheung/The Associated Press/The Associated Press

The China file

Sino-Canadian relations have been at a low point for the past two years thanks to the Meng Wanzhou case (and China’s retaliatory detention of two Canadians), the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, and trade disputes. Parliament set up a special committee last winter to explore the China file, but the prorogation cast doubt on its future: Once MPs return, they have to vote the committee back into existence before it can continue. This time, the Conservatives will have an even more China-skeptical leader than last year: Mr. O’Toole likens the West’s relationship with China to a new Cold War and has said Mr. Trudeau’s approach to Beijing is “fawning.”

Why are we talking about elections?

During the prorogation, the NDP and Conservative leaders have been mobilizing for a possible election, while also denying that they plan to trigger one themselves, suggesting that Mr. Trudeau might do this for his own gain. Until the Throne Speech comes to a vote, it’s too early to tell how much of the election rhetoric is genuine and how much is brinkmanship to influence the Throne Speech’s contents. Until then, here are some examples of toppled minority governments that Canadians can consider to guess what might happen if an election is called.

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Conservative leader Stephen Harper mockingly gets his dukes up at a 2005 debate with the NDP's Jack Layton, the Liberals' Paul Martin and the Bloc Québécois's Gilles Duceppe.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/CP

Opposition tries and succeeds

The last time the opposition brought down a federal minority government and then defeated it in an election was in 2005-06. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, Jack Layton’s NDP and Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois passed a non-confidence motion in the Liberal government of Paul Martin, accusing the Liberals of corruption after the findings of a public inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. The election gave Mr. Harper a minority, as did another election that he triggered himself two years later.

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Michael Ignatieff is welcomed on stage at his election-night rally in Etobicoke in 2008.Chris Young/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

Opposition tries and fails

In the winter of 2008, the Liberals, Bloc and NDP proposed ousting the Conservatives and forming a coalition themselves. Mr. Harper stalled them by convincing the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament. By the following year, the Liberals had a new leader, Michael Ignatieff, who gambled on a non-confidence motion, but in very different circumstances: The NDP now wanted to protect the Conservatives and win concessions on legislation, so they abstained and the motion failed. When another election arrived in 2011, the Liberal seat count hit a historic low and the Conservatives had a majority.

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Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield tries to catch a football, once successfully and once not, at a campaign stop in North Bay in 1974.Doug Ball/The Canadian Press/CP

Opposition tries, succeeds, then fails

Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, had his minority government toppled in 1974, when the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats joined forces to reject a budget they didn’t think was effective enough at curbing inflation. But it backfired: Gaffes on the campaign trail dented PC leader Robert Stanfield’s public image, every opposition party lost seats and Mr. Trudeau won a majority.

Elections and COVID-19: A brief history

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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs embraces his wife Marcia Higgs, right, and daughters Rachel Hiltz and Lindsey Higgs on election night in Quispamsis, N.B., on Sept. 14.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

COVID-19 makes elections harder to organize safely, but that hasn’t discouraged governments from going ahead with them. In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs triggered an election over the summer, saying the legislature (which his Progressive Conservatives then governed as a minority) needed more stability for its COVID-19 plans. The opposition hoped to turn the public against Mr. Higgs for sending them to the polls in a pandemic, but when New Brunswickers voted on Sept. 14 – at physically distanced polling places where their hands were sanitized on entry – they gave a majority to Mr. Higgs, who had strong approval ratings for his pandemic response. The political and practical lessons of New Brunswick’s election were closely studied in B.C., where Premier John Horgan has called his own snap election for Oct. 24, and Saskatchewan, which holds a vote on Oct. 26 that was scheduled under fixed election-date laws.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at the Business NZ Election Conference in Auckland on Sept. 11.Hannah Peters/Getty Images/Getty Images

For Canada’s federal parties, another comparable example is New Zealand, which holds general elections on Oct. 17. New Zealand elections are required every three years; this year’s had been scheduled for Sept. 19, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delayed it as Auckland went back into lockdown to contain new outbreaks. Polls suggest a favourable outcome for Ms. Ardern’s Labour-led coalition, whose success in temporarily eliminating COVID-19 from New Zealand was praised internationally. But the opposition National party – which, like Canada’s Conservatives, changed leaders during the pandemic – hopes it can change New Zealanders' minds by October.

More reading

Opinion and analysis

André Picard: Should we spend more on health? Only if we get better care

John Ibbitson: Is Canada about to repeat fiscal history? Debt levels suggest that’s likely

William Robson: What will stop Ottawa’s debt binge?

Kelly Cryderman: Albertans are anxious over the coming federal Throne Speech, and some of their fears may be justified

The editorial board’s view

A Throne Speech that was supposed to be about the future needs to be about the here-and-now

Don’t put it on credit: A pre-Throne Speech reminder about the uses of deficits, and their limits

With the pandemic war still on, can we afford a postpandemic Throne Speech?


Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Kristy Kirkup, Bill Curry, Steven Chase, Robert Fife, Evan Annett and The Canadian Press


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