Members of Parliament will return to the floor of the House of Commons Monday for the first time since June, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-elected minority government is aiming to pass some of its campaign pledges during a brief, four-week sitting.
In the platform it released ahead of the September election, the Liberal Party listed several measures – including a tax hike on large banks and insurance companies – that it promised would take effect as of Jan. 1, 2022, meaning the government will need to obtain Parliamentary approval in the coming weeks in order for those measures to be in place.
One of the Liberals’ top legislative priorities is to obtain approval for an October government announcement that scaled back pandemic wage and rent supports for businesses while extending the duration of the benefits for the hardest hit companies. The government also announced at the time that it was ending the Canada Recovery Benefit pandemic-relief program.
Government House Leader Mark Holland told The Globe and Mail he’s continuing to talk with other parties to find agreement on how the new Parliament will function. Mr. Holland is seeking a long-term deal on practical issues, such as continuing to allow “hybrid” meetings, in which MPs can participate either in person or remotely via video link. He is also seeking to determine what parts of the government’s policy agenda other parties may support.
The Conservative and Bloc Québécois House Leaders – who both oppose continuing to offer the hybrid options, which were adopted in response to the pandemic – told The Globe they are convinced a deal is afoot between the Liberals and the NDP that would cover both procedural and policy matters. The Liberals and NDP insist there is no deal, but Mr. Holland said he’s open to offers.
“If there is a circumstance where any party comes forward to us with a proposal to get a whole bunch of priorities done together in a collaborative way, or if there was a multi-party offer to do that on one or many issues, you know, who knows? That’s for JoJo the Psychic. I’m focused on where we are today,” he said.
“I can see circumstances where we are going to be able to get things done unanimously. I can see circumstances where we’re going to be able to do it with a combination of a couple of parties, or maybe just one other partner. But you know, I’m looking at that really on a case by case, policy by policy basis at this time,” he said.
The first order of business Monday afternoon will be for MPs to elect a House of Commons Speaker. The vote will take place by ranked secret ballot. Liberal MP Anthony Rota is seeking re-election, and six other MPs have said they are also running for the position, which comes with an extra $88,700 in salary above the $185,800 base pay for MPs.
On Tuesday, Governor-General Mary Simon will deliver the government’s Throne Speech on the floor of the Senate. The Throne Speech, which provides a high-level overview of the government’s policy agenda, will likely restate some of the pledges that were in the September 2020 speech while incorporating new items promised by the Liberals during this year’s election campaign.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to deliver a fall economic update at some point before the new year, but the government has not yet publicly promised that such a document is coming.
Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said the Liberals should have started postelection sittings weeks ago.
“It’s about time that we get back to work,” he said. Mr. Deltell added that the Official Opposition will focus on the recent spike in inflation as a sign that the Liberals should pull back on the continued deficit spending outlined in the April budget and during the election campaign.
“The government had no plan during the pandemic [for] controlling spending. It was an open bar for everything,” he said.
The opening days of the new Parliament will be watched closely for any signs of friction over mandatory vaccinations. The House of Commons Board of Internal Economy declared in October that everyone entering the Parliamentary buildings must have proven they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a medical exemption.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has repeatedly refused to say whether all Conservative MPs are vaccinated. He has only said that all Conservative MPs who enter the House of Commons will be vaccinated. He appeared to go further last week, telling Radio Canada in a French interview that all of his MPs will “be there ... on the Hill” on Monday. His office declined to clarify the comment.
The vaccination issue is one of several that are driving discord within the Conservative Party, as some members push for an early review of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said his party opposes the Liberal government’s move to wind down COVID-19 benefits, and is also concerned that many low-income people who received the payments are finding out that the one-time boosts in income have made them ineligible for their usual benefits, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.
“We’re seeing some bad decisions that need to be reversed,” he said.
Mr. Julian said his party is raising concerns about the cost of living and an “affordability crisis” in areas like housing, but will be pushing a very different policy prescription than the Conservatives.
“Their approach is austerity. Our approach is that we really need to have a balanced tax system, fair taxes, so that the ultrarich pay their fair share so that we can address these crises,” he said. He suggested that inflation should be left to the Bank of Canada to manage.
The House is scheduled to sit for four weeks until Dec. 17, when it is scheduled to recess for the holidays until Jan. 31. Bloc House Leader Allain Therrien said he’s concerned the government will drag its feet and prevent most House of Commons committees – which are a key arena for opposition MPs to push issues of concern – from setting up until February. Mr. Holland said the government will work to establish committees as soon as possible.
Mr. Therrien also said his party will be urging the Liberals to heed provincial calls for increased health transfers and will push for enhanced benefits for seniors.
The Liberal platform included $78-billion in new spending over five years and singled out 10 pledges as urgent priorities that would be addressed within the first 100 days of a new mandate. The list includes re-introducing two controversial internet regulation bills that were launched earlier in the year in the previous Parliament. The proposed legislation would curb hate speech and require large platforms like Google and Netflix to contribute financially to the creation of Canadian cultural content.
Mr. Holland said he’s working to deliver on that promised 100-day list, which also includes providing 10 days of sick leave to federally regulated workers and reintroducing legislation that would effectively ban the practice of conversion therapy.
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