Justin Trudeau’s re-elected Liberal government will bring back Parliament on Nov. 22, more than seven weeks after the September federal election, and nearly five months since the House of Commons last sat in June.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also announced Friday that a swearing-in ceremony for a new cabinet will take place on Oct. 26.
In response to Friday’s announcement, which was made via a news release, opposition MPs strongly criticized the government’s timeline for resuming House of Commons sittings. The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois have long maintained that the September election was unnecessary and that parliamentary work should have started up again quickly.
The Sept. 20 election produced a Parliament that is remarkably similar in terms of party standings to the one that existed before the vote. The Liberals elected 160 candidates, though the party will have 159 House of Commons seats because Toronto-area MP Kevin Vuong will sit as an Independent. The Conservatives elected 119 MPs, the Bloc will have 32, the NDP 25 and the Green Party has two MPs.
In contrast to party standings before the election, the Liberals will be up four MPs, the Conservatives and Greens return with the same number, the Bloc is down two MPs and the NDP is up one. The Liberals fell short of the 170 seats required to form a majority government.
“It’s clear that the $600-million ‘urgent’ election was nothing more than a power grab for Justin Trudeau trying to secure a majority government, and that he is in no rush to get back to work,” Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said in a statement.
“It’s wrong that in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Justin Trudeau is waiting 63 days to return to work. That’s 63 days that members of Parliament should be working in the House of Commons to address the pandemic, inflation, labour shortages, and a number of other issues important to Canadians,” he said.
Bloc House Leader Alain Therrien said his party has been ready for weeks, yet he has not heard anything from the Liberals in terms of the planning required ahead of Parliament’s return.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said in an interview. “The Bloc has already had three caucus meetings. We’ve selected our critics. We’re ready to go, because there are serious issues to deal with.”
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said there are many pressing issues that MPs should be dealing with right now, rather than waiting until Nov. 22. That includes the fact that key wage and rent supports for businesses, as well as income support for individuals who can’t work because of COVID-19, are scheduled to expire on Oct. 23.
Cabinet has the power to extend the benefits to Nov. 20, but any additional extensions would require Parliament to approve new legislation.
“I just find it irresponsible and I don’t think Canadians will see this favourably either,” Mr. Julian said.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly also called on the government to clear up the status of the expiring support programs as soon as possible.
“We need the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister [Chrystia Freeland] to immediately share their plans for these critical programs,” he said in a statement. “Small-business owners need to make decisions now that determine how long they can last and how many staff they can afford to keep over the winter.”
Ms. Freeland, also Finance Minister, told reporters this week in Washington that she is continuing to consult business leaders and government policy experts on the issue and that an announcement will be made soon.
The Friday news release from the PMO said “one of the immediate areas of focus for the next Parliament will be the COVID-19 support benefits that many Canadians and businesses still rely on, and the government will work collaboratively with other parliamentarians to continue to have Canadians’ backs.”
The PMO also said the updated cabinet will remain gender balanced and that the new session will begin with a Throne Speech “which will lay out the government’s progressive plan to finish the fight against COVID-19 and build a better future for everyone.”
In terms of the government’s legislative agenda, the PMO said early priorities will include reintroducing legislation that effectively bans the practice of conversion therapy and approving 10-day paid sick leave for all federally regulated workers.
The government also signalled that it will focus on vaccination rules for the parliamentary precinct. “Among the first orders of business will be working with all parties to ensure all members of Parliament in the House of Commons are fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” the PMO said.