As Parliament reconvenes for the fall session, ministers are under pressure to complete the remaining items in their mandate letters, clearing the decks for an election year budget that delivers on pocketbook issues to influence voters – and middle-class families in particular.
At the summer caucus meeting in Saskatoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommitted to the ambitious 2015 platform that carried his Liberals to victory, stating his goal is to fully implement that plan before tackling new priorities. The decision not to prorogue Parliament to deliver a Speech from the Throne means the current session will likely go the distance and be one of the longest on record.
Liberal political organizers are also downplaying the possibility of an early election. The Liberal Party has only nominated 26 candidates – all of whom are incumbents – while the Conservatives already have 130 candidates in place. With the fixed election date just over a year away, all parties are building their platforms, nominating candidates and fundraising to set the stage for 2019.
The Liberals intend to brand Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as Stephen Harper 2.0. For their part, the Conservatives will differentiate themselves on key economic, natural resource and leadership issues. Specifically, the CPC’s will target the Liberal carbon tax, Trudeau’s management of the economy, and the increase of asylum seekers in various parts of the country.
Meanwhile, the NDP continue to struggle to fundraise and earn support under leader Jagmeet Singh who will also need to take time away from preparing for the general election to run in a potential by-election in Burnaby, BC. The NDP will use pharmacare, social inequality and environmental issues in an attempt to lure Liberal supporters.
Beyond the middle-class agenda, the government will be focused on several other hot issues in the fall, including its fraught relationship with provinces. On issues from carbon pricing to infrastructure to trade, guns and pipelines, most of the highest profile issues on the government’s docket have a challenging provincial component. These issues are sure to be front and centre when the prime minister hosts the First Ministers’ Meeting later this fall.
Also expect the Liberals to seek every opportunity to promote their economic record. The fall economic update from the Minister of Finance is expected to include proposals for tax measures to address competitiveness concerns the business community has been communicating to the minister.
Disruptive forces have often forced the government’s attention away from their core priorities. That stands to continue, with a political landscape that includes elections in Quebec and New Brunswick, with Alberta to follow in 2019. However, the Liberals are hoping disruption can sometimes work in their favour and that Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada affects the Conservative not Liberal fortunes in Quebec.
This fall provides the government – and stakeholders – with a crucial window to advance major policy priorities before energy and attention turns in full toward the 2019 campaign.
The pre-budget process kicks into high gear as soon as Parliament returns with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance criss-crossing the country and the U.S. Government members and finance critics alike will have their ears open for opportunities to differentiate their election platforms, build new alliances and attract supporters.
In order to be heard through the noise of a busy fall session in Ottawa, stakeholders must come with clear messages, targeted asks and a full awareness of all the government is trying to accomplish in the 12 months before voters head to the polls.
Key Issues to Watch
NAFTA negotiations continue to take up a great deal of the government’s focus, with Canadian negotiators working to see if a deal can be struck before the U.S. and Mexico-imposed October 1 deadline. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland flew to the Liberals’ summer caucus retreat directly from trade talks. She met for a considerable time with the Prime Minister and his inner circle to discuss the negotiations and to prepare the next stage of interaction with the U.S.
While the tariff dispute and ongoing negotiations with the U.S. are taking up most of the oxygen in the media and in Ottawa, the government continues to seek new trade opportunities. Senior ministers – and possibly the Prime Minister – will be traveling to China this fall in the hopes of kickstarting stunted trade talks.
The government has suggested an announcement will be coming within weeks outlining the Trudeau government’s plans to proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline. A recent court ruling decided the government failed to adequately consult with First Nations along the pipeline route and address their concerns. The court also ruled the National Energy Board should have assessed increased tanker traffic resulting from the project coming into service. Although some are urging extraordinary constitutional measures to force the pipeline through, cabinet appears to be inclined toward using the court ruling as a roadmap to conducting new consultations and a revised project assessment.
On October 17, Canada will become the second country in the world to legalize the production, sale and consumption of cannabis for both medical and recreational use. As the end of the 95-year prohibition approaches and the legalization date nears, the government is beginning to shift its focus to the regulation of cannabis infused products. The government has committed to having these in place within one year of legalization. With the drafting process well underway, the government has indicated they will launch a consultation process late 2018 or early 2019.
The government intends to roll out more resources as it struggles with how to tackle the issue of asylum seekers traveling to Canadian border towns from the U.S. The issue is amplified by regional realities such as Toronto needing to house asylum seekers in hotels and Quebec being overwhelmed by sky rocketing increases and buildings filling up with families during a highly contentious provincial election. Over the next year, the government must tackle challenging backlogs and case delays that stretch across the entire system. Wait times remain 20 months for a claim hearing. Opposition Conservatives have been calling on the Prime Minister to come up with a plan to deal with the issue and show no sign of reducing their focus on this file.
A climb in gun crime and shootings has led the mayors of Toronto and Montreal to call on the federal government to implement a full hand gun ban in urban centers. The calls have spurred discussions among political parties on how to craft policies balancing public safety while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. It is a highly sensitive and emotional issue which has the potential to become a prominent election topic in 2019. The complexity of the file may result in consultations, with a final decision being pushed beyond the 2019 election. A potential hand-gun ban will not be included in an amended C-71.
On the legislative front, the government will seek to pass a bill implementing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, (CPTPP). The government is also focused on advancing the Accessible Canada Act (C-81) which aims to improve services and workplace access for Canadians with disabilities. The government will also introduce pay equity legislation and a bill to modernize the Canada Labour Code while it waits for the senate to greenlight its environmental review legislation.
Over the next several months, the government will also aim to advance several non-legislative initiatives including a woman’s entrepreneurship strategy, a national food policy and a strategy to provide greater support for Canada’s seniors.