Our national public affairs service leader Elizabeth Roscoe recently spoke to the Hill Times about the upcoming return of Parliament and what we’ll be seeing on the Conservatives’ agenda. Here is a copy of the article, originally published at HillTimes.com on January 13, 2014.

Early budget, resources, justice top Conservatives’ winter legislative agenda
By Mark Burgess

An early budget and clearing the Order Paper of priority bills from the fall sitting will top the government’s legislative agenda when Parliament returns Jan. 27, insiders say, while a response to a court decision regarding prostitution laws will also receive attention.

A no-frills budget focused on balancing the books in 2015 could come earlier than in past years, two consultants with ties to the majority governing Conservative Party told The Hill Times.

“There has been some speculation that [the budget] could be earlier, only for the reason that the House of Commons report came out and there aren’t many new spending initiatives in there,” said Elizabeth Roscoe, Hill and Knowlton’s national service leader who served on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) transition team in 2006, in an interview.

The House Finance Committee’s pre-budget report, tabled Dec. 17, contained 48 recommendations. The first two were, “That the federal government, acknowledging the current fiscal situation, restrict new spending commitments in the upcoming budget and continue to reject new costly and irresponsible spending,” and “that the federal government remain focused on its plan to return to balanced budgets in 2015.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa) made it clear to stakeholders in the fall that not much new spending would be included in the 2014 budget as he focuses on eliminating the deficit. In November, he forecasted a $3.7-billion surplus for 2015-16, in time for the next federal election.

Summa Strategies senior adviser Michele Austin, who was a chief of staff to two Conservative Cabinet ministers, also said the budget would be early and would focus on managing expectations for 2015.

“It doesn’t seem like, with the Senate scandal still brewing, it makes a lot of sense to put things in the window that will not get the attention that they want, like their experience with CETA,” Ms. Austin said in an interview, referring to the Canada-EU trade deal that was quickly overshadowed by the Senate-PMO scandal when the House returned in October.

The Globe and Mail reported Jan. 9, citing unnamed sources, that the federal government is planning to deliver a bare-bones budget the week of Feb. 10, when many Canadians’ attention will be focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The report noted that no final date has been set and that it could still be pushed up earlier. Bloomberg also reported the Feb. 10 date citing unnamed sources.

Last year, the budget was released on March 21.

Mr. Flaherty has tabled eight budgets since the Conservatives first came to power in 2006. Five were released in March and one came out in the last week of February. The 2006 budget was tabled in May because of the federal election and the 2009 document came in January to respond to the financial crisis after a fall election.

The 2015 budget will be a splashier affair with “blockbuster” pre-election items such as income splitting, said Earnscliffe Strategy Group consultant Yaroslav Baran, who also worked for a Conservative minister.

“Budget 2015 is going to be the big one. It’s going to be the surplus budget. It’s going to be the one that introduces measures such as partial income splitting for families with children, and that’s going to be a blockbuster policy initiative. Most of the job of 2014 is staying the course to get us to that surplus situation,” said Mr. Baran.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) trumpeted the government’s 2013 legislative accomplishments at a year-end press conference in December after the House adjourned, pointing to 40 bills that received royal assent.

Of the 40, only three were passed in the fall sitting, including the second omnibus budget implementation bill; the supplementary estimates, or supply bill; and the Canadian Museum of History Act, which had been introduced in the previous session.

Mr. Van Loan declined an interview with The Hill Times last week to discuss the government’s legislative agenda for when the House returns Jan. 27. He said in an emailed statement that the priorities will follow through on the October Throne Speech “objectives of ensuring Canada remains an economic leader, keeping our communities safe, protecting Canadian consumers, and building a stronger Canada.”

While only two of the post-Throne Speech bills made it all the way to royal assent before Christmas, there is no shortage of legislation on the Order Paper.

One that could be a priority is Bill C-3, the Safeguarding Canada’s Seas and Skies Act, which amends the Canada Shipping Act to add requirements for operators of oil handling facilities and introduces administrative monetary penalties. With the development of energy infrastructure to facilitate exports a key priority, the Conservative government is looking to build on its narrative of responsible resource development.