As the House rises for summer, here’s a summary of where we are, where we’ve been, and what to watch for next.
When the House of Commons reconvened after its winter break on the last day of January, the top-line issues that would characterize the latest sitting of parliament were each lined up on the horizon – well within our sights, but only as dim lights in the distance.
As the House rises for summer this week, those dim lights that dotted the horizon in January – like an arriving ‘trucker protest,’ sabre rattling in Russia, and rising inflation – are now blazing fires, taking up precious oxygen, attention, and political capital in our nation’s capital.
The convoy that was initially dismissed as a weekend protest turned into a weekslongoccupation that backgrounded the internal fracturing of the Conservative Party and initiated a leadership contest. It also ignited a political firestorm when the Liberals invoked the never-before used Emergencies Act.
The coals from that fire are still hot today with a committee working to determine how that decision to invoke the act was made. Depending on how it all shakes out – and specifically, whether he was forthcoming about the rationale – Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino may find himself on the ousted edges of his caucus – alongside former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole as part of the political domino effect kicked off by the convoy.
Ultimately it was not just sabre-rattling, and Russia did invade Ukraine in late February. Since then, a wave of disruption has rolled across the globe as western powers grapple with how to support Ukraine’s military, provide safe passage and harbour to the millions of refugees fleeing war, and supplant the supply chain disruptions – energy being chief among them – that have resulted from the suffocating sanctions placed on Russia.
Justin Trudeau tasked Chrystia Freeland with heading Canada’s response to the war, alongside Defence Minister Anita Anand, and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly. With no end to the war in sight, concerns regarding how thin the attention of Freeland is being spread are coming to the fore. Freeland tabled a budget in April, and while the first budget implementation bill is expected to pass the Senate soon, measures related to employment insurance were stripped and those related the luxury tax delayed.
Critics suggested this was a result of these elements not being “fully baked.” As the war continues, it’s a serious question as to how much the draw on attention in key portfolios might negatively impact our domestic affairs.
With security and defence top of mind, Anita Anand announced this week nearly $5 billion in spending that would be dedicated to continental defence – including investing in modernizing surveillance and air weapons systems, and in infrastructure in Canada’s North. Part of this funding will be drawn from the $8 billion that was dedicated to defence in Budget 2022. The total commitment to continental defence is $40 billion over 20 years.
Finally, while early this year inflation was dismissed as transitory, it’s now clearly persistent and leaders of advanced economies are rightly being criticized for not acting quickly enough – Canada included. The latest numbers have Canada’s inflation rate sitting at nearly 8 per cent, the highest it’s been since 1984. The rising cost of living is putting many in Canada in a precarious position and there’s additional worry that as the Bank of Canada continues to raise rates to battle inflation, the pressure on homeowners may become too much.
Last week the finance minister re-announced a host of funding to help those most in need deal with the affordability challenge, including by boosting payments to Old Age Security, the Canada Child Care Benefit and committing to provide a $500 rental subsidy. Note this is all intended to help deal with affordability and NOT inflation. The federal government has yet to make any definitive inflation-fighting moves thus far.
Janet Yellen, the United States’ Treasury Secretary was in Toronto on Monday talking inflation with her counterpart in Chrystia Freeland. Both committed to curbing deficit spending, and Yellen said she was open to cutting taxes on gas. Freeland has heard calls to do the same from the Opposition for weeks but was cool to the idea. Expect inflation and affordability to be the top-line issues that carry through the summer and are echoed by Canadians on the coming barbeque circuit for MPs.
Another key development over the course of this sitting that cannot be ignored – yet came out of leftfield to most – is the governing agreement between the Liberals and NDP. In March, after backroom discussions that were ongoing since the election, the Liberals announced a supply-and-confidence agreement that would see the NDP support the Liberals on all matters of confidence – including budgets, through to the next election.
While some suggest that the agreement has provided the NDP with additional influence, outside of the elements already outlined to in the agreement – namely establishing dental and pharmacare – it does not appear so. Appearing in front of the Toronto Star’s editorial board last week, Chrystia Freeland reinforced that the agreement “is not a coalition and that it’s the Liberals who have responsibility for the government’s key priorities.”
While the agreement initially quieted rumblings related to the Liberal leadership (should it stay in place, Trudeau’s position is safe until 2025), conversations are heating up again as the punditry questions whether Trudeau’s leadership has run stale and whether he will be the best person to go up against reinvigorated Conservative Party this Fall.
Ticking the boxes – key legislation that passed both Houses
- Budget Implementation Bill part 1:
Bill C-19 is the first bill to implement elements from Budget 2022 and will include measures that attempt to make housing more affordable – including a two-year ban on foreign investment – a top-up to the Canada Health Transfer, and paid medical leave. A second implementation bill will be tabled in the fall.
- Rapid tests:
Bill C-10 granted the federal government the authority to spend $2.5 billion to procure rapid tests and distribute them to the provinces.
- Mandatory minimums:
Bill C-5 amends the Criminal Code to remove mandatory minimum sentences for all drug convictions and for some firearms offences
Holding our breath – what’s left for the fall agenda
- Online news:
Bill C-18, using a model developed in Australia, would require tech giants to compensate news outlets for news and information that is shared on their platforms.
- Online streaming:
Bill C-11 updates the Broadcasting Act, to make online streaming platforms subject to the regulatory authority of the CRTC and to require platforms to implement Canadian content rules. To much criticism, the government fast-tracked the bill through the House, but Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez assured that the Senate will undertake a closer study in the Fall.
- The Canada Disability Benefit:
Bill C-22 will establish the Canada Disability Benefit, the purpose of which is to reduce poverty and support the financial security of working-age persons with disabilities.
- Gun laws
Bill C-21 will revamp Canada’s firearms legislation, notably putting a national freeze on handguns. This comes as a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting heats up, and alongside rising levels of gun violence in Toronto and Montreal. This will continue to be a hot topic, depending on how a breaking story evolves that alleges RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki directed her Mounties to disclose the weapons used in the Nova Scotia mass shooting, specifically to help advance the Liberal government’s agenda on gun control.
What else we’ll be watching over the summer
COVID-19 + Vaccine Mandates
While the pandemic continues to smoulder, with lower infection rates many in the Canadian public – including Liberal MPs – are voicing their frustration over remaining restrictions. The federal government recently suspended certain restrictions related to travel as well as the vaccination mandate for the core public service. So long as we don’t face another wave, watch for further restrictions to be lifted.
Here are some of the key questions we are watching:
- Ontario: Doug Ford has largely enjoyed good relations with Team Trudeau to date, but with a convincing Conservative victory at the polls in June, will Ford see need to keep the relationship as close?
- Alberta: The affordability crunch Canadians are facing is being felt heavily at the pump with gas prices up almost 50 pe cent this year – will Alberta’s next leader be able to effectively push for relief measures that include the unlocking of oil production or reduction of gas taxes? Further on oil and gas, how will the federal government deal with their marquee investment in the TMX pipeline now that its bleeding cash to the tune of $14 billion?
- Quebec: If he wins another mandate, which looks safe to date, how far can Premier Legault push Trudeau on ceding additional jurisdiction to Quebec by flexing his nationalist muscles?
Shuffles and shake-ups
The Institute on Governance recently released a report highlighting a serious decline in trust between senior bureaucrats and the political machine – notably the PMO. Lack of trust and resulting tensions are on full display today as Melanie Joly recently blasted her department for sending a representative to a Russia Day celebration in Ottawa. According to reports, Joly’s staff did not read an email detailing the plan. As tensions over accountability boil over into public view, watch for shake-ups on the senior ranks of the public service, and potentially, ministers on the move.
The Conservative Party leadership
It is the ultimate story-behind-the-story in Ottawa. And the key question, despite all the laudable efforts of the contenders to generate some substantive discussions on policy, is about how serious the Poilievre momentum will be as a political consideration once the new Leader moves into Stornoway – and this is whether Poilievre wins or loses. The debates, the energy at campaign events and the dialogue about how conservatism is evolving in Canada will resonate long after September 10th, the date of the Leadership convention.
The weather…no, seriously
As the number and severity of floods, fires and extreme heat continues to rise – especially over Canada’s summer months, watch for an added layer of distraction for the federal government and another pillar that could dominate news cycles across the country.
While the House might have risen, the action certainly won’t stop – we look forward to being in touch over the summer and we hope that you will catch some much needed and well-deserved downtime over the coming months.