Hill Update: Parliamentary Session Review and Look Ahead to 2017

Parliamentary Session Review

Look Ahead to 2017

Parliamentary Session Review


Key Committee Studies and Reports

In the last months of the fall 2016 session, several committees tabled a number of key reports and continued their studies of particular initiatives. The following is a list of the work undertaken by the highest-profile committees, presented in no particular order.

-The Heritage Committee (CHPC) presented an interim report on its study of the impact of digital technology on Canadian media. Among others, it includes sections on the role Government advertisement plays in financing media, the increasing prevalence of digital platforms, accessibility to broadband and the role of the CBC.

-The Hill Times reports that the Finance Committee (FINA) is considering changing the format of pre-budget consultations. More specifically, instead of having interested parties present only to them, members of the Finance Committee are considering delegating some of that to other committees.

-The Health Committee (HESA) tabled its report on the opioid crisis. It lists 38 recommendations, including establishing a network of “harm reduction facilities,” decreasing barriers to safe injection sites, and granting “authority and lawful privilege to Canada Border Services Agency officials to search and/or test suspect packages that weigh under 30 grams.”

-The Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) studied Bill S-3. Dubbed “An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration),” this bill was introduced by Senator Peter Harder, and aims to amend the Indian Act to comply with requirements stipulated by the Quebec Superior Court. It should be pointed out that the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, has contacted this court to ask them to review their deadline, as incorporating these requirements will likely take longer than expected. The text of the bill can be accessed here.

-The Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) continued its study on the manufacturing sector, hearing from 63 witnesses (see the full list).

-The National Defence Committee (NDDN) continued with study titled “Canada and the Defence of North America,” with an emphasis on the Navy and Canada’s naval capabilities. As a reminder, this committee tabled its report on the Air Force and aerial capabilities in September (accessible here). In addition to this, the committee received a briefing by the Chief of the Defence Staff on current operations.

-Among other ongoing projects, the Public Accounts Committee (PACP) received the Auditor General’s Fall 2016 Reports. Tabled on December 1st, these reports examine the Beyond the Border Action Plan developed in partnership with the US government, vehicle safety, and military recruitment and equipment, to name a few. The reports can be accessed here.

-The Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) worked on several files in the past few months, including studying Bill C-22, the “National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act.”

-The Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN) undertook several studies, among which one on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the regulations they could be subject to. 22 witnesses appeared before committee for this study; the full list can be found here.

Liberal’s Light Legislative Load 

While 41 bills were introduced by the government, just 15 bills have been passed since the Liberals became government in December 2015.

While it is understandable that an incoming government, with some major election policy changes to propose, would want to reach out and consult with Canadians, consultations have taken a long time and left little time for legislation.  Many are comparing the legislative pace for the Trudeau 2.0 Liberals to his immediate predecessors – Harper and Martin.  These two former PMs, often working under minority rule, on average would pass about 48 bills in a year.  The Opposition today has been complaining that while the Liberals enjoy a majority in the House, they still resort to procedural measures like time allocation (used 10 times) to limit debate.  As well, the independent Senate has been pushing back on a couple of bills, forcing the Liberals to amend legislation they had already passed.

Key bills that received Royal Assent in the last year:  Finance/Tax measures in Bills C-2 (income tax rates changes), C-29 (budget implementation part 2), C-35 (Appropriations – more money), and, C-26 (increases to CPP).

Bills that are important but did not pass:  C-30 (Canada EU Trade Agreement) completed clause by clause but is still at House trade committee;  C-22 (to establish a National Security and intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians) is stuck at Report Stage because the committee made changes to the bill.

Look ahead to 2017:

The very crowded Conservative Leadership Race 

Money and French:

No doubt a looming deadline of December 31 for candidates to make their second payment of $50,000 (first payment is non-refundable, second deposit is refundable) should separate the contenders from the pretenders.  With 14 candidates vying to become leader, both the financial realities and cold hard polling data should have many step back and fold their cards.  Also on January 17 those candidates still in the race will take part in a French only debate in Quebec.  Because of the weak French many of the candidates have, expect only about 6 – 8 candidate will remain to have their name on the ballot come May 27 when the vote takes place.

Candidates with expected stamina are:  Bernier, Chong, Leitch, O’Toole and Scheer.  Maybes:  Alexander, Peterson and Raitt.  Possibilities:  O’Leary, Saxton.

All that said above  – the absolute/final deadline for any last minute leadership candidate to file his/her papers is February 24, 2017.

How the leader will be chosen:  each paid up member of the CPC will have one vote and will use a ranked ballot.  Each riding (total 338 ridings), regardless of size of membership, will have equal weight of 100 points.  To win a candidate must get at least 16, 901 points (50% plus 1 vote of the total 338 riding or 33,800 votes).

NDP Leadership Race

In October 2017, the New Democratic Party of Canada will choose a new leader. This follows Tom Mulcair’s defeat in the leadership review vote held at the Party’s convention in April 2016, where only 48% of delegates voted for the current leader to stay on.

The mechanics of this leadership race differ from the Conservative contest in various aspects. Among others, party members will vote on an individual basis, votes will be secret, and quotas have been established for members from “equity-seeking groups” (visible minorities, aboriginal people, members of the LGBT community, etc.).

The NDP and Conservative leadership races do share a preferential, ranked choice system of voting, where the winning candidate will have to obtain 50% of casted ballots. The rounds of voting will be held once a week, from October 1st to 29th, until a candidate reaches that threshold. The full list of rules can be accessed here.

Notably, nine months after the Party made the decision to seek a new leader, no candidate has firmly committed to this race. The one exception would be Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo, who announced in June but withdrew in August citing health reasons.

Two federal MPs have publicly declared interest in running, and have stepped down from official party positions to consider their candidacies: Ontario Charlie Angus (MP for Timmins–James Bay and former National Caucus Chair) and Peter Julian (MP for the riding of Burnaby–New Westminster, BC, and House Leader until recently). Both were elected in 2004 and have held several Critic portfolios – among others, Angus has led the charge in Ethics and Aboriginal Affairs, while Julian served as his party’s specialist in Finance and Natural Resources & Energy.

Other potential (albeit undeclared) candidates include Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, and Olivia Chow, widow of former leader Jack Layton. Last week, Mulcair said he expects candidates to start declaring early in 2017.

Healthy debate – Provinces and Feds go back and forth on health care funding

Attempts by the federal and provincial governments to come to a new health care funding agreement floundered this week following meetings with federal and provincial/territorial Health and Finance Ministers.

Since the last health accord was reached with then-Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004, the provinces and territories received six per cent year-over-year growth in transfers from the federal government. However, under the previous government, former finance minister Jim Flaherty unilaterally changed funding increases to either match the rate of GDP growth or three per cent a year, with this change set to occur next year.

The provinces are pushing for a continued “escalator” of health funding from the federal government with a 5.2% yearly increase, and turned down the offer by Finance Minister Morneau and Health Minister Philpott of a 3.5% increase with a $11.5-billion pledge by the federal government to boost targeted spending on home care and mental health plus another $544 million for initiatives on prescription drugs and health innovation.

Looking at Minister Philpott’s Twitter feed following the announcement that no deal had been reached, it seems that the federal Liberal comms strategy will lean heavily on generating public support for  additional mental health spending in particular to shame the provinces back to the table. A big first step for Morneau and Philpott will be winning over fellow Liberal Premiers’ who have spoken ill of the federal government’s heath care offer, with Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne saying that it was “very worrisome” that the federal government would be lowering transfers.

The Trudeau government engaging directly with provincial Ministers on the health care front marks a major shift from Stephen Harper’s hands-off approach, but it remains to be seen if it will pay political dividends before the April 1 2017 deadline, when funding for the Canada Health Transfer will revert to three per cent a year.  Expect health care negotiations to be a major part of any First Minister’s conference in the new year.

PMO-Indigenous Relations

After his announcement approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines divided Indigenous communities, with significant anger directed towards his government, the Prime Minister announced last week a number of initiatives to improve engagement and communications between the Government of Canada and a number of Indigenous organizations to better coordinate policy, and to push forward recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Report.

Trudeau pledged to create a permanent bilateral mechanisms with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the four Inuit Nunangat Regions, and the Métis National Council and its governing members, with Cabinet Ministers also meeting at least twice each year with these Indigenous groups.
Additionally, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a national council for reconciliation to help implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 final recommendations, which were released one year ago, and $10 million to support the important work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation located at the University of Manitoba.

Trudeau’s announcements were well received by representatives of Indigenous organizations, with David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation and representative of the Métis National Council favourably comparing these actions to those of the previous government. “Imagine this for a second: locked out of your house for 10 years and you’re finally let in — that’s our feeling that we have…We do actually have a prime minister who cares, one who has a vision.”

The Liberal Party knows it won a number of seats on the strength of vastly improved support in Indigenous communities in the 2015 election, and maintaining this support while trying to find a balance on contentious issues around funding and natural resources will be a key priority for the government in 2017.

Cabinet shuffle in the works?

Cabinet speculation is a favourite parlor discussion in Ottawa, and the volume of whispers around a shuffle of the Trudeau Ministry in the new year has recently increased.  

Buzz is loudest around a handful of portfolio’s perceived to be drags on the Government, which could see, amongst others, Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef moved out with a new Minister potentially introducing electoral reform next steps, the end of Bardish Chagger’s holding of both the House Leader and Small Business and Tourism portfolios, with others who have received high-marks on and off the Hill such as Health Minister Jane Philpott given promotions.

Even with shuffles, it is highly likely that Trudeau would want to continue to have gender parity in the ranks of Cabinet, which could potentially see a shuffle of Parliamentary Secretaries as well if any of them were to receive a promotion.
Happy Holidays from Capital Hill Group! If you would like any additional information about any of these topics, please feel free to reach out to your consultant.