The Hill Update: Trudeau looks to navigate choppy political waters as the Liberals begin the last parliamentary push before the 2019 federal election.
September 13, 2018
While MPs and Senators may not have been sitting in Parliament over the summer, it was still an eventful season of political intrigue and major policy developments. CHG is here to help you get up to speed about the state-of-play in Ottawa and what to watch for in the coming months.
Upcoming Provincial Elections
The House and Senate are scheduled to resume sitting in a few days on Monday, September 17th, for a session that will last until the first major break on December 14. The rumors of a possible prorogation seem remote the closer we get to next week.
Practically speaking, a declaration of prorogation would bring the current session of Parliament (the first session of the 42nd Parliament) to an end. All Bills that have not been given Royal Assent (final step in the legislative process), die on the order paper. If all parties agree, some bills may be “resurrected” and brought back in their current stage in the new session, alternatively, the Government can adopt a motion that can reinstate certain bills to the same stage they had reached before prorogation. Because the Liberals have a majority, this type of motion should have no problem passing. It should also be noted that Private Members bills remain in their current order (only the call of an election will kill these types of bills).
The other major impact of a prorogation would be that committees, both in the House and the Senate, would cease to exist as would the business before them. There is a process to re-strike the membership, hold elections for chair/vice chairs and then hold an organizational meeting to discuss the committee business. This process would normally take 2- 3 weeks.
Politically speaking it may be advantageous for Trudeau to prorogue, however, he does not appear to be taking that step, apparently satisfied to continue on his legislative agenda, first outlined after the 2015 election.
The Prime Minister undertook a fairly substantial shuffle of his cabinet in July. The following changes were made:
Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade
Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction
Small Business and Export Promotion
Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism
Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie
International Trade Diversification
Carla Qualtrough (Remains Minister of Public Services and Procurement)
Following the shuffle, the new Ministers received updated mandate letters, which can be viewed here .
Some relevant highlights from the mandate letters:
Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade, Dominic Leblanc
Collaborate with provinces and territories to eliminate barriers to trade between each other, and work toward a stronger, more integrated Canadian economy
Focus efforts on areas where progress on trade between provinces and territories can be achieved quickly and where the elimination of barriers will have a real and positive impact on the competitiveness of Canadian businesses and the everyday lives of Canadians. This should include encouraging greater harmonization of rules and regulatory requirements where appropriate. Responsibilities will include serving as the federal representative on the Committee on Internal Trade.
Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi
Identify opportunities to support workers and businesses in the natural resource sectors that are seeking to export their goods to global markets. This includes working with the Minister of Finance on the twinning of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Advance efforts to replace the National Energy Board (NEB) with the proposed Canadian Energy Regulator (CER), a modern energy regulator to help oversee a strong, safe and sustainable Canadian energy sector as we transition to a low-carbon economy. This includes ensuring the new CER is built on modern effective governance, more inclusive engagement, greater Indigenous participation, stronger safety and environmental protection, and more timely project decisions that enhance certainty for industry.
Small Business and Export Promotion, Mary Ng
Ensure that government programs support the success of small businesses and leverage ministerial responsibility for the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to help scale Canadian SMEs seeking to grow, scale-up, and become more productive, more innovative and more export-oriented. This work should be done in partnership with the Minister of International Trade Diversification and his responsibilities for Export Development Canada.
Lead work in the government, with support from the Minister of International Trade Diversification, in the export mobilization of Canadian SMEs. This should include an examination of current programming and ensuring that Canada is maximizing the comparative advantage it holds with its vibrant diversity and diaspora communities.
Seniors, Filomena Tassi
Support the Ministers of Finance and Health in the consideration of options for how best to move forward with the implementation of national pharmacare.
Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, Pablo Rodriguez
Work with all cultural and creative sectors on the successful delivery of initiatives and $3.2 billion of new funding announced in previous budgets. Work with creators and artists on new ways in which the government can strengthen this important component of our economy and identity.
Work with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to review the Copyright Act. This review should build on the work of Parliament and ensure Canada has a comprehensive copyright framework where Canadian creators are valued for their work, users benefit from choice, and businesses grow and succeed.
After the Cabinet shuffle, the Prime Minister also announced in early September the appointment of new Parliamentary Secretaries, to serve in political support roles to the Ministers and take on specific responsibilities on key files. Parliamentary Secretaries often serve as a gatekeeper for issues related to the file of their Minister, and CHG has a good track record of engagement with Parliamentary Secretaries. The full list of Parliamentary Secretaries and their responsibilities can be found here.
A number of by-elections will be held in the coming months that may have larger political implications beyond just which party wins a particular seat, and could be a road test for 2019 campaign messaging.
Two seats are formally vacant, the Montreal seat of Outremont, formerly held by past NDP leader Tom Mulcair, and Eastern Ontario’s Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, which became vacant following the death of Conservative MP Gord Brown. A by-election for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes must be announced by October 30th, and Outremont’s by-election must be called by January 30, 2019.
Several other seats have not yet been vacated, but have members who have announced upcoming resignations; NDP MP Kennedy Stewart is resigning his Burnaby South seat effective September 14 to campaign for Mayor of Vancouver. Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Van Loan will re-sign as MP for the central Ontario seat of York-Simcoe on September 30, and Montreal Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio of Saint-Léonard—Saint Michel announced his intention to depart from politics in April, but has yet to formally declare when he would be stepping down as an MP. Once the Speaker of the House has formally sent notice to the Governor-General that the seats are vacant following the resignation of the Member, the GG, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, must issue writs for the vote between 11 and 180 days later.
With Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, York-Simcoe, and Saint-Léonard—Saint Michel all being relatively safe seats for their incumbent parties, most of the attention will fall on Outremont and Burnaby South, where the fate of the NDP candidates will be of particular interest. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is attempting to win a seat in the House through Burnaby, a hot spot of anti-pipeline activism. His failure to secure a seat could lead to serious questions about his continued ability to lead the NDP, especially after the party has posted disappointing results in fundraising and in previous by-election results under his leadership. In Outremont, the Liberals will be eager to take advantage of the NDP’s perceived weakness in Quebec to snatch back a riding the Mulcair and the NDP had originally picked up from the Liberals in a 2007 by-election. At the time, Mulcair’s by-election victory marked only the second time the NDP had won a seat in Quebec, and was an eventual precursor to the party’s 2011 success in the province. Expectations are strong that the Liberals will be able to win the seat, making Burnaby South a must-win for Jagmeet Singh.
Upcoming Provincial Elections
Both New Brunswick and Quebec are currently holding provincial elections, with the former going to to polls on September 24, and La belle province following on October 1. Majority Liberal governments will be seeking re-election in both provinces.
Polling data points to New Brunswick Premier and Liberal leader Brian Gallant having a slight edge in his chances for re-election, while the situation in Quebec is more fluid. The Quebec Liberal Party (which despite the name has no formal affiliation to the federal Liberals) has, with only a 14-month gap from 2012-2014, held power in Quebec since 2003.
The electorate in Canada’s second largest province by population has shown a desire for change, however the main beneficiary so far had seemed to be the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), led by former Parti Quebecois minister and businessman François Legault. The CAQ claims it would fight for more jurisdictional powers and autonomy for Quebec, but still keep Quebec within Confederation, attempting to target both federalist and pro-sovereignty voters. The party has also campaigned on reducing immigration and offering more support for small businesses.
The CAQ entered the campaign with a large lead in the polls, with particular popularity in rural and suburban Quebec. However, more recent polling, while still putting the CAQ ahead, by about 5%, has shown a softening of their numbers, putting into doubt if the party could capture a majority government, or whether the slide in the polls could offer new life to the Liberals, led by incumbent Premier Philippe Couillard.
A Summer of Ups and Downs for the Conservatives
Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer had a memorable summer, in more than a few ways. A by-election victory in Quebec’s Chicoutimi—Le Fjord riding gave him his first gain as leader, taking the seat from the Liberals after recruiting a popular former local hockey coach as candidate. Continued strong fundraising numbers can be counted in the positive, but the defection of high-profile former leadership candidate Maxime Bernier could be cause for concern. Scheer narrowly defeated Bernier for the party leadership, and since then Bernier has consistently staked out positions on a range of issues, including dairy supply management, government support for business, and multiculturalism. Bernier quit the party on the eve of the Conservatives conference in Halifax, where social conservative activists organized strong pushes for many abortion-related policy proposals, but ultimately did not breakthrough. Scheer has stated publicly many times that he would not re-open debate on divisive social issues.
Shortly after the convention, the Federal Court put a hold of the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline due to what it saw as insufficient consultation with Indigenous communities. The ruling was handed down immediately after pipeline shareholders had voted to accept the government’s purchase of the controversial project. Expect Scheer and the Conservative opposition to focus strongly on the government’s handling of natural resources in the coming session and throughout to the election.
Scheer also heads into the new sitting of Parliament with re-shuffled Shadow Cabinet, which can be viewed here.
With the next federal election slightly over a year away, everything that happens on Parliament Hill from now until the summer of 2019 will be viewed through an electoral lens, even more so than usual. If the Liberals do prorogue, the throne speech that would inaugurate a new session of Parliament would be highly attuned to political goals the Liberals will be seeking to accomplish. The 2019 Budget, likely to be delivered in the spring, is expected to announce significant new programs and initiatives, such as a national pharmacare program – starting in 2020 and contingent on the Liberals re-election.
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