Hot issues, big bills: What you need to know about the fall sitting of Parliament
OTTAWA – The House of Commons resumes on Monday, offering MPs the first chance to dig in and debate the government's direction on the major files that the opposition considers to have caught fire over the summer.
From the federal appeal court quashing their approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project the day Kinder Morgan shareholders vote to handover ownership to the government, to the prospect of a NAFTA deal with concessions for Canada, and the ongoing tensions with the provinces over the carbon tax and border crossers, the first question period of the season is set to be one to watch.
"There's a number of big issues that people are concerned about… it's like all of the mistakes that they’ve made are really coming to a head, and it feels like it's critical right now that we—even more than ever—are asking questions and getting some answers," Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.
The NDP is also planning to push the governing Liberals on following through on outstanding commitments, such as a national pharmacare plan, and closing certain tax loopholes.
"What we heard a lot was that the Liberals haven’t really delivered on their campaign promises," NDP House Leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau told CTVNews.ca about what her caucus gleaned from the summers in their ridings.
Bill C-79, which implements the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is expected to move quickly, as both the Liberals and Conservatives want to see it passed all stages as soon as possible. Though, the NDP will be not be offering the unanimous consent needed to see it whisked through, because they have concerns about the supply management concessions in the deal.
It is scheduled to be the first bill debated on Monday.
With Trudeau declaring on Tuesday that he has no intention to prorogue parliament this fall, all sides are preparing for the sitting without having to calculate how things such as committee make-up or outstanding legislation would be impacted by the government hitting the reset button.
"We are remaining focused on the hard work that Canadians elected us to do 3 years ago," Trudeau said, speaking to why he’s opting not to start up a new session of this parliament at this time.
"We have accomplished a lot but we’ve still got a lot of work to do, and I’m looking forward to continuing to working hard for Canadians over the coming twelve months," Trudeau said.
Legislatively speaking, despite getting its major marijuana legalization package through in the final days of the spring sitting, there are several sizable bills in both their page count and subject matter that will be on the agenda this sitting.
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger told CTVNews.ca that she thinks the volume of legislation left to advance is "quite reasonable."
Chagger said she plans to continue what she classifies as an open-door policy with her Conservative and NDP counterparts when it comes to negotiating the amount of debate time each bill receives.
"Hopefully by continuing to strengthen those channels of communication we'll be able to ensure that there is a healthy debate taking place because it’s really important that members of Parliament be able to represent their constituents with that debate," Chagger said.
"But we do have to ensure that we’re also moving legislation along because we would like to satisfy the mandate Canadians have given us."
Set to continue to be one of the more hot-button bills is Bill C-71, the federal gun control bill that is strongly opposed by the Conservatives, and not overly supported by some within the Liberal caucus who represent rural ridings. It’s currently at third reading in the House.
As it stands, there are 22 bills currently before the House, including several that have not moved and have ended up being lumped into other pieces of legislation in an effort to get them through quicker.
As well, watch Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act tabled at the end of the spring sitting. It’s a major overhaul of accessibility laws in Canada aimed at setting new standards and removing existing barriers in built environments such as banks and government service centres. The Liberals want to see this one sent for committee study relatively quickly.
In terms of private members' business, the bill to watch is Bill C-369, from NDP MP Georgina Jolibois. It proposes to create a statutory holiday to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. This summer, the government announced its intention to create a new stat day to mark Canada’s the residential school legacy, but hasn't settled on a date. The government is expected to support her bill, which is up for debate on Sept. 24 at second reading. It’s possible the Liberals will try to amend the bill to change the date.
In the Senate there are a dozen government bills to deal with, including Bill C-69, which makes a number of considerable changes to environmental assessments and regulations. It’s been viewed by Conservatives as a "real problem" and have called for it to be killed. When the Senate resumes on Tuesday, Senators will also continue their study of Bill C-51, the Criminal Code cleanup bill that wipes out unconstitutional sections unduly remaining in the text of the Code, but also updates sexual assault law.
While tensions always flare near the end of a long stretch of sitting—given the increasingly short runway left before campaign planes take off in 2019— the government will soon be experiencing the crunch-time pressure to pass as much of its legislation as possible.
In turn, the opposition will feel that they need to push back using the procedural delay tactics that they have at their disposal.
"This is going to be an important year. Every year before an election I think all parties really want to distinguish themselves," Brosseau said.
From a caucus perspective, eyes will be on how the federal NDP continues to fare in the Commons without their leader Jagmeet Singh holding a seat. He’s eyeing a run in a byelection that has yet to be called, meaning it could be months before he and his caucus know if, or when, he’ll be joining them.
As well, with former Tory MP Maxime Bernier maintaining his seat in the House of Commons as he forges ahead building his new People’s party, it’s possible the speaker will afford him House time in the same way the sole Green MP and party leader Elizabeth May is called upon with some regularity.
Still a few months away, but come Christmastime expect to see a special focus and commemoration of the final days of debating inside Centre Block. In the New Year, MPs and Senators will be relocating to temporary chambers for the next decade as the crown jewel of Canadian legislatures goes under considerable renovation for at least a decade.