Marijuana, national security, and tax changes to dominate House agenda
Published Friday, September 15, 2017 2:07PM EDT
OTTAWA— Seeing the pair of marijuana legalization bills pass and kick-starting a debate on national security reforms are among the top issues on the government's to-do list as MPs return to their seats for the fall sitting of the House of Commons on Monday.
As for the opposition benches, expect to hear lots more talk on issues like the Liberal's proposed tax changes aimed at addressing tax loopholes for business owners; and on the legislation poised to shake up how political parties fundraise.
This fall, the government’s core objective in the Commons will be to start seeing some movement of its 33 bills before the House or Senate.
"We really want to advance legislation that has already been introduced," Government House Leader Bardish Chagger told CTV News.
More than half of those bills have not been debated at all since being introduced, including some that have been collecting dust for over a year.
Bills that Chagger cited specifically were: Bill C-45 and Bill C-46, the marijuana legalization and impaired driving laws that the government considers the two planks of its legal pot plans; Bill C-59, the government’s national security and oversight reforms; and Bill C-49, the transportation modernization bill.
Chagger said that doesn't preclude new legislation coming from members of Cabinet soon.
"All ministers have mandate letters and they will want to advance commitments that we have made to Canadians. Myself as the government House leader, yes I’d like to see the legislation that’s already been introduced debated and advanced," she said.
To get this done Chagger said she has "no concerns" about continuing to use tools like time allocation, which cuts off debate at a certain time, to see the bills pass. Throughout this Parliament all three parties have had issues coming to agreement on the amount of time some bills get debated.
It's yet to be seen if the three House leaders will be able to reset their relationship after a tumultuous end to the spring sitting, but Chagger hopes the words of the late Liberal MP Arnold Chan will inspire all sides to make an effort to improve decorum in the House.
Colleagues were notified on Thursday of Chan's death, after fighting cancer for years. In June, in one of his final speeches in the House of Commons, Chan made an emotional plea for his colleagues to rise above partisanship and improve the level of debate in Parliament.
"What would be good, and especially in spirit of Arnold Chan our colleague… If we all want to work together it’s just a matter of all of us working better," said Chagger.
Chan was deputy house leader, a position Chagger's office says will be filled soon.
The Conservative caucus' focus in the House of Commons will be on pushing back hard on the government’s proposed tax changes, and calling out the ways Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spends taxpayer dollars.
"We are going to be continuing to expose the hypocrisy of Justin Trudeau and how out of touch he is with everyday Canadians," said Conservative House leader Candice Bergen.
The Conservative caucus is returning to the Hill with a new roster of critics named by their leader, Andrew Scheer. After taking the helm in May, he kept the critic structure the same as it was during the leadership race, where several experienced MPs took a backseat because they were running. Now, the Conservative shadow cabinet includes most of the former leadership contenders.
"It’s great to have the whole team working all focused on the one goal," Bergen said.
New Democrats prepping amendments
Cohesion and sense of direction is something the NDP will be looking to solidify within caucus once its leadership race comes to an end next month.
"The new leader has to make those priorities jive with the ongoing work of the caucus, the policy set by the party itself, and so there will be a little bit of understandable back and forth that happens whenever a new leader comes in," said NDP House leader Murray Rankin.
For now, in the Commons, New Democrat MPs plan to stay the course they had been on before Parliament adjourned for the summer.
"We’ll be pushing the Liberals to prioritize legislation that progressive Canadians want to see action on. And ultimately to see amendments to improve their legislation," said Rankin.
The caucus is meeting in Hamilton, Ont. over the weekend to discuss its priorities, but Rankin said he expects they’ll be pushing back on Bill C-45, the government’s legislation to legalize marijuana, as well as Bill C-50, which makes changes to political financing rules.
Rankin said Bill C-50 needs "significant amendments" if the government wants to be serious about dismantling the “cash for access” aspect of party fundraising.
The NDP will also be watching to see if maybe this sitting the Liberals are more amenable to private members' bills tabled by New Democrats. So far this Parliament, every NDP PMB—bills drafted by MPs often on issues of personal significance or important to their constituents—have been defeated by the Liberal majority.
New House rules
In June, tensions were strained as the three parties attempted to come to an agreement over the government’s changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that govern the House of Commons.
Ultimately, the government did get a motion passed implementing some of its desired changes, but a considerable amount of time was spent decrying and delaying the move by the opposition. They called it a "unilateral" power grab to change the rules for all MPs just because it was a campaign promise.
The changes that passed will be in place the first day back and include: a new schedule for budgets and main estimate documents being tabled; the Speaker will be able to divide omnibus bills for the purpose of voting if the subject of the bill isn’t wholly on one topic; and during a committee filibuster members won’t be able to call a vote by challenging the chair if there are still members on the speaking list.
Not included in the standing order changes—but Chagger assures will become common practice from here on out— is the prime ministers’ question period. Last sitting Trudeau would stand and take all the questions asked on Wednesdays, following the weekly caucus meetings that all parties have Wednesday morning.
When asked if a prorogation — the forced end of a parliamentary session that effectively kills any unfinished business like bills or motions — was on the government’s radar, Chagger said she remains focused on seeing mandate legislation passed.