Parliament gets back to business today — and the summer added a pile of new issues to briefing books hitting ministers desks this fall: persistent inflation, the Rogers outage, shuttered ERs, increasing threats (online and off) against politicians and journalists, the Hockey Canada scandal, to name just a few. Passport delays and long lines at airports have angered Canadians, and the federal government might be wise to follow the Ontario PCs’ lead and waive some user fees while they get those houses in order.
Oh, and the Conservative Party of Canada elected a new leader. Quiet guy, you may have heard of him.
With so much on the agenda, what do you actually need to know about the fall sitting? Beyond the politics and the ups-and-downs of polling, here are five things to watch this fall in Ottawa:
Whether it’s closed ERs in rural areas, the massive doctor shortage in Atlantic Canada, or cancelled surgeries for want of staff, Canada’s health care system is in need of its own booster this fall.
Expect to see the federal government engage seriously with the provinces on funding — an exercise that could prove very interesting to watch politically should Danielle Smith take over the Premiership of Alberta and François Legault gain an even bigger majority in Quebec.
With B.C. Premier John Horgan expected to be replaced on Dec. 3, that would leave Ontario Premier Doug Ford as the reasonable statesman — and one with the best relationship with the PMO — of the largest provinces heading into health-care negotiations.
Rumour has it the feds are planning a cash injection to inoculate themselves against the perception they aren’t doing enough to help provinces deliver health care. Expect some conditions on the federal transfer — and they just might tie it to guaranteed access to abortion care in the provinces. If they really want to have some fun, expect the government to make MPs vote for or against the move in the House.
For health-care stakeholders, the federal government continues to engage in serious policy dialogue to ensure it rolls out national dental care and pharmacare programs, per its confidence-and-supply motion with the NDP. It also signalled earlier this year it wants to do more to reinvigorate the biomedical sector and ensure domestic vaccine production — so stakeholders in those areas would be wise to engage strategically now, while policymakers are still drafting.
Last spring, the headlines in Canada’s auto sector were all about electric vehicles (EVs). But you can’t build EVs without the critical minerals required for batteries — minerals that we have in abundance in Canada but have yet to fully tap into.
The government has previously announced a critical minerals strategy, and expect substantive work on the policy to get underway this fall. It won’t knock shuttered ERs off the front page, but it will require a deft plan to fuel an industry that has often been stymied by competing local Indigenous rights and environmental concerns.
Green Energy Cash
The government announced billions in green-energy transition money last spring. Now it needs to decide what to do with it. Will nuclear energy be fully embraced and wrapped into all low-emissions energy plans, or will it continue to face ideological resistance to being included in some programs and tax cuts but not others?
How will we get the charging infrastructure built in time to hit 100 per cent zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) by 2035, as the government proposes? Or enough ZEVs built to meet demand?
Policy makers will need to balance spending allocated cash swiftly to build electric charging stations, with wisely funding – and accelerating – companies that present real solutions to climate challenges, whether it’s waste reduction or energy production or carbon capture. There are billions to be invested, but not much time left to act.
Regulating Telecoms and the Internet
Rogers and its competitors may have implemented new outage back-ups and promised greater industry cooperation, but don’t expect the memory of the outage to fade from ministers, MPs minds or most importantly, voters. Few public policy issues are more unpopular than telecom, and it’s hard to imagine any political party not echoing consumers calls for lower monthly fees and increased competition. The federal government is also likely questioning how any telecom mergers would be of benefit to voters.
We can also expect two proposed bills, and one promised piece of legislation, to play prominently this fall:
- Bill C-11 — An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts — will finally make its way through the Senate this fall, and likely become law by year’s end. But the long-awaited regulation of streaming content won’t begin at the start of 2023; instead, the hard work of defining what the bill means, what Canadian Content is in a world of multinational production companies, and what streaming giants like Netflix will actually have to do to comply, will be largely left to the CRTC to work out. This will be a political hot rod for the Conservative Party and their new leader, Pierre Poilievre.
- Bill C-18 — An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada — is also expected to get Royal Assent before year’s end. The bill, which was heavily updated following stakeholder engagement prior to last year’s election, will ensure Canadian news content producers get their “fair share” in revenue from social platforms and others that share their content. It’s good news for the news but perhaps a double blow to online giants looking to implement many Canadian regulatory changes are once.
- Online harms — The government has also for years promised to do something about the hate and hate speech online. After a summer where the tenor of threats against politicians and journalists hit new and scarier heights, expect some action on this front. However, the government is likely to tread cautiously, given the balance between protecting free speech and protecting against hate speech and policing online threats.
The economy, that not-so-new guy and shuffle rumours
If Canadians are struggling to feed their families, or get access to an ER when a loved one is sick, little else matters on the political agenda. Climate change might be an existential threat, but it’s hard to think even that far ahead if you’re worried about filling your kids’ lunch bags next week.
Expect everything this fall to turn on the Canadian economy — the government’s best laid plans could rise or fall with inflation or the dollar.
Poilievre is particularly good at laying global macroeconomic woes at the Prime Minister’s door. He is unlikely to lay off this fall — but he might need to temper his tone and flush out his policy ideas if he wants to fulfill the role he has given himself of prime minister in waiting. Though he’s good at flash, the new CPC leader is a bit of a wonk — and stakeholders would be wise to get in his (good) books sooner than later.
The fall brings with it an end to the season of election speculation and with it a season of Cabinet shuffle speculation — except the latter is a lot more realistic. Given where the government is in its mandate — and the rumours some ministers may soon be departing Ottawa — it’s no fool’s bet to expect a Cabinet shuffle is in the offing if not late this year then early next.
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