MPs head back to Parliament this week after a summer break in name only for the Liberal government and a surging Conservative leader.
Here are the five things you need to know about what’s coming this fall:
1.Building Housing Housing Housing
There is no hotter topic in Canadian politics than what the federal government is — and isn’t — doing on the file.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put the capable Sean Fraser on it during his mid-summer Cabinet shuffle, which remade his front bench. Fraser began with interviews demonstrating a quick understanding of the complex issue.
Last week, Trudeau and Fraser made two key housing announcements. One was to finally start expenditures under the Housing Accelerator Fund to help municipalities speed up housing-related regulatory approvals and infrastructure development. The other provided developers of rental housing with a rebate on the GST/HST.
Expect more to come as Fraser, his staff and two Parliamentary Secretaries (Chris Bittle and Peter Fragiskatos) settle into the most political file the government has. Meanwhile, don’t expect Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to let up on this issue. He released his own housing plan last Friday and plans a private members’ bill tying federal funding for municipalities to housing starts.
2. Cementing a New Deal
The NDP also plans to keep housing at the top of its agenda as it renegotiates the confidence-and-supply agreement that keeps the Liberals in power. Expect the New Democrats to push the Liberals on funding for affordable housing and renters.
The NDP will also continue to press the Liberals on pharmacare and dental care promises under the agreement. A test of the relationship will be apparent with regard to Bill C-340, An Act to enact the Canadian Pharmacare Act. It is a NDP private members’ bill to do just as the name suggests: create a national pharmacare plan.
3. Tightening the Belt
Anita Anand took over at Treasury Board this summer and, with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s support, quickly told Cabinet colleagues to find $15 billion in savings.
This means the Fall Economic Statement and Budget 2024 may be lean affairs. The Liberals need to shore up support ahead of a likely election within 18 months, but don’t expect big new initiatives beyond housing and the health care files essential to the agreement with the NDP.
Stakeholders would be wise, as they seek progress on key files, to look for ways to slot them into existing programs, or to seek alternative means of support short of those with impacts on the fiscal framework. Those who come with cost-saving solutions too will be welcome.
4. Battling Big Business
The affordability crunch continues, in addition to ongoing housing difficulties. Canadians feel it most at the grocery store, and Trudeau indicated last week he hears them loud and clear.
The government has issued an ultimatum to Big Food: get prices in line or face new measures under the Competition Act or even new taxes.
We’re also watching for the long-promised changes to the Impact Assessment Act to streamline approvals of critical mineral projects and the progress of Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Investment Canada Act. The latter would boost the government’s ability to prevent transactions involving companies tied to countries like Russia and China.
The government is also pressing ahead with Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act to tighten privacy and AI regulation. As well, implementation of new anti-slavery legislation, formerly Bill S-211, is in the spotlight. The May 2024 reporting deadline is coming quickly; the government has signalled it’s looking at ways to phase in the legislation effectively.
5. Simmering on the Stove
Meanwhile, other issues continue on the backburner:
- Election Interference: The government secured all party support for a public inquiry led by Justice Marie-Josee Hogue, but don’t expect the opposition to relent as it seeks to tie the Liberals to the issue. The minority Liberals are limited in means to stifle committee debate. Without a deal as part of a new confidence-and-supply agreement, more fireworks can be expected.
- Bail Reform: Urban violent crime has turned bail reform, usually a matter mostly for policy wonks, into a political controversy. Arif Virani, the new Attorney General and Justice Minister, will try to get this done without eliciting a public backlash.
- Gun Control: Dominic LeBlanc, the Prime Minister’s go-to fixer, was given responsibility for public safety this summer in addition to his role as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. He is expected to take another shot at long-promised gun control reforms this fall. It is a divisive issue and one that has helped the Liberals in the last two elections.
- Musical Chairs: The summer ministerial shuffle meant, as always, a big shuffle of staff. This is still taking effect. Stakeholders may need to remain patient in terms of engagement a little longer, then.
For those looking to navigate Ottawa, McMillan Vantage is here with insights about what you need to know, when you need to know it.
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