The Top Line
Both the House of Commons and the Senate resume sitting for normal legislative business today. Not only the seasons are changing, so is tenor of federal politics. In early September, Pierre Poilievre was elected as the Conservatives’ new and combative Leader. In the same period, Prime Minister Trudeau told his Ministers that he will contest the next election – whenever that is. Those two developments, in addition to growing public concern over rapid increases in the cost-of-living, will frame the return of Parliament.
When it comes to Liberal and Conservative political messaging and, likely, media coverage of federal politics, the Trudeau versus Poilievre faceoff will dominate in the coming months. However, at the level of day-to-day Parliamentary procedure and legislating – which is what will most impact federal stakeholders in the near term – the Liberal-New Democrat Supply and Confidence Agreement ensures that the Liberals can govern almost like a majority for as long as the agreement holds. As such, while it will be impactful in the longer term, the Trudeau – Poilievre politicking can’t do much to delay Liberal legislation right now, and stakeholders should watch Parliament’s legislative agenda closely in the coming months.
Trudeau and Poilievre offer very distinct, differing visions for government’s role in society. Both men will be focused on cost-of-living issues in the months ahead, and their proposed solutions for those issues are illustrative of their overall policy approaches. While Trudeau will argue that government supports targeted at those most in need are the best way forward. Poilievre will call for broad-based tax cuts and blame rising costs-of-living on Liberal spending. That philosophical divide – activist vs. small government – will be a recurring battleground for the Liberals and Conservatives now more than ever. And communicating those visions and capturing the public’s support for them will be a priority for both Trudeau and Poilievre in the coming months.
In the near term, and despite a looming deadline to make some progress on universal dental care before the end of the year, the Supply and Confidence Agreement seems stable. As such, until next June at least, this Parliament will resemble that of a majority government early in its term. That means an ambitious legislative agenda that checks off key campaign pledges and other prominent commitments, in this case: affordable housing supports, dental care, broadcasting reform, online privacy, and gun control.
In terms of both political messaging and influencing the legislative agenda, the NDP is best-positioned to make its presence felt by leveraging the Supply and Confidence Agreement and trying to take credit for the resulting policies. Expect Jagmeet Singh and his Caucus to portray themselves as the voice of reason focussed on people, in contrast to the combative Liberals and Conservatives.
A Deeper Dive
The New Conservative Leader and Liberal Response
Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre assumes leadership of the Official Opposition Conservatives having won almost 70% of the vote and a majority of support in 330 of 338 ridings. In that context, and in the runup to the next election, Poilievre’s control over the Conservative Party is very strong and he has every opportunity to unite his party and begin reaching out to independents. Thus far, following Poilievre’s election, only Quebec MP, Alain Rayes, has left caucus, while other MPs who had been critical of Poilievre said they will support him.
Poilievre did not release a policy platform during his leadership run, but repeated three main themes throughout: Tackling inflation, making Canada the “freest” nation in the world (largely framed as a response to certain COVID-19 policies), and firing the “gatekeepers” (loosely defined as entities perceived as standing in the way of Canadian freedom and prosperity). Poilievre should not be expected to change course or dilute his views. Indeed, his first speech as leader repeated those themes.
Conversely, the Liberals have already started trying to tie Poilievre to some of the more controversial issues that he spoke to during his leadership campaign – such as supporting cryptocurrency, firing the Bank of Canada governor, and flouting political norms – to portray him as inclined to cut government support programs like universal childcare. Those attacks will continue, as the Liberals want to define Poilievre to voters who weren’t tracking the Conservative leadership race.
Poilievre positioned his leadership campaign as running to be Prime Minister. His next moves – such as staffing, appointing Shadow Ministers, and recruiting candidates for the next election – should be assessed in that light. In each case, electability (as defined by Poilievre) and political considerations will be paramount. Poilievre’s newly appointed Parliamentary Leadership team is comprised only of MPs who supported him for party leadership. Looking ahead, it’s worth monitoring if he chooses to appoint some erstwhile leadership opponents to Shadow Cabinet positions, in an attempt to form a unified front.
Inflation and rising costs of living – especially housing – remain the hot federal political issues. While the Trudeau government at first took a light-touch approach to inflation, its approach is changing.
Notably, the government’s first priority for this Parliamentary session is passing two bills to enact recently announced affordability supports targeted at lower-income households (specifically, a temporary doubling of the GST credit, a one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit, and a dental care benefit for children under twelve who do not have dental insurance). The debate on that legislation will be the first major battle between Poilievre and Trudeau, highlighting their diverging approaches to the role of government.
Combined, the aforementioned policies have a cost of $4.6 billion, of which more than $3 billion is new spending that had not previously been announced. Mr. Poilievre has been clear that he will oppose new spending and taxation, and has proposed that the government cancel planned payroll tax increases and the carbon tax to address inflation. But the Liberal Party position is that spending to support Canadians through this inflationary period will lead to prosperity. While the Liberals should be able to pass this legislation, the current economic context and the new prominence of Mr. Poilievre ensures that the political discourse will be more focused on fiscal issues going forward.
Beyond that initial battleground, expect Bill C-21 (gun control legislation) to be a priority of the Trudeau government and prominent in its political messaging. The Liberals will also seek to pass the Digital Charter Implementation Act, to create updated privacy laws, amendments to the Broadcasting Act, to bring that legislation into the digital age, and the Online News Act, to mandate digital platforms to compensate news media for using their content, in the next nine months.
Finally, the inquiry into the first use of the Emergencies Act — to clear the blockades by the self-named Freedom Convoy that took place in early 2022 — will begin sometime this fall which could trigger a period of intense scrutiny for the Trudeau government.
What This Means for You
Stakeholders should expect a crowded policy and legislative agenda for the next 12 months. In that time, Pierre Poilievre will be able to leverage his political profile to shape the issues the Liberal government has to address. Indeed, since Poilievre assumed his new role, the Liberals have increasingly focused on fiscal issues – and that is likely not entirely a coincidence. However, the NDP will be best-positioned to influence the nature of the Liberal policy responses to the major issues – as demonstrated by the government’s approach to dental care and affordability supports. Overall, we’re entering a period in which the government should be quite stable, but the importance for stakeholders of building connections to and working with all three major parties is high.