The Top Line
Members of Parliament return to Ottawa today for the fall 2017 session of the House of Commons. The Senate resumes tomorrow. The fall parliamentary session, during which the Government must navigate numerous high-profile and controversial pieces of legislation, will be impactful for stakeholders.
The Liberal Government is approaching the halfway point of its mandate. Often, the first two years of a mandate are used to tackle challenging policy-making, while the second half is dedicated to building a ‘good news’ re-election narrative. For the Federal Liberals, that truism seems accurate. For example, the Government will use the coming months to enact changes to the tax code pertaining to private corporations, pass the Federal carbon pricing backstop, and finalize the legalization of marijuana – all measures that promise to attract criticism from prominent stakeholders.
The Opposition Parties are both exiting leadership changes and will use the fall session to position themselves as viable alternatives to the Government. Andrew Scheer is now fully established as Leader of the Official Opposition Conservative Party, and can call on a recently-appointed Shadow Cabinet comprised of experienced legislators. Meanwhile, voting for the NDP leadership opens today, with the winner assuming his or her position in October.
In sum, the Government will use the fall session to pass legislation on several polarizing issues, before turning more of its attention to Election 2019. Meanwhile, each of the Opposition Parties will seek to differentiate themselves from the Government on key policy debates in order to position themselves as the ‘government-in-waiting.’ How the Government manages the controversies associated with its fall agenda will set the tone for Federal politics for the balance of its term.
Changes in Parliament
TSA previously provided our readers with analyses of the Liberal Cabinet Shuffle and the Official Opposition Critic Shuffle, both of which occurred in late August. Indeed, all three major parties will fight the fall session with refreshed leadership teams.
In recent days, the Government has been assigning new Chiefs of Staff in Ministerial offices. Interested parties should check their key portfolios to see if the leadership team is changing. Another vacant post that is important to monitor is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. The role is a key engagement point for most every policy issue and it has become a power centre. The last two occupants became Ministers in short order. Stakeholders should also watch for membership of the House of Commons committees to be updated shortly.
For the Official Opposition, the fall session will be Andrew Scheer’s coming out party as Leader. Mr. Scheer will seek to build a narrative that the Conservatives are ready for Government under his leadership. He will position the Party as a fiscally-prudent and pragmatic alternative to the Liberals, whom he will portray as a ‘tax and spend’ government that is not listening to Canadians.
Interested parties should watch for who amongst the new Shadow Cabinet members takes on increased public profiles. Lisa Raitt (Deputy Leader) is already a prominent spokesperson, while new Shadow Ministers Pierre Poilievre (Finance) and Maxime Bernier (Innovation, Science, and Economic Development) can be expected to play large roles in parliamentary debates.
The NDP leadership race is in full-flight, and voting on preferential ballots begins today. The winner could be announced on October 1. However, because the Party is allowing for online voters to reorder their ballots after each round of voting, the winner may not be determined until October 18. Jagmeet Singh, on-leave Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP, is the perceived frontrunner. However, multi-round, preferential ballot votes are extremely unpredictable.
Stakeholders can expect the following policy issues to dominate the political debate during the fall session.
A third round of NAFTA renegotiations will occur September 23 to 27 in Ottawa. The first two negotiating rounds focused on comparing and, where possible, merging each member-state’s draft updated agreement. On many topics, the U.S. is using the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement as a starting point. In Ottawa, the Trade Ministers of each member-state will look to agree on common positions and resolve technical issues.
U.S. leaders have often negotiated on NAFTA in public, using the media to put forward controversial proposals, but most of those proposals have not been raised by the negotiators themselves. That said, the parties remain at an impasse on trade remedies and dispute settlement mechanisms – which the U.S. wants removed from the agreement, while Canada is set on keeping them intact.
The renegotiations will continue through the end of 2017, at least, with the goal of finalizing an updated agreement before the campaign period for Mexico’s July 2018 General Election begins.
On July 18, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced planned changes to the tax code pertaining to private corporations. His announcement was immediately met with resistance from stakeholders ranging from professional associations to small businesspersons to farmers. Public consultations on the proposed changes, including a recently-launched small businesses ‘listening tour’ by Ministers Morneau and Chagger, are set to close on October 2.
Resistance to the proposed changes has caught on in the Liberal Caucus, with several MPs from across the country publicly expressing their opposition. The issue has also become a lightning rod for criticism from the Conservative Party, while the NDP has expressed more quiet reservation.
At this point, Minister Morneau and Prime Minster Trudeau have indicated that they still intend to enact the proposed changes. The Conservatives will focus on the issue during the fall session, positioning themselves as the champions of small businesses and claiming that the policy hurts the middle class and entrepreneurs. Stakeholders should monitor that dynamic closely, as strong indications that the policy is unpopular broadly or in key constituencies could yet convince the Liberals to change course.
Looking further ahead, the Liberals have two major legislative deadlines in 2018. The Federal carbon pricing backstop, which will apply only in provinces without their own carbon pricing laws, is slated to take effect in 2018. Passing backstop legislation would deliver on a prominent Liberal promise from Election 2015. A law to legalize marijuana will also need to be passed soon, in order for the Provinces to have their own laws on sale and distribution in place by the federally-imposed deadline of July 1, 2018.
At the halfway points of its mandate, the Liberal Government enjoys a strong economy and a personally popular leader – two factors which always bode well for eventual re-election. A recent Abacus poll pegged voting intentions at 43% for the Liberals, 31% for the Conservatives, and 17% for the NDP. However, the Government, which is now out of its ‘honeymoon phase’, is about to embark on several months of polarizing policy-making, so that picture could yet change quickly.
For interested parties, there will be many opportunities through the end of 2017 to make your voice heard. Next steps include contributing to relevant open public consultations, participating in the upcoming House of Commons Finance Committee pre-budget hearings, and examining the content of the Fall Economic Update.