With just one week to go before the current supply cycle ends on March 26 — which is also the day the House shuts down for the two-week Easter recess — the mathematics of minority Parliament are about to force the government to temporarily cede control of the Commons for three of the next five sitting days scheduled for this week.
Just before the House started its weeklong hiatus earlier this month, Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez served notice that the coming Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday would all be designated opposition days, leaving just two half-day sittings to work on the Liberals’ legislative to-do list.
As noted in Hill Pass, the first round of opposition-controlled debate will go to the New Democrats, whose leader, Jagmeet Singh, will devote a full day to his party’s demand that the government ensure that any new national standards for long-term care will “fully remove profit from the sector,” with all current for-profit models converted to non-profit ones by 2030.
On Tuesday, the spotlight will move to the Conservatives, who haven’t yet revealed what they intend to bring before the House, although the latest notice paper includes three newly tabled contenders.
The first, which stands in the name of health critic Michelle Rempel Garner, would require the government “to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually, and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”
There’s also a new version of previous motions calling for a “service-wide independent investigation into sexual misconduct in the military.”
Finally, courtesy of Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett is a non-binding motion to have the House support a proposal to give the federal ethics commissioner the power to “impose stronger sanctions in cases of repeat violations.” The motion cites the ongoing investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s involvement in the WE Charity controversy, and two earlier reports that concluded he contravened several conflict-of-interest rules.
Under House rules, the Tories have until Monday afternoon to announce their final decision.
Meanwhile, with the government’s own legislative agenda effectively sidelined for three out of five days, it’s not clear if it can fast-track Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s omnibus mini-budget through the final stages before signing off on Friday afternoon.
The bill is expected to undergo lightning-round clause-by-clause review at the House FINANCE committee on Tuesday afternoon. Theoretically, this could return it to the docket in the chamber by Wednesday, though a cross-aisle deal would be needed to get it through the remaining stages by Friday.
Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of federal carbon tax
With the Supreme Court finally ready to hand down its decision on whether the carbon tax much-touted by Team Trudeau goes beyond the limits of its constitutional power to impose policy on the provinces, the “stakes could not be higher,” according to Star columnist Chantal Hébert.
“Should the court find that Ottawa has exceeded its constitutional powers, one of the consequences of the decision would be to transfer the lead in the Canadian fight on climate change to largely unfriendly premiers,” she notes — namely, those currently in power in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, which are also “leading the charge” in fighting the initiative in court.
But such an outcome might be framed initially as a win for his Conservative adversary, Erin O’Toole, who has already “drawn his line in the sand” with his repeated vows to scrap the current levy. “There is a consensus that, without a carbon tax in its toolbox, Ottawa would struggle to craft an alternative plan efficient enough for Canada to have a shot at meeting its 2050 target of a carbon-free economy,” Hébert writes.
“And yet, going back to the drawing board to take the carbon tax out of the picture is exactly what the Conservatives will be proposing in the next federal campaign,” after O’Toole’s party “campaigned on the same theme under Andrew Scheer in 2019,” which ended with “two-thirds of the electorate (backing) parties that supported a carbon tax.”
For its part, the federal government remains serene in its unwavering confidence that it will ultimately prevail when the decision drops on Thursday morning — a position bolstered by its track record on the lower-court circuit so far.
“In 2019, appeals courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario determined the policy was constitutional, while in February 2020, the Alberta Court of Appeal said it was not,” the Canadian Press notes in its preview of the upcoming ruling.
“The cases were all appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard the cases together in two days of hearings last September.”
The decision will also be released just days after rank-and-file Conservative Party members narrowly defeated a pitch to update the party platform to explicitly recognize that “climate change is real.” The pitch was backed by a majority of delegates in Quebec and New Brunswick, but was strongly opposed by those in Western Canada.
Expect that result to figure prominently in the Liberals’ talking points leading up to Thursday’s ruling, which they’re undoubtedly hoping will bring a clear end to the side debate over jurisdictional overreach.
Former senior Harper adviser to testify before committee probing Vance allegations
A longtime adviser to former prime minister Stephen Harper returns to his erstwhile political stomping grounds this week to be cross-examined over what, if anything, he or the then-Conservative government knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, and how such complaints were handled when they were in office.
According to the notice, Ray Novak — Harper’s chief of staff during his final two years in power — will testify before the NATIONAL DEFENCE committee on Monday morning in the ongoing probe into allegations lodged against Vance, as well as the wider problem of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Committee members have already heard from a full contingent of current and retired senior military officers, including former defence ombudsman Gary Walbourne, who claims to have been thwarted in his efforts to bring one of those allegations to the attention of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. The minister has appeared twice before the committee since the investigation began in February.
Novak is just one name on a witness list that’s grown in the last two weeks to include: former Privy Council clerk Michael Warnick; senior Liberal staffers Zita Astravas and Elder Marques; and Gerrit Nieuwoudt, who was Jason Kenney‘s chief of staff during the latter’s tenure as Defence minister. There’s been no official word when they’ll appear, however.
Opposition members to make the case for expanding WE Charity probe to include Chin, other senior PMO advisers
Over at the House ETHICS committee, meanwhile, members have scheduled a special meeting to discuss the latest opposition-driven campaign to revive — and extend — their investigation of the WE Charity controversy. Specifically, they plan to examine the “questions of conflict of interest and lobbying” as they relate to the now-nixed deal to put the embattled organization in charge of divvying up over $500 million in pandemic-related student-volunteer funding. (Monday AM)
The Conservatives have been leading the charge to expand the probe to include what they contend is new evidence that the Prime Minister’s Office may have been actively involved in setting up the program.
In the wake of the Kielburger brothers’ joint appearance earlier this month, they want senior PMO advisors Ben Chin and Rick Theis to be hauled before the committee to be questioned over their respective and collective roles in the process.
During questioning, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre confronted the pair with the text of a June 2020 LinkedIn message from WE Charity co-founder Craig Kielburger to Chin, in which he thanked the latter for his “kindness in helping shape our latest program with the government,” to which Chin replied: “Great to hear from you Craig. Let’s get our young working!”
That exchange, Poilievre contended, appeared to be in direct conflict with the Kielburgers’ insistence that the PMO wasn’t involved in the planning process, which is why he’s now pushing to get the chance to question Chin himself.
Also at committee this week:
With the latest batch of departmental spending plans due to be reported back to the House by the end of the month, more Team Trudeau front-benchers are hitting the spring-estimates circuit, starting with a one-hour session by Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan at NATURAL RESOURCES. (Monday AM)
Later that afternoon, INDIGENOUS AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS members will hear from Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, who, according to the notice, will appear for one hour before ceding the floor to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller for the second hour. (Monday PM)
The next day, HUMAN RESOURCES members will crunch the numbers of budget proposals related to accessibility standards and affordable housing with Seniors Minister Deb Schulte. (Tuesday PM)
Meanwhile, International Trade Minister Mary Ng heads to the SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS to discuss the role of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, which, as iPolitics reported earlier this month, “is set to begin receiving complaints in the coming weeks, (but) won’t have the power to force firms to turn over information if they refuse to do so during an investigatory review.”
Also on the witness list is Export Development Corporation CEO Mairead Lavery and Surya Deva, vice-chair of the UN Human Rights Office Working Group on Business and Human Rights. (Tuesday PM)
CANADIAN HERITAGE members are still going through the fine print of the government’s proposal to overhaul Canada’s broadcasting laws, which will kick off on Monday morning with back-to-back panel discussions. In attendance will be representatives from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, BCE Inc., Canadian Communications Systems Alliance, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture, and Unifor national president Jerry Dias. (Monday AM)
When the committee reconvenes at the end of the week, it will hold a one-hour discussion with representatives from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, including CRTC Chair Ian Scott, as well as the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations and the Professional Music Publishers Association. (Friday PM)
The SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON CANADA-CHINA RELATIONS continues to examine the “national security dimension of the Canada-China relationship, including, but not exclusively, the impact on Canada’s response to the pandemic.” Expert testimony is expected from Public Health Agency of Canada president Iain Stewart, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy senior research associate Christopher Parsons, and NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence director Janis Sarts. (Monday PM)
In the next phase of their probe into the mandate and operations of the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), TRANSPORT members will get the chance to question its newly installed CEO Ehren Cory and chief financial officer John Casola, as well as Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, whose office has been tracking CIB spending. (Tuesday PM)
Over at GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS, members will get an update on the government’s response to the pandemic from senior officials from both Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. (Monday PM).
Finally, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh’s backbench bid to legalize single-event sports betting heads into clause-by-clause review at JUSTICE. (Thursday PM)
On the Senate side, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is scheduled for a return appearance at LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS to argue in favour of the government’s bid to require federal judges to receive specialized training in handling sexual assault cases. Her pitch is based on a backbench bill she brought in during the previous Parliament, which was passed by the House but ran into fierce opposition in the Senate, where it eventually died at the election call. (Wednesday PM)
On the virtual hustings:
- Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau appears over Zoom to “highlight federal investments (in) bioplastics innovations in the Canadian agricultural sector.” (Monday AM)
- Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne attends a virtual lunch hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, where, according to the advisory, he’ll outline the “contribution of innovation to the relaunch of our economy and local businesses.” (Wednesday PM)
Also making a digital appearance outside the precinct this week is Deputy Bank of Canada Governor Toni Gravelle, who will explain how the bank “is responding to market-wide stress” during a video appearance before the CFA Society Toronto. (Tuesday PM)
Discussion about this post