Return to Parliament Lookahead

After a six-week holiday break, the House of Commons is set to return on Monday, January 31. Committees will get back up-and-running, the daily Question Period in the House of Commons will resume, and the battle for social media and nightly news clips will continue. Proceedings will remain “hybrid,” where MPs can participate in person or virtually, which may make it more difficult for Opposition parties to score political points.

On the substance of governing, the Liberals have 223 commitments to address from their 2021 platform, as well as significant items left to implement from their first two terms, ranging from clean water on reserves to delayed infrastructure spending. Nine of the platform commitments have a deadline at the 100-day mark, which falls on February 3, so there will be a rush to introduce Government Bills in the first four days of the new Parliament. The many shared responsibilities among the 39 cabinet ministers in their mandate letters (their “To-Do” list from the Prime Minister) may create complexity instead of clarity for some. Any increase in friction among Cabinet Ministers along with the challenges of minority government will make the quick implementation of this agenda no easy task.

Below are several key themes that are expected to shape the thinking of politicians and policymakers:

New year, same pandemic – COVID-19 response and recovery will continue to be a top priority

Unfortunately, COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery will continue to be the dominant issue driving policy considerations. With the country still fighting the Omicron variant, the healthcare system struggling to keep up, ongoing talks with provinces and territories regarding the federal health transfers, and continued pressure on supply chains, the federal government will continue to adjust its approach based on the latest data.

Expect the government to continue spending to push long-term recovery and assist struggling sectors of the economy. Omicron – and the specter of future variants – compelled governments across the country back to pandemic crisis measures and made it harder to definitively shift post-pandemic tracks. The federal government controls fewer pandemic policy levers than the provinces and territories, limiting federal responsibility to border policy, federally regulated workplaces, and spending/transfers. However, we can expect the Liberals to continue to use their position to communicate to Canadians who are growing weary of lockdowns but remain fearful of COVID.

Key areas to watch:

  • How will the Government contend with shifting public opinion between “public health is paramount” and “the pandemic is over” crowds?
  • Will the Government consider new measures to target the unvaccinated?
  • What will happen to support for individuals and businesses badly impacted by the pandemic?

“Shall We Dance?” Finding partners to navigate the Minority Government tango

As in the last Parliament, the government must court at least one opposition party to support each bill as it seeks to pass its agenda through the House of Commons. During the fall 2021 sitting, the Bloc Quebecois supported many Liberal initiatives, including the Fall Economic Statement. The NDP also supported several bills, calling for more spending, settlement of the lawsuit with Indigenous children, and other progressive causes.

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will continue to push a progressive agenda to secure their Parliamentary support while simultaneously attempting to “one-up” each other to claim victory on concessions from the governing Liberals. Expect the Liberals to continue to govern from the left-of-centre and prioritize issues important to their coalition of voters.  These issues include climate change, housing affordability, and arts and culture. The Bloc will also demand concessions of specific interest to Quebec, particularly the priorities of the Legault government.

It will not be surprising to see the Conservatives act as the main foil to the Liberals on most issues in the coming session. However, internal party issues continue to plague Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, many of which emanate from the election result and the feeling that the 2021 campaign was “Liberal-lite” without the upside of gaining more seats.

The next six months will be crucial for O’Toole to try and unite the Conservative team behind his leadership – which may come only if he can provide effective opposition to the Liberals. However, a lack of unity and sense of purpose creates the space for individual MPs to chase specific issues and pursue their own interests, even if they are not in line with O’Toole’s overall positioning or messaging.  As such, don’t be surprised to see Liberals trying to bait Conservatives on challenging issues for their caucus, such as vaccine mandates, gun control, or climate change policy.

Key areas to watch:

  • Will O’Toole win his upcoming leadership review at the 2023 CPC convention?
  • On what issues will the NDP differentiate itself from the Liberals and how will this play out among their base and the broader public?
  • Will the Bloc Quebecois be able to differentiate itself on key issues important to Quebec to leverage its support for Liberal legislation?
  • Will the Liberals risk getting off-side with the majority of Parliament or will any issues unite the opposition against the government?

The road ahead to the 2022 Budget

While no budget date has been set, we expect it will happen in late March or early April 2022. While that may seem far off, key inputs to the drafting process are underway. Ministers have communicated their budget requests to Finance Canada and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance will launch its prebudget consultations on January 31. Consultations are expected to generate significant interest that will make the 2022 Budget a major negotiation tool for opposition parties to advance their own agenda in exchange for support in the House of Commons.

Key areas to watch:

  • How will the Liberals prioritize the 223 commitments in their 2021 platform for the first budget of this minority or will we have another 700+ page budget with everything in it?
  • How will other world events, such as Canada’s response to Ukraine, impact the agenda of the government?

The return to Parliament means a return to procedure, party negotiations, and opportunities for the government to get into hot water. It provides openings for stakeholders to input into the evolving strategies of all parties, and StrategyCorp is ready to help you navigate the political and parliamentary landscape.

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