‘A lot of work to do’: MPs kick off fall sitting with maintained focus on affordability

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Affordability was the main issue of the spring, the summer, and is now set to remain the focus this autumn as members of Parliament returned from their ridings to Ottawa to kick off the fall sitting on Monday.

On the heels of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledging a suite of new measures generated amid meetings with his freshly-rallied caucus, Government House Leader Karina Gould kicked off the 11-week stretch to the Christmas break vowing the Liberals are squarely focused on Canadians’ concerns.

“There is a lot of work to do for Canadians,” Gould said. “They are looking for us to work together and not to play partisan games. We are determined to do that… We will move ahead with action that will improve the lives of the people we all represent.”

Gould, who was shuffled into the role in July, said the government will “imminently” introduce legislation to implement the promised elimination of the GST from new rental builds, emergency business loan extensions, and competition law reforms.

With this bill containing a few policy proposals that appear to mirror a pair of opposition-backed pitches, battle lines have clearly been drawn, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accusing the Liberals of essentially poaching his GST pitch, despite it being an abandoned past Trudeau election commitment.

Gould challenged Poilievre—whose party has spent the summer largely atop the polls—to work with the government to pass the government’s coming bill “instead of having a temper tantrum over in the corner.”

She said this while standing alongside Housing Minister Sean Fraser, who just minutes prior, panned Poilievre’s housing plan as “a handful of ideas that look frankly like they’ve been pulled off Google.”

WHAT ARE THE OPPOSITION PRIORITIES?

The opposition parties have come back to the capital after getting earfuls from Canadians as they travelled the country and took part in events in their ridings over the last two months, hearing directly what challenges voters are facing, and what’s concerning them about the country’s future.

With inflation persisting and Canadians continuing to feel the pinch at the checkout, and as they fill up their gas tanks, the one thing all parties are coming into the fall in agreement on, is the dominating issue of the season.  Where they’re all looking to differentiate themselves, is on how they’d tackle affordability.

As Poilievre pitched during his Conservative convention keynote speech, he’s signalled that what Canadians will see from his party this fall will be a “stark” contrast to the “reckless coalition” of the Liberals and New Democrats.

Building on his summer messaging strategy, Poilievre’s party has just released a new advertisement seeking to “bring home” this message. 

Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer told CTV News that in the House, his party will “use all the parliamentary tools available to highlight the misery Trudeau is inflicting on Canadians after eight years in power.”

Singh said he is heading into the fall squarely focused on standing up to Canada’s most profitable corporations, through a new private members’ bill he’s tabled that seeks to empower Canada’s Competition Bureau to tamp down corporate powers and practices such as price gouging. 

Despite this legislation offering up very similar policy ideas to what the Liberals will soon be tabling, Singh tried to make the case for Parliament to get behind his version to see these policy measures implemented as soon as possible.

“What we’re proposing is not further delays, but a concrete law… That is a law that could be passed before families are buying groceries for Christmas dinner,” he told reporters on Monday.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian told CTV News that his party will be holding CEOs to account, leveraging their supply-and-confidence deal to see the Liberals do more to address housing affordability and ensure they follow-through on pharmacare legislation.

The Centre Block of Parliament Hill is pictured as members of Parliament return to the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, following the summer recess. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

As for the Bloc Quebecois, Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has said his party has three priorities this season: the fight against climate change; the cost of living and housing of seniors; and immigration that’s mindful of Quebec’s service capacity.

The Green Party has a longer priority list, but it includes: “significant” federal investments in housing; “defanging” oil companies and “re-wilding” burned forests; combatting the politics of division; and enhancing food security mechanisms.

“As Canadians reel from a hellish summer of fire-related evacuations, rent increases, unaffordable food, and toxic divisions, the political class responsible for Canada’s disastrous state of affairs returns today to the House of Commons,” said the party in a statement. “Greens will fight to cut through the predictable status quo politics.”

HOUSING DOMINATES QP, BAIL BILL DEBATED

As anticipated, the dominating issue in the inaugural question period of the season—seeing Trudeau square off against Poilievre for the first time in months—was housing affordability.

“Mr. Speaker, after the summer that these Liberals have had, even the prime minister must admit that he’s not worth the cost. Eight years after he promised to make housing more affordable, he doubled the cost… Then he said housing is not his job. And then he panicked when he plummeted in the polls and recycled promises that he’d broken six years earlier. Mr. Speaker, it took him eight years to cause this housing hell, how long will it take to fix it?” Poilievre asked.

In response, Trudeau spoke about how the Liberals are working with municipalities to increase the housing supply.

“We’re doing this by cutting red tape, fixing outdated zoning policies, and building more homes faster,” Trudeau said. “The opposition leader’s bickering won’t help get houses built, our plan does.”

As for what the Liberal minority’s other legislative priorities will be this fall, Monday’s debate on bail reform Bill C-48 targeting repeat violent offenders with reverse onus reforms, offered some indication. 

“You’ll see that our focus this session is going to be on affordability and public safety,” Gould said.

During debate, Conservative MPs took turns raising as their leader has all summer, the uptick in crime being reported in Canada, highlighting specific cases where alleged criminals reoffended while out on bail.

Gould also signalled that the “Canada Pharmacare Act” – the long-promised legislation installing a framework for a national pharmacare plan— will be tabled this sitting, with the goal of coming to a third and final vote before the holidays.

In addition to making progress on outstanding pieces of legislation, ministers have also signalled that new labour law reforms to ban the use of replacement workers, and the anticipated online safety bill aimed at tamping down harmful content are expected to be tabled in the coming moths.

And, just as the public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada got underway—the issue that was top of mind before the House broke for the summer— Monday’s question period was followed by a rare statement from Trudeau.

During his address, he informed the House that for weeks, Canadian security agencies have been “actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India” and the killing of a Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Uniting all opposition parties in dismay, it’s likely that this major national security development will dominate House discussion in the days ahead. 

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