The House of Commons and Senate adjourned for their summer hiatus on June 24, closing out a sitting marked by the dismissal of Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole by the Conservative caucus and the signing of the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and NDP that has increased the predictability of Parliament.
The House is scheduled to return on Monday, September 19, 2022.
Is the government running out of steam?
As Parliament readied itself for the summer, a challenging narrative for the government has emerged, with several journalists writing that the Liberals are “drifting and listless,” that key ministers are making mistakes and the cabinet is “running on empty.”
It has certainly been a difficult few weeks. Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino has been unable to explain which police force recommended the proclamation of the Emergencies Act earlier this year, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly’s office missed emails from her department advising that a public servant was to attend a party at the Russian embassy. Minister of National Defence Anita Anand publicly claimed that spending on NORAD modernization was “new money,” leaving her office to backtrack and correct the record. And Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra faced loud calls from the travel industry and thousands of angry passengers wanting the lifting of vaccine mandate restrictions from Canadian airports to alleviate significant air travel delays occurring in airports across the country. In addition, thousands of Canadians are currently camping overnight in long line-ups waiting to receive their passports.
As the government limped towards the summer recess, it cleared the decks by introducing several pieces of legislation that will set the policy agenda for the fall. It also announced some major framework policy directions without implementation details and continued the wind down of key aspects of the vaccine mandates put in place earlier to fight COVID-19.
With 31.2 million Canadians (81.7 per cent) vaccinated with two doses and the number of new COVID-19 cases down to 2,400 per day in late-June, most Canadians are looking forward to enjoying their first “normal” summer in three years.
With most provincial pandemic restrictions gone, until last week the only significant limitations remaining in place were the federal rules on travel and border control and the vaccine mandates for its employees. Long delays in processing passengers at Toronto’s Pearson airport led to calls for the federal government to end its restrictions, moves that many other countries had already taken. Labour shortages among federal public servants and government contractors who conduct security, customs and COVID-19 checks on travellers were also cited as factors in causing the delays.
Facing strong criticism from airlines, airport authorities, the tourism industry and travellers, the federal government suspended random testing of travellers for a month and then effective June 20, lifted its vaccine mandates for domestic travel on planes and trains and outbound international flights and for federal public servants.
Effective June 20, the House of Commons and Senate both lifted their COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which had been in effect since last November. The mandates required vaccination of all MPs, Senators, staff and journalists working in the Parliamentary precinct; they will no longer be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.
The House of Commons also agreed this week to extend hybrid sittings for another year. Under those rules, MPs may participate in the House either in person or via Zoom and to vote through a secure voting app. Government House Leader Mark Holland noted five MPs, including the prime minister had COVID-19 just in the last week, arguing, “We are still in a pandemic reality, and that we need the tools to ensure that members of Parliament can participate fully in the proceedings of Parliament.”
Finally, effective June 17, the federal government decommissioned its COVID Alert app, disabled the exposure notification service and advised users they could delete the app from their devices. The app was launched in July 2020, but only 6.9 million people downloaded it and several provinces and territories declined to participate in its use.
Confidence and supply agreement
The Liberals and NDP surprised everyone in March by agreeing to a deal that would keep the Liberal minority government in office until 2025 and move ahead on some mutually agreeable policies. The confidence-and-supply agreement identifies a list of joint priorities, including a dental-care program for low-income Canadians, national pharmacare, extending the rapid housing initiative and phasing out public financing of the fossil fuel sector more quickly. In exchange, the NDP has agreed to support budgets, budgetary policy and budget implementation bills. The NDP has also promised not to move a vote of non-confidence or vote for a non-confidence motion until the next fixed-date election, which is scheduled for 2025.
How has the agreement influenced the operations of the House? A recent CBC analysis notes that since its adoption, the Liberals and NDP have voted together to advance six government bills and combined several times to impose time allocation to limit the length of debates. In late April, the two voted together to extend the hours of House sittings until the end of June. The analysis concludes that by removing the “threat of blackmail” that typically hangs over a minority government, Parliament has become more predictable and now stands “somewhere between a majority and a minority.”
A troubling development
When former privy council clerk Michael Wernick warned three years ago about “a rising tide of incitements to violence” in national politics, he was widely mocked for being over-dramatic. But as the Canadian political scene has turned even more divisive and toxic, many MPs have recently reported receiving abusive comments, harassment and death threats through social media. This week, the Parliamentary Protective Service began providing MPs with “personal panic buttons,” or personal duress alarms, to alert authorities when such threats arise.
Unlike the past two years, which required numerous time-sensitive pandemic assistance bills to be rammed through the House, in this sitting, the legislative process has returned to normal. While the legislative pace was much more leisurely this year, the usual June rush was necessary to get government bills wound up and passed before the summer break. The following bills of note were passed by the House of Commons and the Senate and received Royal Assent:
Bill C-8: Economic and Fiscal Update Implementation Act, 2021, which covered last fall’s fiscal update.
Bill C-14: Electoral Representation: The bill amends section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867 to provide that, when the number of MPs in each province is readjusted after each decennial census, a province will not have fewer members assigned to it than were assigned during the 43rd Parliament. This amendment preserves Quebec’s allocation of 78 seats.
Bill C-19: Budget Implementation Bill #1: After each federal budget, the federal government introduces a comprehensive bill to implement its provisions, usually followed up by one or two additional bills in the fall sitting.
This year’s version of Budget Bill #1 was passed and received Royal Assent, but it is notable for the number of significant changes made to its contents by the standing committee on finance. MPs on the committee amended no less that 10 clauses and also removed an entire 48 clause section that would have created a new employment insurance board of appeal to hear challenges to EI rulings. Witnesses argued that the bill as drafted was flawed and required more scrutiny and consultation; employment minister Carla Qualtrough agreed and promised to return to the House with stand-alone legislation in the fall.
Bills C-24 and C-25, Appropriation Bills, which authorized public spending.
Bill C-28: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (self-induced extreme intoxication): The Bill was introduced late in the sitting by justice minister Lametti in response to a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down the section in the Criminal Code that prevented an individual from using extreme intoxication as a defence for violent crimes. The Bill seeks to render self-induced extreme intoxication invalid as a legal defence by moving it into the area of criminal negligence – in the same way that failing to provide the necessities of life for a child is criminally negligent. Opposition parties agreed with the government that the court decision had left a gap in the law and cooperated to speed the Bill though the House of Commons. The Senate also agreed to pass the legislation immediately.
Before the House wrapped for the summer, the government tabled several new pieces of legislation that will begin consideration in the fall:
- On June 2, the federal government tabled Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which provides for the introduction of a monthly benefit payment for working-age Canadians with disabilities. The bill, a new version of the legislation that died on the Order Paper in the last Parliament, was criticized because of its lack of details. The proposed act is framework legislation that empowers the government to establish through regulations most of the benefit’s key design elements, including the eligibility requirements, the monetary value of the benefit, how it would be indexed to inflation and how the new program would relate to provincial support programs for people with disabilities
- Bill C-26, An Act Respecting Cyber Security, introduced on June 14, is in two parts. The first authorizes the government through Order in Council and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry “to direct telecommunications service providers to do anything, or refrain from doing anything, that is necessary to secure the Canadian telecommunications system.” The second part of the bill “enacts the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act to provide a framework for the protection of the critical cyber systems of services and systems that are vital to national security or public safety” within federal jurisdiction.
- Bill C-27, Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022: The Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry introduced Bill C-27 on June 16.
- Part 1 enacts the Consumer Privacy Protection Act to oversee the protection of personal information while taking into account the need of organizations to collect, use or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities.
- Part 2 establishes an administrative tribunal to hear appeals of certain decisions made by the Privacy Commissioner under the Consumer Privacy Protection Act.
- Part 3 enacts the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act to regulate international and interprovincial trade and commerce in artificial intelligence systems by requiring the adoption of measures to mitigate risks of harm and biased output related to high-impact A.I. Systems. It would also provide for public reporting on A.I., authorizes the Minister to order the production of records related to artificial intelligence systems, and puts in place prohibitions related to the possession or use of illegally obtained personal information for use by an artificial intelligence system.
Major policy developments
In a blistering report released at the end of May, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour said the Canadian military has failed to protect members of the armed forces from sexual assault and that the armed forces are a “broken system” that are a “liability” to the country. She recommended the prosecution of criminal code sexual offences should be permanently transferred to the civilian justice system, but this move faces challenges: of the 49 sexual offence cases the military has tried to transfer since last fall, police forces accepted only 22 of the files and rejected 27. Police claimed overwork and backlogs resulting from the pandemic and expressed concerns at the impact of the potential new cases on their workloads.
This is the third major report since 2015 to document the toxic culture and widespread sexual misconduct within the Canadian military. In the past 16 months alone, 13 senior officers have been sidelined, investigated, or forced into retirement as a result of misconduct investigations. National Defence Minister Anita Anand promised to “analyse, review and plan our responses” to the report.
Update to North Warning System
In late June, defence minister Anand revealed that the costs of modernizing NORAD, the continent’s aging northern defensive systems, will total approximately $40 billion over the next 20 years. She said Canada will spend $4.9 billion over the coming six years to modernize continental defence by replacing and updating the North Warning System, the chain of radar stations in the far north. The overhauls will include new satellites built to track moving targets on the ground and a top-secret system of remote sensors. Neither Anand nor Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre or Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the deputy commander of NORAD, were able to say exactly when the North Warning System will be replaced.
Climate change, environment and energy
This spring, the government worked to deliver specifics of its 2030 climate change plan on several fronts, including deployment of electric vehicle charging stations, investments in clean and energy efficient technology, and investments to expand the Battery Electric Vehicle supply chain (including critical minerals).
The National Adaptation Strategy and the creation of an offset credit system for methane, forestry, farming and Indigenous communities are moving forward. A May meeting meet of G7 Ministers of Climate, Energy and Environment reinforced Canada’s efforts in the global energy transition. Details of the ban on single use plastics and plans to move toward zero plastic waste were released in June.
Issues to watch over the summer
The rising impacts of inflation are set to become the dominant economic and political issue facing Canada for the foreseeable future. The annual inflation rate rose to 6.8 per cent in April, and then jumped again to 7.7 per cent on June 22 (a forty-year high), with the costs of food, energy, shelter, transportation – and especially gasoline – all rising. Stock markets have tanked on fears of a full-blown recession, wiping billions of dollars in value from pension funds and corporate market caps. While wages are rising too – 3.4 per cent between March last year and this year – inflation is rising faster, with the result that all workers are losing ground.
After raising Canada’s benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point in its last two rate-settings, the Bank of Canada has signalled that it is “prepared to act more forcefully if needed,” raising the possibility of even greater hikes. The classic approach of central banks to tame inflation is to raise interest rates, and that approach appears to be working on Canada’s overheated housing market. But at least three of the global drivers of inflation – supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic, repeated COVID-19 lockdowns in China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that is raising energy and food prices around the world – will not likely be influenced by higher interest rates.
In a June 16 speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland described what she called the government’s “new affordability plan” to assist Canadians with the impacts of inflation, which is actually $8.9 billion in financial supports announced earlier in Budget 2022. Included are initiatives to boost payments under the Canada Workers Benefit and Old Age Security, a one-time Housing Affordability Payment of $500 for low-income Canadians, reducing the average cost of child care to $10 a day by 2025-26, beginning the introduction of free dental care in 2022 and continuing the indexing of federal income support programs.
The deputy prime minister stated she does “not underestimate the economic difficulties and uncertainty of the months to come,” and that “a soft landing is not guaranteed,” but resisted advice to add new financial commitments to easing to impacts of inflation. Opposition parties responded negatively but from opposite sides of the new spending question. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said, “People need real help. They need their government to get money back in their pockets so they can afford basic necessities,” while the Conservatives released a statement arguing that “spending during an inflationary crisis will only fuel inflation further.”
The Bank’s next rate announcement is on July 13 and will be the first since the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a 75-basis point increase to its key rate in June.
Looming world food crisis
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted global agricultural exports from that country and has raised fears of a global food crisis. Ukraine accounts for at least 10 per cent of the world’s wheat market, 13 per cent of the barley market, 15 per cent of the corn market, and over 50 per cent of the world’s sunflower oil market, according to the European Union.
In the eight months before the invasion, 51 million tons of grain passed through Ukraine’s seven Black Sea ports, but as of today, an estimated 22 million tons of grain were stuck in Ukrainian ports blockaded by Russian forces. Many countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia are particularly reliant on these shipments, while developed countries have also seen major increases in food commodity prices. G7 foreign ministers and European Commission leaders have recently warned of increased hunger for millions of people because of the Russian blockade. Ukrainian spokespersons have accused Russia of weaponizing food in retaliation against western sanctions. Watch for this issue to escalate in urgency over the summer.
The Conservative leadership
On February 2, in the midst of the trucker convoy occupation , the federal Conservative caucus voted to remove Erin O’Toole as leader of the party, kicking off the third leadership contest in five years. Conservatives will elect their next leader on September 10.
Six candidates are in the running:
- Scott Aitchison, former Mayor of Huntsville, second term MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka.
- Roman Baber, former Ontario PC MPP
- Patrick Brown, current mayor of Brampton, former Conservative MP and Leader of the Ontario PC Party
- Jean Charest,former Progressive Conservative minister and leader and former Premier of Quebec.
- Leslyn Lewis, Toronto lawyer, current Conservative MP, and candidate in the previous leadership contest.
- Pierre Poilievre, long-time Ottawa-area MP, former Harper government cabinet minister and former finance critic.
To date, the leadership campaign has been a “no holds barred” affair, with vigorous infighting among the contestants. With the Liberals’ popular vote having declined in three straight elections, from a high of 39.6 per cent in 2015 to a low of 32.6 per cent in 2021, Conservatives sense that their next leader has a better than even chance of becoming the next prime minister.
At the June 3 cut-off date for membership sales, the Poilievre leadership campaign claimed that it had sold more than 311,000 memberships and the Brown campaign weighed in with a total of 150,000 new members. This means that upwards of 600,000 party members are eligible to vote later in the summer, the largest number ever for a Canadian political party. The Conservative Party’s Leadership Organizing Committee is currently verifying the membership list, after which it will provide an interim list to the candidates, and by July 8, each electoral district will receive its voters list.
As they meet with party members over the summer, the candidates will also be jockeying for second and subsequent ballot support. This is important since the leadership election will be conducted through a transferable ranked ballot, with each electoral district assigned 100 points or one point per vote cast, whichever is less, at each stage of the voting process.
PM travelling internationally from June 23-30
The prime minister will be travelling to three major international meetings of leaders before the end of June:
- The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kigali, Rwanda from June 23 to 25;
- The G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany from June 26 to 28; and
- The NATO Summit in Madrid, from June 28 to 30.
Pope Francis to visit Canada
Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Canada to meet with members of Indigenous communities between July 24 and 29, visiting the cities of Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit. In April, the Pope met at the Vatican with several Canadian Indigenous delegations. While he offered an apology for abuses that members of the church committed against Indigenous children at residential schools during that visit, the delegations requested that he deliver the apology on Indigenous lands. Representatives of Indigenous groups and the Conference of Catholic Bishops continue to negotiate the Pope’s itinerary and the wording of the apology he is expected to deliver while in Canada. In June, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would be unable to make a planned to Africa in light of an injury to his knee. On June 23, the Vatican confirmed that the trip to Canada would go ahead.
Ongoing federal policy consultations
The federal government is conducting several policy consultations that will continue and conclude over the summer months:
- Consultation on development of the Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy (ends June 24, 2022)
- Consultation on regulatory barriers to trade (ends June 27, 2022)
- Consultation on National Adaptation Strategy (ends July 15, 2022)
- Consultation period for renewal of Federal Tourism Growth Strategy: Government of Canada launches consultation period for renewal of Federal Tourism Growth Strategy – Canada.ca (ends July 20, 2022)
- Consultation on modernizing EI (ends July 29, 2022)
- Consultation on Action Plan for Official Languages (ends August 31, 2022)
- June 23 to 25: Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Kigali, Rwanda)
- June 26 to 28: G7 Leaders’ Summit (Elmau, Germany)
- June 28 to 30: NATO Leaders’ Summit (Madrid, Spain)
- June 29: Council of Atlantic Premiers’ Meeting (Nova Scotia)
- July 11 to 12: Council of the Federation 2022 Summer Premiers’ Meeting (Victoria, BC)
- July 24 to 29: Papal tour of Canada (Alberta, Nunavut, Quebec)
- September 10: Federal Conservative leadership election results released
- October 3: Quebec provincial election
- October 6: Alberta’s United Conservative Party leadership election