Hill Wars, Episode II — Return of the Parliament

4 minute read

The beginning of a new session of Parliament following prorogation is very similar to the formation of a new Parliament in the wake of a General Election. There are, however, some time-consuming rites that the House of Commons and Senate can accelerate or bypass. A new Speaker does not have to be elected and all MPs have already been sworn in. For that reason, expect a much speedier return to regular business in late September.

The Speech from the Throne (SFT) sets out the general policy agenda of the government and it will be the first test of how willing the parties are to go to the polls. The Liberals will face a confidence vote on the substance of the throne speech, and Prime Minister Trudeau and his team will ask the House of Commons to give his party a new mandate to govern. Securing that vote and keeping the government alive will involve working with the opposition parties – particularly the NDP – to ensure elements of their policy agenda are inserted into the government’s plans for the second session of the 43rd Parliament.

The COVID-19 pandemic essentially wiped out the federal Liberal government’s original spending forecasts, so the SFT will provide several hints on how the government intends to chart a new course for the country. With a seismic shift in the government’s policy goals it is possible that more cabinet changes are in store, which could be accompanied by new mandate letters for the front bench. On the Opposition side, new Shadow Cabinet changes will also mean major changes to Parliamentary committees heading into the Fall. .

If the government survives the confidence vote that follows the SFT, it will get down to regular business relatively quickly. Putting the question of how the House will meet aside (be it in-person or virtually), the government is free immediately after the SFT to move forward with its legislative agenda and does not have to wait until debate and voting on the SFT concludes. Private Members’ Business is automatically carried over between sessions of the same Parliament and the Order of Precedence is upheld as well.

The House is required to jump through a few procedural hoops to reconstitute standing committees, but that’s mainly a formality. Special or legislative committees, like the one on Canada-China Relations, lose their mandate. This means they require a new motion in the House chamber to continue their work from the previous session, which is not guaranteed.

Induction of committees usually doesn’t take as long after the beginning of a second or subsequent session of Parliament. This is largely because the same roster of MPs is available to each party and negotiations on committee numbers occurred at the outset of the 43rd Parliament in late 2019 and early 2020. In 2013, for example, it only took six days after the SFT for committees to be reconstituted so we are expecting committee membership to be officially announced in early October.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must report to the House at the beginning of a new session to recommend committee membership for all other standing committees and we will be keeping a close eye on changes in membership on the Official Opposition side.

Any request for a government response to a committee report stays in place, and the government has 120 calendar days from the date of the initial request to table a response. All committees can continue studies from a past session in the same Parliament with a motion in committee, which is important for several committees that had incomplete work when Parliament was prorogued. Of particular interest is the work of the Finance Committee, which already received written submissions from Canadians for its 2021 pre-budget consultation but has yet to conduct any meetings on the topic.

As the government scrambles to keep pace with its promised new spending, the House of Commons will likely be asked to quickly put its stamp on a bill to expand EI benefits. The legislation would create a suite of benefits to transition claimants off of CERB. CERB was extended only until September 27th, so the government must get legislative changes in place before the beginning of October to ensure bolstered income support is available to Canadians who still need it. Legislation is required because the proposed changes result in new spending—totalling some $37 billion. Despite the size of that price tag, there will be significant pressure for opposition parties to support the bill in the House and avoid a delay in benefits. 

In the Senate of Canada, the procedures involved in opening a second session are usually taken care of in one sitting day. At that point, the Upper Chamber can go about its business as usual. Similar to the House of Commons, the Senate has all business wiped from the Order Paper. The only difference is that House of Commons Private Members’ Bills that are in the House at the time of prorogation are reinstated at the last legislative stage they made it to. House of Commons Private Members’ Bills that were in the Senate at the time of prorogation are reinstated at Third Reading in the House of Commons for a final vote before being reintroduced in the Senate. 

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