It’s a typical sprint to the finish with only ten days remaining in the fall sitting of the House of Commons and the federal government staring down some critical deadlines.
The current session began just over two months ago with promises of support in the Speech from the Throne for families and businesses struggling to survive the COVID pandemic. While there is no doubt that Bill C-4 (emergency sickness benefits) and C-9 (extension of CERB and the wage subsidy) are important components of the government’s COVID response, these are the only government bills that have received Royal Assent in what has been a rather unproductive sitting.
That number should change in the next two weeks with the government facing external pressure for two other bills. To meet the December 18th deadline imposed by Quebec’s Superior Court, Bill C-7, which amends Canada’s medically assisted dying legislation, is at the top of the government’s priority list. The bill was reported back to the House of Commons last week and debate started on Friday.
The other bill expected to dominate the rest of the session is the new free trade spin-off deal with the United Kingdom. Since the UK left the European Union in January, governments have had an 11-month transition period to strike new agreements with the UK. Last week ‘s announcement by Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson, leaves little time to pass implementation legislation that requires Royal Assent prior to December 31st. The tight timeline in a minority government means that the governing Liberals will need the cooperation of the opposition to have any chance of expediting the bill. With opposition parties already accusing the government of trying to rush a deal without parliamentary oversight, the Government House Leader is going to have his work cut out for him.
With the absence of a federal budget in 2020, today’s Fall Economic Statement is expected to include a legislative component to enact the measures outlined in Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fiscal outlook. Depending on the urgency of these new measures, there is a good chance that the government will want to put this bill to bed before Christmas as well.
As Bill C-7, the UK free trade legislation and Fall Economic Statement legislation take priority, other bills including C-10 (broadcast reforms), C-11 ( Digital Charter implementation), and C-12 (net-zero by 2020) will take a back seat. They will receive some debate but are not expected to move beyond referral to committee before the House rises.
The government will point to the minority parliament and opposition stalling tactics as the reason for the lack of progress this fall. The truth, however, lies at the feet of a government that has been unable to navigate the unique challenges presented by the 43rd Parliament. Coming out of the election and into the spring, the Liberal government had little opposition, with the COVID pandemic, a lame-duck Conservative leader, and two parties that were recovering financially from the 2019 campaign. A lot has changed in the past nine months, and the government needs to adapt and work with an emboldened opposition if it plans to pass any legislation. Let’s not forget, it was only a month ago that all of the parties were on a collision course for a snap election. Of course, this could also just be part of a Liberal plan to pull the plug on an ‘unworkable parliament’ this spring, in pursuit of their coveted majority.