Let It BIA

3 minute read

Some might think writing a Federal Budget is hard work. The truth is, that’s the fun part. The hard part, and much less glamorous side of the Budget is its implementation. That process kicks off with the introduction of a Notice of Ways and Means motion, laying the groundwork for the Budget Implementation Act, which landed in Parliament’s lap last week.

Bill C-19, introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, immediately becomes the government’s top legislative priority for the remainder of the Parliamentary session (interestingly, a government order introduced the same day as the BIA makes an early June exit more likely, and with little room for debate). Containing many, but not all, of the government’s Budget 2022 commitments, the bill brings to life all of the new shiny objects and commitments the government made to Canadians just a few short weeks ago.

Shiny objects include doubling the Home Accessibility Tax Credit to $20,000, tax relief for tradespeople through the Labour Mobility Deduction, and providing provinces and territories with a $2 billion top-up to the Canada Health Transfer. Also in the bill are changes to allow the government to seize and dispose of the assets of Russian oligarchs, the introduction of a luxury tax on the sale of new luxury cars and aircrafts, and several housing measures – the primary pocket-book issue the government had hoped to show progress on in Budget 2022. 

For the most part, this BIA is pretty uncontroversial, which is not typically how things have gone in the past. BIAs tend to be the bill the Opposition uses to put the government’s feet to the fire. Be it heated debates in the House, grilling Ministers and public servants at committee, or threatening to bring down the government, BIAs can bring out the fireworks. So far, the reaction to this BIA has been muted, but things may change quickly in the weeks ahead.

Whether or not this particular BIA becomes a focal point for the opposition depends on a number of factors. First, the bill is almost devoid of any “poison pills”, or surprise measures that would really irk the other parties. Yes, there are areas of the bill that have significant consequence, like changes to the Competition Act, paid medical leave for federal workers, and a few of the housing measures. But it would seem the government has avoided the inclusion of politically prickly measures (unless of course you were planning a ‘moon crime’). 

The Official Opposition may also be less focused on the BIA, because they’re more preoccupied with figuring out their own future. For the Conservatives, the action right now is outside of the House, with a focus on the candidates that will appear on the ballot as the Party goes through yet another leadership race. Like many interim leaders before her, Conservative Leader Candice Bergen is walking a difficult line between bringing attention to the Party or their work in the House, while respecting the role she is in is temporary. Zeroing in on an opposition strategy to the BIA will likely prove challenging, as media and political watchers will be much more interested in what the next expected CPC Leader has to say rather than the one who’s only here for a few months. 

As for the NDP, while the Supply and Confidence Agreement they struck with the Liberals delivered some early wins, including $5 billion for dental care and a promise for Pharmacare progress, the balancing act of being viewed as a credible Opposition party rather than a junior partner propping a Liberal government will be on full display.

The fact everyone knows the bill is likely to pass, care of the NDP, has taken much of the air out of a usually raucous time. A quiet rest of the legislative session is surely something the governing Liberals wanted. Indeed, they have other pressing legislative and foreign policy challenges on their hands. Yet it also feels like a missed opportunity for the government. With NDP support secured, shouldn’t this BIA have been the one to include more ambitious, if controversial measures? It’s reasonable to expect that the strength of the Supply and Confidence agreement will falter the longer it continues, so back-ending big ideas may hurt the Liberals (at least if their goal is to avoid an election). In any event, with BIA 1 lacking fireworks one can turn attention to the sequel expected in Fall 2022 – BIA 2: This Time It’s Personal.

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