Buckle Up; It’s About to be a Bumpy Ride

4 minute read

Much like the first day of school, there is excitement in the cool, crisp Ottawa air as parliamentarians return to the halls of West Block to kick off the fall sitting.

While the official opposition benches are filled with a sense of optimism, the governing Liberals return to the Hill following a ‘robust conversation’ at last week’s caucus meeting focused on turning their fortunes around. This fall sitting promises to be a rollercoaster ride and things can change fast. 

Here are a few themes to watch as Ottawa kicks into full gear. 

Rise of the Conservatives

No one had a better summer than Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. Not only did he have a glow-up, trading in his glasses for contact lenses, but Poilievre has taken a commanding lead in the polls. A recent poll from Abacus Data found that the Conservatives lead by 15 points and are seen as the best suited to handle the top issues people are most concerned about.  

The challenge for the Conservatives this session will be to avoid peaking too early by dodging any missteps that may dent this popularity amid heightened scrutiny. As the spotlight shifts onto Poilievre and his team, it will be important for them to focus on the pocketbook issues facing Canadians, like housing affordability and rising cost-of-living increases, and not get caught down a rabbit hole on controversial issues like abortion, 2SLGBTQ+ rights and other social issues. 

Renewed Emphasis on the Liberal and NDP Supply and Confidence Agreement 

The Liberals and NDP may not agree on everything, but they can agree that it is better for their political and policy ambitions to work together on common goals to avoid an election that risks seeing the Conservatives form government. Brokering the supply and confidence agreement last year has been one of Jagmeet Singh’s greatest achievements as NDP leader. Not only does it give the NDP a seat at the table, but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate the popularity of progressive policies that can make a difference in the lives of struggling Canadians. For the Liberals, it provides stability in the House of Commons and a chance to keep the progressives in the party happy – albeit at the risk of upsetting the other side of the big red tent.

With Liberal support declining and the NDP struggling to break through in recent polling, there will be a renewed emphasis on fulfilling the agreed-upon priorities and avoiding an early election. The implementation of a national dental care program and the introduction of a national pharmacare program, are two examples of the measures that will be of importance to the NDP; while the governing Liberals looking at other measures to keep the NDP onside, including possible taxes on major grocery chains.

Housing at the Forefront

The dominant issue of the day remains housing. Media coverage has been focused on the lack of affordable rental units and how home ownership is out of reach for too many Canadians. Abacus Data recently found that affordable housing is a top concern for Gen Z and Millennial voters and they believe that Conservatives are best positioned to solve the problem. This creates a problem for the Liberals. In past elections, this voting bloc has been a staple in their path to victory.

The Liberals are aware of their vulnerability on this issue and are looking for solutions that can demonstrate progress ahead of the next election. During last month’s cabinet retreat, housing experts presented a report on the federal government’s role in solving this crisis. At last week’s caucus retreat, the Prime Minister and Housing Minister announced their first steps in tackling the housing issue by:

  • Removing the GST on the construction of new apartment buildings for renters;
  • Urging the provinces that currently apply provincial sales taxes or the provincial portion of HST to rental housing to join the federal government by matching the rebate for new rental housing; and,
  • Requiring local governments to end exclusionary zoning and encourage building apartments near public transit in order to have their Housing Accelerator Fund applications approved.

Not to be outdone, today the Conservatives will be introducing a housing bill that will outline their approach to solving the housing crisis. Though unlikely to pass, this is the first glimpse at what a Poilievre-led government would do to tackle the issue. Given their position in the polls, this is an important step to show Canadians that they are a government-in-waiting that is able to bring tangible solutions to the table. 

What’s Next? 

With Parliament back in full swing, a government struggling in the polls and an opposition that smells blood in the water, sparks will be flying. The pressing issue of housing will remain front and centre while all parties pitch their solutions to voters. The Liberals will look to leverage their position with the NDP to not only fulfil their Supply and Confidence objectives but courier favour with progressive voters. The Conservatives will look to maintain their lead and present themselves as a strong alternative to the current government. No matter what happens, the next few months promise to be a rollercoaster ride.

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