OTTAWA—In the words of one Liberal MP, “there’s a big battle going on right there” on the floor of the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces new official opposition leader Pierre Poilivre.
However, the ideological battle between the front benches and the two main party leaders will not take shape for a few days after Parliament resumes regular business on Tuesday, and possibly for much longer.
After Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London, Trudeau went straight to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to discuss climate change, the war in Ukraine, global food insecurity and the global health challenges of COVID-19, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. His agenda.
Poilievre, who won the Conservative Party leadership race on Sept. 10, is now working to name his broad parliamentary team, but conservatives are not expected to finalize his “shadow cabinet” or parliamentary critics for another few weeks.
Meanwhile, some lines are quickly being drawn in the ideological battle ahead.
In Trudeau’s absence, the Liberal government will immediately introduce two pieces of legislation to make good on three promises to the New Democrats: first steps to dental care by simultaneously topping up payments and housing benefits for children under 12 and doubling the existing GST rebate.
In all, it’s a $4.6-billion package, of which $3 billion is new money not appropriated in the spring budget. The Liberals’ rollout of the new measures — which the NDP credits for pushing for them — was derailed the day the Queen died. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trudeau are now crafting a package to help low-income Canadians hit hard by high inflation.
Too little, too late, Poilievre said. He dismissed upcoming bills on government spending that would do nothing to reduce household spending and reduce household budget pressures.
“Money evaporates through inflation,” Polivre said last week. “What we need is more apartments for people to live in, more houses for them to buy and lower taxes so their paychecks go further.”
Those first bills are key demands of the NDP, which has agreed to support the Trudeau government until June 2025, with good faith on all sides.
A fall fiscal update, although not confirmed, is in the works and underscores the government’s focus on the economy.
Last week, Trudeau acknowledged that Canada had “probably ended the extreme phase” of the pandemic. He was unapologetic about his handling of COVID-19 and rejected suggestions that his government’s policies had fueled divisions in the country, saying, “No government is getting unanimous consent on every important step it puts forward. But we have put the safety of Canadians and the economic recovery we are currently enjoying at the center of every decision made during the pandemic.
The Star reported that the government may soon relax the COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the border and cancel its random testing program.
On the Liberals’ to-do list for the fall are pushing through legislative changes to implement Trudeau’s promise to tighten gun controls — easier said than done — and bring online streaming giants under similar content rules as traditional broadcasters.
Separately, liberals want to force tech companies like Google and Facebook to compensate news outlets for content shared on their platforms (and have introduced a bill to do so) and want the government to regulate harmful content online. But it’s not clear when or how the latter will come forward, and Polivre has pledged to fight to protect free speech online.
Trudeau has already emphasized the stark difference between him and Polivray, accusing the man of “reckless” and “irresponsible” opposition to vaccine mandates, support for cryptocurrency and the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”
And in the past two weeks, Trudeau has sent a clear message to his cabinet — and to his broader constituency separately in New Brunswick — that he’s sticking around as Liberal leader in the next election and that he’s “energized” before the fight.
Sources told the Star that the prime minister needed to deliver that message as some unnamed cabinet ministers appeared to have finally started to organize support for the leadership campaign.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, when asked how confident he is that Trudeau will stick to the supply and confidence deal until 2025 and not trigger an election earlier, told the Star Thursday, “What I can say is we don’t know .”
“That is why we are fighting every step of the way to ensure that what we have forced this government to do is actually delivered and we will not take anything for granted,” he said.
Senior Liberals say a deal with the NDP is key to pushing progressive measures through parliament, and specifically forces the NDP to work “constructively” with the government and not with the Conservative-led opposition on committees with government ministers, staff and papers. A minority can easily be summoned in parliament – which liberals portray as deliberate attempts to obstruct parliament.
Of course, the agreement does not prevent the NDP from cooperating with the Conservatives, but it does establish an agreement by the Liberals and the NDP to “communicate about any issues that impede or cause unnecessary obstacles to the functioning of government. Legislative review, studies and work plans in committees.”
Poilievre’s arrival makes that collaboration even more important to the Liberals, and the new Conservative leader wasted no time slamming the “radically awakened alliance” between Trudeau and Singh in his first caucus speech last week.
Senior New Democrats insist that Singh will not be out of the political fray going forward, and they also welcome a sharp contrast between Canada’s political left and right.
For now, it will be an intermittent battle. Although Trudeau is expected to be in the House of Commons on Thursday, he left on Sunday for a multi-day trip to Japan to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after returning from New York.
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