The Morning Brief – 09.16.20

By Bruce Carson

NATIONAL ISSUES

The Path to the Speech from the Throne (SFT) to be delivered on September 23

Ensuring Accountability

The Blessings of a Majority: Will the New Brunswick results put Prime Minister Trudeau in an election mood

At least one premier, B.C.’s John Horgan and one prime minister, Justin Trudeau, would have loved to be revelling in the same situation as New Brunswick’s Premier Higgs on Monday evening as he successfully converted a minority government into a majority.

There is no question that calling the election was a gamble from the beginning, but Premier Higgs read the tea leaves, or whatever premiers read in New Brunswick, and believed that New Brunswickers on the basis of his government’s performance over the last two years would provide a majority in a provincial election.

Before Justin Trudeau gets too excited by these results, he and his team should realize that campaigning in New Brunswick is not similar to campaigning from sea to sea to sea, across the length and breadth of Canada.

He also must realize that his second mandate is only eleven months old and when he looks back at his two Throne Speeches, one at the beginning of his first mandate and the other delivered last December, while much has been promised, delivery on many promises has fallen short.

Even if some of the blame for lack of fulfillment is placed on COVID-19, it is hard to argue that the mandate or promises set out in the second SFT are now stale and need to be renewed by a fresh mandate from Canadians.

If the New Brunswick experience is not enough of a contrast, then Trudeau should look to Premier Horgan who has successfully navigated a minority government for three years with the support of the Green Party and its former leader Andrew Weaver. In this case Horgan can point to accomplishments which support an argument for a new mandate.

Both Trudeau and Horgan must look longingly at the position Higgs is now in and wish they could talk about stability as Higgs did on Monday evening adding “come what may in the months and years ahead, we know we’ll have stability and experience leading us through this challenging time.”

Higgs campaign for stability focused on health care and keeping people safe. As he said on election night “I’m consistent, you can trust me.”  Perhaps not a statement Prime Minister Trudeau can make at this time.

Looking ahead, the next few days, weeks and months can be separated into three tranches similar to the possibility for an election call set out in last Thursday’s Morning Brief.

The first period runs from September 23 to the parliamentary Thanksgiving break which begins on October 12. The second would run from October 19 to the delivery of the fall economic or fiscal update and the last period, starting with the economic update would last through to the spring 2021 budget.

Each of these periods present opportunities and challenges for the government and opposition parties.

As the party House Leaders settle into negotiations as to how the House of Commons will operate post September 23, surely the NDP will not agree once again to the shuttering of the House of Commons, replacing it with the COVID-19 Committee of the Whole which operated before prorogation.

Surely the House Leaders of the four parties can come to some arrangement that will allow for the normal functioning of the House of Commons within COVID health guidelines.

The tools by which the government is to be held accountable by the opposition parties should not be bargained away once again by the NDP or any other party.

Question period, questions on the Order Paper, opposition days where an opposition party picks the subject for debate, questioning ministers in committee of the whole on their spending estimates and the full functioning of committees must occur immediately after the SFT. The tools that are necessary for Canadians to see that their government is being held to account must not be bargained away.

And with regard to timing, as has been suggested by others, with unanimous consent, committees may be reconstituted with their pre-prorogation mandates and with their pre-prorogation membership. If the parties want to change the membership on committees to reflect new caucus responsibilities, the party whips can do this after the committees are established.

The Liberal government has already been accused of shutting down parliament because it was afraid of further revelations in the WE Charity matter, surely it will agree to swift action so committees can start working on behalf of Canadians, once again.

What the government may find is that while the focus will remain on the House Finance and Ethics Committees dealing with WE, there will be renewed interest in the House of Commons Health Committee as the opposition delves into matters regarding the government’s lack of preparedness as COVID-19 launched itself into Canada.

The intrepid Bob Fife in an interview on Sunday with Global’s Mercedes Stephenson set out what we might expect in the first couple of weeks of the return of parliament.

He sees the WE Charity matter going on for months in the Finance Committee fueled by the documents released in August at the time parliament was prorogued. The first fight will be over the redactions made to the documents before they were delivered to committee members. The ever changing role of Minister Chagger will be explored.

In addition, as Fife pointed out, the Lobbying Commissioner in addition to the Ethics Commissioner is now seized with this matter and the RCMP is exploring the situation.

There are lots of unanswered questions for question period and committee. It is in the interest of the opposition to have this play out in the background just as the Gomery Commission hearings played out as background as Prime Minister Martin tried to get on with governing.

Fife didn’t believe that much can be expected from the SFT, but he made the point that Canadians expect the government to focus on economic recovery from the effects of COVID and protect them from a second wave.

In addition the House Health committee will become active with new revelations that the Trudeau government was slow to act. The question being how many lives might have been saved had the government acted more quickly?

In addition, the state of the country’s finances will be front and center with any new spending initiatives in the SFT.

There is no question that the weaknesses in Canada’s economic, social and health care safety net have been exposed by COVID-19 and must be addressed with solutions in the SFT. Anything beyond that may be looked upon by the opposition as detracting from the COVID fight.

During the next few days The Morning Brief will address the fiscal challenges faced by the government and delve into the solutions that may be advanced to solve many of the problems exposed by the pandemic.

To Come


Today
  • U.S. Fed ends its two day meeting
  • CPI numbers for August to be released
September 18
  • Retail trade numbers for July to be released
September 23
  • Speech from the Throne
September 30
  • GDP numbers for July to be released