Capital Dispatch: Will Poilievre support Liberal affordability measures?

On affordability, is there one measure all sides may agree on?
September 23, 2022
Capital Dispatch

Cost-of-living concerns front and centre on both sides of the House of Commons

Kicking off the fall sitting of the House of Commons, cost of living was the phrase on everyone's lips. While the Liberals and Conservatives presented contrasting ideas about how to best help Canadians through the inflation crunch, is there one measure both sides may agree on? 

The week that was  

As promised, the Liberals opened up the House of Commons on Tuesday with the tabling of a pair of bills to implement a trio of measures it says will help low-to-modest income families make ends meet. The Liberals are labelling them as the 'Cost of Living Relief' acts one and two.

Promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month—in collaboration with the NDP as part of their confidence-and-supply agreement—one bill would allow for a temporary doubling of the federal GST rebate, while the other would enact a dental care benefit and a benefit top-up for renters.

Officials briefed reporters on the specifics, which you can dive more into here, but the basic thing you need to know is Bill C-30 is the GST bill and Bill C-31 is the one focused on the dental and housing benefits.  

On Tuesday, both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tried to carve out their own territory on the affordability file, with Singh trying to frame his party as the one actually focused on people while the other parties either say nothing or do nothing. 

And, Poilievre used his first question period in his new role to ask repeatedly about the cost of living and the government's handling of inflation.

Speaking in French, the new Conservative leader asked whether the Liberals would cancel planned "tax increases"—referencing scheduled hikes to the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance premiums— saying, "Canadians just aren't able to pay." This line of questioning continued all week. 

After meeting these questions with generalities about their affordability plans, Freeland eventually offered a specific rebuttal when speaking to reporters. 

"The Conservative proposal on freezing EI premiums would mean that you and I don't have to pay $31 a year... and that's for people earning $61,500 or more a year... Now, I put that against a plan, take our GST tax credit that gives nearly $500 to families who really need it… The reason I'm comparing those two approaches is the cost is roughly the same... So it's really a question for Canadians." Freeland said. 

When caucuses met on Wednesday, early indications came that part of the Conservatives' meeting was about whether or not they'd be backing the new Liberal affordability bills, and that they may actually be amenable to supporting the GST rebate hike.

The first sign of smoke indicating the Conservatives wouldn't take a reject-them-all approach came from comments made by Conservative MP Michael Barrett, who told reporters that while they wouldn't back Bill C-31, they "may" support seeing $2.5 billion in additional funding administered to current recipients as a one-time, lump-sum payment before the year's end.

On CTV News Channel's Power Play on Thursday, Deputy Conservative Leader Melissa Lantsman offered a slightly more concrete indication of support for the GST measures.

"We would support that... unfortunately it's going to be vaporized by the continued inflationary spending," she said.

On his way in to face off against Poilievre for the first time on Thursday, Trudeau said he was "very hopeful" to have the Conservative votes, which could mean the bill gets fast-tracked through the Commons in short order. We'll see if that gets confirmed by how they vote when the time comes.

The other big story this week was of course the government's announcement-less-announcement that Canada's COVID-19 border measures are changing in a big way.

Leaked out in incremental dribs and drabs, with sources telling CTV News the Liberals are planning on dropping COVID-19 vaccine requirements at the border, doing away with mandatory random COVID-19 testing, and making the ArriveCan application optional. At the time the news broke, the message from ministers was: no concrete decision had been made, and Trudeau had yet to sign off.

Reportedly, the PM has now given the green light to the changes—essentially allowing the current emergency orders expiring on Sept. 30 to lapse—with indications that a formal announcement is coming Monday.

Meanwhile, committees got to work swiftly this week. From diving into the Governor General's in-flight expenses and calling more Hockey Canada bigwigs to testify, to seeking more answers about Saskatchewan stabbing suspect Myles Sanderson's Parole Board release. 

Not to be missed 

Trudeau not centre-stage at UNGA 

Post-Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, Trudeau headed to New York to attend—but not speak at— the UN General Assembly, where Russia's escalation in Ukraine was largely in the spotlight. As The Canadian Press' James McCarten reports: "the Russia-Ukraine dynamic largely usurped much of what Trudeau spent two days announcing and talking about in New York, including a marquee announcement of $1.21 billion for the Global Fund."

Legal cannabis review launched 

On Thursday, the federal government launched a long-awaited review of Canada's legalized marijuana regime. As CTV National News' Adrian Ghobrial reported this week, nearly four years after cannabis was legalized in Canada, fears are now mounting that parts of Canada's cannabis industry could go up in smoke. 

'Who is the real Pierre Poilievre?'

And, this week the NDP was the first party out of the gate with a social media attack ad against Pierre Poilievre. As Senior Political Correspondent for CTV News Channel Mike Le Couteur reported, the NDP launched the attempt to frame the new Conservative leader as 'not in it for you,' just as the fall sitting of Parliament gets underway.

Quote of the week

"In 1967, during the 27th Parliament, the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson rose in the House of Commons and stated that no senior should live in poverty, and the guaranteed income supplement was born. In 2016, our government stated that no child in our country should live in poverty, and the Canada child benefit was born. Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty."

- Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, in her opening speech about Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which was the first bill debated this week.

On notice

Poilievre's new House Leader Andrew Scheer asked something in the House this week that he hasn't asked since the 42nd Parliament: The 'Thursday Question.'

If you're a relatively new Dispatch subscriber (welcome!) you may not know what that is. It's the weekly question, asked by the opposition house leaders on Thursday, seeking intel from the government about what the legislative agenda will be for the week ahead. 

It's one of my favourite moments of the week, which may be a level of nerdy reserved for a handful of Hill folks, but why should you care? Well, it's when everyone gets a sense of what the government's priorities will be for the week ahead and you get an early look at what the big upcoming discussions will be. 

This week, Scheer tried to get in a partisan jab in his asking, which happens from time to time. Government House Leader Mark Holland didn't bite. Instead, he thanked Scheer's successor, former Conservative House leader John Brassard, for his service in the role, before spelling out next week's priorities.

What are they, you ask? The 'Cost of Living Relief' acts No. 1 and No. 2. 

Holland said that on Monday if more debate is needed after another round on Friday, MPs will take up talking about Bill C-31, or 'Cost of Living Relief Act, No. 2 (Targeted Support for Households)'.

Tuesday and Thursday will be the first opposition days of the fall sitting. These are days where an opposition party picks a topic, presents a motion, and forces the House to spend the day debating and eventually voting on it.

On Wednesday, MPs will pick back up on debating Bill C-29, the National Council for Reconciliation Act, at second reading. 

For the full rundown of the week ahead, keep an eye on your inbox on Sunday. 

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