Capital Dispatch: Your fall political primer

The fall sitting begins this week, setting the tone for the new political season.
September 18, 2022
Capital Dispatch

It's on. The fall sitting starts this week. 

Well Canadian politics fans, we made it through a rather tumultuous summer of political controversies, travel chaos, and history-making international upheaval. 

What fresh headlines will this fall bring? 

The week ahead

On Monday, Canada will be marking the death of Queen Elizabeth II with a national day of mourning—a holiday for public servants with patchwork mirroring plans in each province—  and a national commemorative ceremony in the nation's capital.

The events—happening the same day as the Queen's state funeral being attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a delegation of prominent Canadians—will include a memorial parade through downtown Ottawa, a service at the Christ Church Cathedral, and a CF-18 fighter jet flypast over Parliament Hill. 

Among the notable guests confirmed by Canadian Heritage over the weekend are: Chief Justice Richard Wagner, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, former astronaut Roberta Bondar, and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney. 

Canadian flags that have been flying at half-mast on all federal buildings and establishments in Canada and abroad, including the Peace Tower, are expected to be raised at sunset on Monday. And while this will mark the end of the official period of mourning, a series of changes are still ahead for Canadian institutions.

Then, on Tuesday expect the sombre tone in town to quickly be replaced with the raucous sound of MPs and senators flooding back into the parliamentary precinct, seeing colleagues from across the aisle for the first time in months.

Tuesday morning, Government House Leader Mark Holland will be outlining the Liberal legislative agenda for the season and is scheduled to hold a press conference to discuss the sitting, bright and early.  

For the first day, Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, is going to be the focus. This legislation—which the NDP pushed to see passed asap—was tabled at the eleventh hour of the spring sitting.

What I'm watching for will be the first question period of the sitting. 

While Trudeau will be missing the kick-off to the new sitting as he's off to the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly for a few days, should newly-elected Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre decide to show up, it'll be a notable moment setting off the tone for the season. 

It'll be interesting to see what topic the new Official Opposition leader picks to lead off with. 

If I had to guess, I'd point to a remark his senior campaign adviser Jenni Byrne made to CTV News' Evan Solomon during special coverage on leadership election night. 

"What you see is what you get," said Byrne. "What you should expect to hear from Pierre is exactly what he's talking about. But it's going to be predominantly on the issues that Canadians care about, and right now the economy is the number one issue."

In addition to inflation, another hot topic from the summer that shows no signs of fading away on the political agenda is the government's ability to deliver services to Canadians.  These two topics were quick to be on the lips of any federal minister who was asked what was being discussed behind closed doors at the Vancouver cabinet retreat the first week of September. 

If Trudeau is good to his word, it's possible a few new bills will be tabled this week, keeping his promise to the NDP that early this sitting the Liberals would pass legislation to implement the first phase of a national dental care plan, a top up to a housing benefit for renters, and a doubling of the federal GST rebate. 

So far though, no new legislation has been placed on the notice paper. 

As for how the rest of the week will unfold, will be your go-to reference.  

Not to be missed

Hybrid sittings resume

Pending a yet-to-be-signalled government pivot, the fall sitting will once again be held under a hybrid structure. This was baked-in in June, after a motion from the Liberal government passed despite opposition from the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois. The motion allows MPs to continue to participate virtually, from their homes or constituency offices, in House debates and committee meetings, until June 2023, despite concerns about accountability and the impact on parliamentary interpreters. Virtual voting by an app will also continue. 

Trudeau in London 

And, as perhaps you've noticed over the weekend, Trudeau and his delegation are seemingly trying to make the most of their trip to London for the funeral. Already the visit has included meeting with King Charles III, Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Liz Truss. There was also an impromptu investment ceremony for Mark Tewksbury and Sandra Oh, who were appointed to the Order of Canada during the pandemic. 

On notice

Although it was a heavier schedule of special committee meetings over the summer—from scrutinizing the Russian turbine debacle to the ongoing Hockey Canada controversy—with Parliament back, the meeting roster is filling up again. 

In the House, this means a number of committees are scheduling "committee business" meetings to plot out their fall agendas. But some are ready to get rolling on new or outstanding work.

For example, the House Government Operations and Estimates Committee is kicking off a new study into a story that broke right as the June sitting was wrapping up: the cost of Gov. Gen. Mary Simon's in-flight catering bill for a Middle East trip. 

As part of this study MPs will hear from Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force Eric Kenny, Chief of Protocol of Canada Stewart Wheeler, and Christine MacIntyre from the Office of the Governor General's Secretary.

Meanwhile in the Senate, some committees will be putting their focus on bills that were left outstanding at the end of the spring sitting. 

For example, on Tuesday and Wednesday the Senate Transport and Communications Committee will continue holding meetings to hear from experts about Bill C-11, the Broadcasting Act legislation. 

And, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will meet Wednesday to study Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and will hear from Justice Minister David Lametti.

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