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It's back to business on the Hill
In this edition: the Throne Speech at-a-glance, Deltell speaks on party priorities and strategy, Hill rookies on the first week, containing Omicron
Happy Friday. Welcome to a special edition of POLICORNER — your insider’s guide to Canadian politics, policy, and power. This is our tenth edition. We launched the newsletter in August and it’s been quite the ride. Thank you for reading and subscribing. Sign up now to recieve the newsletter in your inbox.
In this 8 minute read, the House of Commons is back — Rota re-elected, a rundown of Mary Simon’s first Speech from the Throne and a look at the government’s to-do list. Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell speaks on party priorities and strategy. Plus, catching up with three Hill rookies on how the first week went.
Parliament is back. After a five-month hiatus — and a federal election — MPs returned to a largely unchanged House of Commons on Monday, as Justin Trudeau’s minority government looks to advance an agenda focused on the fight against COVID-19, climate change, reconciliation, and affordability.
The seat composition looks similar to the last Parliament — 159 government members, 119 Conservatives, 32 Bloc Québécois, 25 New Democrats, and two Greens. Kevin Vuong, who was disavowed by the Liberals in Spadina—Fort York over an undisclosed sexual assault charge took his seat as an independent.
The Commons will sit for another 15 days before a month-long Christmas recess begins. MPs will return to Ottawa on January 31. The first days of Parliament were dominated by pomp and circumstance and debate over technicalities. The first order of business was electing a Speaker.
Rota re-elected, d'Entremont deputized
Liberal MP Anthony Rota was re-elected to the chair on the first ballot. Rota served as Speaker in the last Parliament, making headlines for opposing government efforts to prevent the release of documents regarding the dismissals of two scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. In addition to an $85,000 salary boost, perks of the gig include a private residence (known as The Farm) and an apartment on the Hill.
Six other members vyed for the Speaker’s chair — Rota’s caucus-mate Alexandra Mendès, Tories Joël Godin, Marc Dalton and Chris d'Entremont, the NDP’s Carol Hughes and Green Elizabeth May (multiple names were first reported by newsBeyond). D'Entremont will serve as Deputy Speaker and Hughes will continue to serve as an Assistant Deputy Speaker.
“The decade is still young” — the Throne Speech at-a-glance
Next on the agenda was the Speech from the Throne. Fighting the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, combating climate change and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples were among the priorities laid out in the speech delivered by Canada's first Indigenous governor general, Mary May Simon.
The re-elected government declared that “getting the pandemic under control” is the top priority, citing the decision to mandate vaccinations for travellers and federal workers, while securing vaccines and doses for children. The Liberals committed to signing child-care deals with the remaining provinces (Ontario and New Brunswick), while pledging to transition to targeted COVID-19 support and prudent management of spending.
The speech was 26 pages long with 2,705-words and seven themes. The economy was mentioned 30 times, COVID-19 and the pandemic were mentioned 13 times, reconciliation was mentioned 10 times, climate change was mentioned 5 times and inflation was mentioned once.
Back in the House, former chief medical officer of health and rookie Liberal MP Brendan Hanley (Yukon) gave an address in response to the Throne Speech and offered humble thanks to Simon for delivering the speech.
The NDP was the first to react. Jagmeet Singh told reporters that the government had “run out of steam” and warned the Liberals to not take his party’s support “for granted.” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole accused the government of “furthering its own ideological agenda,” while Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called the speech “24 pages of completely empty words.”
A list of priorities and to-dos
The parties made their priorities clear. Government House Leader Mark Holland laid out government priorities for the coming weeks in a pre-Throne Speech presser — extending pandemic benefits, passing legislation to protect healthcare workers, implementing 10 federal paid sick days and banning conversion therapy. The Conservatives declared their focus would be on inflation and labour shortages. The NDP pledged to support the paid sick leave and conversion therapy legislation, but had a warning for the Liberals: “we’re prepared to vote against the government if they make the wrong decision.”
The government's to-do list remains lengthy. The Liberals have yet to name the second Assistant Deputy Speaker. The role was occupied by Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès, but it is unclear if she will be re-appointed to the job.
The government must kick off the process of setting up committees to pass legislation, as The Hill Times’ Laura Ryckewaert reports. For Trudeau, he has yet to release his ministerial mandate letters and reveal his roster of parliamentary secretaries, backbenchers designated to assist ministers with legislative matters.
‘I love politics. I love political battle’ — Deltell speaks on Conservative priorities and the return of parliament
Aside from representing the Quebec riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell is the face of the Opposition at the negotiation table — responsible for coordinating the day-to-day business of the House of Commons with the government and other parties.
From inside his parliamentary office, Deltell sat down with newsBeyond via Zoom to discuss the House of Commons vaccine mandate, hybrid parliament, Conservative priorities and unity. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
The government says it is “statistically improbable” that multiple Conservative MPs have legitimate medical exemptions, calling on your party to release the exact number of members with exemptions. Why is your party refusing to do so?
“This is a personal choice. When you’re talking about someone’s health, this is everything but politics. It was a big deception for me that the first contact that I had with my government counterpart was on vaccination. It is totally unacceptable to try to make political games based on the health of someone. Let me be clear — it is not the Conservative Party who decides if you have an exemption. The exemption is given by the House of Commons who consults the experts. So, it was sad to see that my counterpart on his first day in the new House directly attacked one of the highest civil servants in the House of Commons: the sergeant-at-arms. You know, I love politics. I love political battles. I love having a good partisan fight in the House. It’s part of our job. But there is plenty of opportunities to attack an adversary. Don't use the bad one.”
The government has put forward a motion to extend the hybrid option until June. Your party is against that. Under what situation would you reconsider?
“If there is a clear indication that there could be a strong fifth wave, maybe we could review that. But I will take no lessons from this government, which said for months and months that we will not trigger an election during a pandemic. In the last Parliament, only a few government members attended in person. Few ministers were there, while most were in their parliamentary or ministerial office. That was crazy and hypocritical. What we are asking is the government to be in the House, debating and having conversations with MPs on local issues.”
The government laid out its priorities in the Throne Speech. Where did the government fall short and will you be supporting the speech?
“It was very empty. We were asking for more details on the plans to address the cost of living. Everybody recognizes that when you have a 4.7% rate of inflation, it is very tough for Canadian families. We would have preferred to see more policy in the speech. In terms of the speech, there was one sentence about inflation. But one sentence is not a real plan. Also, a deception for us was the fact that there was no mention of labour shortages. So, I thought that the Prime Minister missed the opportunity to give some strong signal. ”
Going into the forty-fourth parliament, what will be the official opposition’s priorities, and will your party’s strategy be different from the last parliament?
“There are three priorities in our strategy. Canadians, Canadians, Canadians. For sure we have to address the issues in the workforce, the rate of inflation, and the cost of living. So, this is our strategy. We'll see what the actions of the government will be. But when the government has four prioritized bills and none of them address the shortwave of workers and the high rate of inflation, that is not a good start. They are the government and they own the agenda. As an opposition party, we cannot deal with that. They will be tabling policies and motions. We will react to that on a case-by-case situation.”
Are you concerned about Charles Robert’s ability to continue in his position as Clerk of the House of Commons and will there be any push to remove him?
“The reports were very disturbing. This is why we raised the question of privilege today about this situation. It is concerning that it is the guy who is on the top of the table in the House of Commons. But I found it very ironic that Mark Holland accused us of asking tough questions about the Clerk while attacking the sergeant-at-arms. We're asking the government to disclose the interactions they had with the Clerk. The government didn’t do that. So, that is why we raised this question of privilege. And yes, it's very tough to raise. But this is serious business.”
Senator Denise Batters launched a petition to review Mr. O’Toole’s leadership. Is the Conservative caucus united in support of Mr. O’Toole’s leadership?
“Everybody is upset because we lost the election. The most upset person is the leader himself. There is room to express our concern with some issues. We call it the caucus. I can tell you that we heard every point-of-view there. It's very sad to see that someone who had the privilege to sit in the caucus preferred to say something outside the caucus. That was not very conservative. Our party’s rules are clear. After an election, you have a national convention. The members will decide. This is why we strongly prefer to see a review as it is written in the rule. Yes, there are some members who have some concerns. That's what democracy is all about. But, I can assure you that we are working very well right now. We said what we had to say and we're looking forward.”
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Keeping up with the rookies — Ferreri, Naqvi and Morrice reflect on the first week in the House
For the rookies on the Hill, the first week of Parliament is like the first week at school — an opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure and establish connections with colleagues across the country. We asked three rookie MPs how their first week went. Here’s what they told us:
Michelle Ferreri (Conservative — Peterborough-Kawartha): “I'm learning my way. The analogy I would give someone is like going to high school or university — those in the upper years are really critical because they guide you. They are there to answer. There are support systems because they want you to succeed.”
“It's like a movie set here. I think that's one of the things — everytime you walk out of West Block and you look at the Hill, it's quite breathtaking. I think the procedures and the formalities of the Throne Speech and electing the Speaker are important. I probably would have been one in the past to criticize a lot of the ceremonial procedure, but I do think it's important and I think it gives it the value and weight of the significance of what our job is.
Mike Morrice (Green — Kitchener Centre): “Being here has been so beneficial to learn right on the ground, from so many experienced MPs who have been friendly and open to sharing what’s important for us to make progress together. There is still so much for me to learn, but I look forward to working across party lines to make progress on issues important to my neighbours, and those being served by other Members of Parliament across Canada.”
Yasir Naqvi (Liberal — Ottawa Centre): “The first few days have been busy. I was honoured to present my first Member’s Statement sharing my commitment to seek the truth and advance meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. I have always been of the view that we serve our communities best when we find common ground and work together. As such, it is important for me to build relationships with MPs from all political parties. I am also taking the time to learn all about parliament procedure and the rules of the House.”
We asked Naqvi (who previously served as Ontario’s Attorney General) about the differences between Parliament Hill and Queen's Park. “There are subtle differences,” he said. “The most significant being the sheer size of the place, where here on the Hill, every corner of Canada is represented.”
Canada will ban travel from seven South African countries over a new coronavirus variant deemed of concern by the WHO. Those who travelled through the region in the last two weeks are asked to quarantine and test for COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters this afternoon. The decision came amid growing concerns about the spread of the B.1.1.529 variant, dubbed Omicron. Premier Doug Ford was briefed by Ontario’s top doctor Kieran Moore on the new variant, calling for a ban of all flights from countries of concern “until we can be certain that the vaccines are effective against this new variant.” More from CBC News.
The hybrid sittings are returning to the House of Commons. Members will be allowed to participate in legislative proceedings from home until June, according to the motion passed by the House of Commons last night. The Liberals, NDP and Greens voted for the motion, while the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois were opposed.
Amita Kuttner has been appointed as the interim leader of the Green Party. At 30-years-old, Kuttner is the youngest, the first trans person and the first person of East Asian descent to lead a national political party.
WHAT WE’RE READING
BBC NEWS: “New Covid variant: How worried should we be?” by James Gallagher
GLOBAL NEWS: “O’Toole says $1 million in party funds for downtown election studio was money well spent” by Alex Boutilier
CBC NEWS: “Cost of housing hits Doug Ford's pre-election radar, polling questions suggest” by Mike Crawley
TORONTO STAR: “Is Ontario within reach of a deal for $10 daycare?” by Tonda MacCharles and Robert Benzie
Last week, we asked for the name of the youngest person ever elected to the House of Commons. That would be former NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault who was first elected to the House of Commons at the age of 19 in 2011. Dusseault lost his seat in the 2019 election to Liberal Élisabeth Brière.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION: The House of Commons is temporarily located in the West Block. When are MPs expected to move back to the Centre Block? Send your answers to email@example.com or reply to this email.
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