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Constructive cooperation: Planning the road to recovery

Justin Trudeau during COVID-19 press conference

Photo Credit: PC Photo/Justin Tang

Photo Credit: PC Photo/Justin Tang

The minority government context was bound to cause hardships for our political representatives in Ottawa. But no insider could have ever forecasted that a global pandemic would be the main factor. COVID-19 has brought challenges the likes of which we have not seen in decades, threatening the very foundations of our modern societies. In its wake, it has endangered our health, and threatened our global, interconnected economies.

In times of crisis, people tend to “rally around the flag”. The COVID-19 crisis has been no different. All party leaders have rallied around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, putting aside ideological differences and partisan feuds to provide the sitting government sufficient space to operate. That dynamic has reverberated across Confederation, where even longtime provincial opponents are complimenting Team Trudeau for its handling of the crisis, including Premier Doug Ford of Ontario.

So while the country is still adapting, our political elites have largely banded together, for the greater good of Canadians. In that sense, our parliamentary democracy might appear dormant at the moment, but it has only been put on pause as Canada fights the fight of a lifetime.

However, amidst the chaos, important conversations are currently happening within two key parliamentary committees, which convene via teleconference to start laying the groundwork for Canada’s eventual recovery.

The House of Commons Finance Committee and the Health Committee have been auditioning witnesses (industry association executives, scholars, unions, etc.) for weeks now. The input gathered sheds light on the policies that are likely going to be levied … and which angle political parties are going to pursue.

  • The Conservative Party is already looking to position the oil and gas sector as a key priority of the recovery. As Ottawa continues to work on the parameters of a relief package for the fossil fuel sector, the Official Opposition is trying to set a narrative for a loosening or outright dismissal of environmental assessment protocols, hoping that combustible energy plays a significant role in our recovery efforts.

  • The Bloc Québécois has emerged as a voice for an important sector of the Quebec economy that seems to be hurting more than others: tourism. Indeed, confinement measures, coupled with the closing of our border to non-essential travels, have crippled sectors like the hospitability industry and arts and music festivals, right before peak season. Furthermore, seasonal workers, who are the backbone of these industries, didn’t originally match key eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a situation that was thankfully rectified on April 15. Still, the current fear is that COVID-19 could alter travelling habits for a long time, causing much stress for a sector highly dependent on the circulation of people.

  • The NDP is using these committee hearings to push for more protection for workers. More importantly, they are testing the waters for a universal basic income, a policy it has championed for years, which could prove more popular if Canada goes through a recession. Vulnerable Canadians could be tempted to look at this proposal with more interest.

  • More generally, significant changes are likely to take place within our health system. A chief argument that seems to hold consensus is the long-standing lack of financing for not only primary care, but also emergency care, virtual care, seniors care and mental health services. COVID-19 pushes this issue to the forefront. Canadians will want to make sure that our country is ready should subsequent waves of COVID-19 happen. But they will also want some insurance that their healthcare providers are equipped with everything that they need, pandemic or not, in both urban and rural/remote settings. While opposition parties have relayed that message, it appears that the Liberals share the same sentiment—and they seem eager to tackle these issues.

It can be argued that these debates are additional proof of our democracy’s health. Political parties have largely shied away from pugilistic encounters. More importantly, they have used this time to begin the difficult task of crafting a recovery chart for all Canadians. The time for confrontational pushbacks will come soon enough. For now, a state of constructive cooperation seems to have settled in.

NATIONAL will continue to closely monitor what transpires in Ottawa as the legislature adapts to new COVID-19 realities.