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House of Commons set to return among heated debates

Row of empty seats in Canadian House of Commons
Written by
Andrew Richardson

Andrew Richardson

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will face an angry opposition in a restless House of Commons with MPs returning to Parliament today after a six-week holiday break.

There are a number of pressing government priorities on the order paper, but the opposition parties will be focused on the Prime Minister’s breach of parliamentary ethics involving his 2016 Christmas vacation to the Aga Khan’s Caribbean island.

The Conservatives and New Democrats will be demanding answers from Mr. Trudeau and questioning his ethics.

Prime Minister Trudeau was found to be in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act after he accepted a vacation from the Aga Khan after the Office of the Ethics Commissioner determined that his relationship with the Aga Khan did not meet the standard of a friend as outlined in the Act. While there is no formal punishment linked to violations of the Act, he is almost certainly going to pay a political price for error in judgement.

Expect the opposition to make this a top priority (alongside criticism of Finance Minister Bill Morneau) in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the economy and the government’s agenda and onto something less flattering for the Liberals.

At the top of the government’s agenda, however, is ensuring its marihuana legalization bill passes the Senate in time for implementation, sometime over the summer.

Senate Conservatives are hesitant to pass the legislation because of concerns over public health and the societal implications of drug use. Though it is unlikely that they can stop the legislation, it is possible that they can slow it down and possibly even force changes.

The government will also attempt to ramp up its infrastructure program to ensure that money flows from its coffers So that there are “shovels in the ground” before the next election, which is set for October 21, 2019.

Infrastructure spending was a key part of the Liberals’ election platform and its slow pace of delivery has been a source of ongoing criticism from industry, provinces and particularly municipalities. This criticism will only get louder as the next election approaches unless significant funding commitments are made.

The opposition is expected to spend this session not only bringing ethics complaints against Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Finance Bill Morneau back into the spotlight, but also starting the process of distinguishing themselves as viable alternatives to the Liberal government. With the election less than two years away, the opposition parties – both have new leaders – need to make their marks.

Expect them to focus their efforts on criticizing the government’s budget in the spring as a way of needling at perceived weaknesses in both the Finance Minister and the government’s policies towards spending and taxes.

Perhaps more important than the opposition in the House of Commons is the possibility that Justin Trudeau will lose significant allies when Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard head to the polls later this year. Unfriendly Premiers could have the effect of slowing down the Prime Minister’s agenda.

Get ready for a busy and engaging session for politicos and non-politicos alike. Follow the NATIONAL blog for updates on the latest from Ottawa as Prime Minister Trudeau enters the second half of his first mandate.

——— Andrew Richardson is a former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations