Inflation and cost-of-living concerns are set to dominate the return of House of Commons sittings this week, though each party is arriving with different prescriptions for tackling the country’s affordability pressures.
After a federal holiday Monday for the Queen’s funeral, Members of Parliament will resume regular sittings on Tuesday for the first time since June. The House did meet on Thursday and Friday, but the agenda was limited to tributes to the Queen.
This will be new Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre’s first chance to question the government in his new role, but Justin Trudeau won’t be sitting across the aisle to start the week. After returning from London for the Queen’s funeral, the Prime Minister is planning to spend most of the week in New York for meetings at the United Nations. A government spokesperson said Mr. Trudeau is planning to attend Question Period on Thursday.
In an interview Sunday with The Globe and Mail, Government House Leader Mark Holland said the Liberals will move quickly to table legislation enacting the three-part package of affordability measures announced last week by Mr. Trudeau.
“You’re going to see it right away,” he said. Mr. Holland said that while the government is open to suggestions on improving the package, it hopes MPs will agree to pass the measures through the Commons without delay.
“I think we do have to act expeditiously on it. And I don’t think Canadians expect us to sit on this a long time. There’s people with very specific needs. We have to be responding to those.”
The income-tested measures include up to $650 per child under 12 for uninsured dental costs, a doubling of the GST credit and a boost in rent supports. The entire package carries a $4.6-billion price tag, of which more than $3-billion is new spending that had not previously been announced.
The government served formal notice Sunday that it will soon introduce two bills: one to enact the GST credit, and another focused on dental care and housing.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer told The Globe that addressing inflation, which his party says has been fuelled by Liberal spending, will be the Official Opposition’s top priority.
Conservatives oppose the Liberals’ affordability plan, stating that more government spending is not the answer.
“I believe Canadians will see through this,” he said on Sunday. “It’s a little bit like pouring water on a grease fire. It looks like it’s going to help and just makes the root problem even worse.”
Conservatives propose instead that the government shrink the deficit and cancel planned increases to Employment Insurance premiums, Canada Pension Plan contributions and the federal carbon price.
The government’s affordability plan was praised by the NDP, given that the dental care and rent support aspects were specifically listed as part of the priorities in its March deal to keep the Liberals in power until 2025.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said the party will support the related legislation and will propose amendments if necessary as the proposed measures are studied by MPs.
In an interview, Mr. Julian added that his party is constantly looking for ways to advance the list of items in the March agreement. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to release an economic update this fall, which he said will be another opportunity for the Liberals to deliver on its promises to the NDP.
“We have 27 commitments that we are pushing to put in place and I’m confident we’ll be able to do that,” he said, adding that the two parties are in regular discussions about the deal. “I think that gives me a lot of optimism that these these things are going to be put into place in a way that will actually benefit Canadians.”
While the NDP pushes the Liberals for more spending on areas such as dental care and to raise taxes on large corporations, Ms. Freeland told reporters at a recent caucus retreat in St. Andrews, N.B., that she is trying to balance the need for targeted support for lower-income Canadians with the goal of budgeting in a fiscally-responsible way that does not make inflation worse.
In addition to criticizing Liberal spending levels, Mr. Scheer said the Conservatives will continue to push for tougher action on crime and an end to the government’s pandemic-related restrictions. Mr. Poilievre and Mr. Scheer supported the trucker-convoy protests, and the party is urging the government to drop all remaining policies related to COVID-19, including the mandatory ArriveCan app.
Speaking with reporters in London on Sunday, Mr. Trudeau was asked whether the government is planning to ease its remaining pandemic restrictions. He said such policies are regularly reviewed.
“As we look at the situation evolving, we will continue to make decisions that align with that and when we have things to announce we will announce them,” he said.
Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien said in an interview that in terms of addressing inflation, his party supports the GST-credit increase and rent supports but views the dental program as infringing on provincial jurisdiction.
He described the dental plan as a “bizarre” proposal driven by the Liberals’ need to maintain the NDP’s support.
Mr. Therrien said the Bloc will be pushing for more cost-of-living support for seniors.
The Bloc also intends to encourage discussion this fall on abolishing Canada’s ties to the monarchy.
“It’s very expensive. It’s useless. It’s from another time. And we think it’s time to ask the question,” said Mr. Therrien. “We think it should be abolished, but I think Quebeckers and Canadians should be asking some serious questions.”