Members of Parliament returned to Ottawa on Monday vowing action on Canadians’ pressing concerns around grocery and housing costs, as conversation about the carbon tax bubbled up when the House of Commons opened for its first sitting day of 2024.
Fresh off of their respective caucus retreats — where the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats huddled behind closed doors to plot out their political strategies and policy priorities — the first day back on Parliament Hill this year was once again affordability-focused.
Kicking off this conversation for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government was a handful of cabinet ministers, who held a press conference to “provide an update on the government’s economic plan.”
There, Housing Minister Sean Fraser announced he’ll be offering post-secondary institutions low-cost loans to build more student housing on- and off-campus, and Innovation and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said he’s written to Canada’s Competition Bureau about grocers’ lacking measures to tackle food inflation.
Carbon, economic bills up for debate
Up for debate first on Monday was how the House plans to respond to the highly controversial senate amendments made to a Conservative private members’ bill meant to offer farmers a break from the carbon tax.
As deliberations got underway, the Conservatives indicated they will be tabling “an amendment to reject the Senate’s gutting of the bill and pass C-234 in its original form,” calling for the other parties to support them and vote to reject the Senate’s changes.
How lines of support will fall, and what happens next with this legislation aimed at removing the federal carbon price from certain farming practices, will be determined once this bill comes up for a vote.
Then, left unpassed when MPs wrapped up their 2023 sitting, the fall economic statement implementation bill was back on the agenda, seeing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre kick the debate off, speaking at length about his issues with the Liberals’ economic agenda.
Speaking to reporters about Liberal legislative priorities and the early focus on the fiscal update bill, Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon signalled last week that “making life easier for Canadians, and making housing more accessible,” would be top government priorities this winter, while progress on other files also remains top of mind.
“We will be debating the Ukraine legislation… we will be debating the child-care bill. These are significant accomplishments for Canadians, but they have to get through the Parliament of Canada,” MacKinnon said.
The Liberals’ continued focus on the Conservatives’ opposition to the updated Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement over carbon pricing wording concerns is a continuation of a political line of attack Trudeau’s team pounced on during the fall sitting.
Liberals, Conservatives draw contrast
Trudeau signalled during his Montreal cabinet meeting that beyond continuing to draw a contrast to the Conservatives, advancing measures to help the middle class, gathering stakeholders to tackle the issue of auto theft, and considering adjustments to immigration offerings mindful of Canada’s housing crunch, are among his team’s top preoccupations.
Speaking to his caucus in Ottawa last Thursday, amid swirling leadership chatter and persistently poor polling numbers, the prime minister said Liberals will be focused on rolling up their sleeves “to fight for Canadians, to deliver for Canadians, to build that better future everyone is counting on.”
Poilievre, addressing his caucus in West Block on Sunday afternoon said his caucus’ focus, in angling to form government after the next election, will be to make a clear contrast between his Official Opposition’s “common sense” priorities, and the “costly coalition.”
“Conservatives will fight throughout this session to axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget, stop the crime,” Poilievre said.
The two leaders then took these lines of attack into the chamber, where Trudeau and Poilievre sparred in the first question period of 2024. The dominating issue the prime minister was challenged on, was his latest Jamaican vacation and the gifted stay his family received.
“I’d like to welcome the prime minister back from his $80,000 vacation… He took two, not one, but two private jets paid for by the taxpayer, burning 100 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere… Did he pay the full carbon tax on each of the 100 tonnes of emissions that he put into the atmosphere?” asked Poilievre.
“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative leader has simply no plan to address climate change in this country… The Conservative party cannot even agree on whether or not climate change is real,” Trudeau shot back.
This issue is set to stay on the agenda on Tuesday, when Canada’s interim ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein will testify before MPs on the House ethics committee, about rules around MPs accepting gifts and trips.
NDP call for housing debate
After a three-day strategy session with his MPs and hearing from ordinary voters in Edmonton, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he would be coming back with the mindset that Canadians “need New Democrats more than ever.”
Singh said his caucus was ready to head back to Parliament Hill determined to “make Ottawa work for people,” including through finding ways to leverage their confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals to achieve real tangible improvements to housing affordability and access to prescription medications.
After question period, Singh is expected to rise in the House of Commons in a first effort to demonstrate this focus, and ask for an emergency debate on the “housing and homelessness crisis in Canada,” and solutions to it, citing critical situations in various major cities.
Election interference inquiry underway
Also happening just down Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa on Monday is commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue’s kick-off of the national inquiry into foreign election interference in Canada.
While the issue has been simmering on the backburner in recent months amid a heightened focus on cost-of-living concerns, the launch of public hearings could bring Trudeau government’s handling of campaign meddling claims back into the spotlight.
In her opening remarks, Hogue outlined her goals, objectives and primary focus on uncovering “the truth, whatever it may be.”
“My team and I will make every effort to get to the bottom of things and understand what the country has faced, and what it may still be facing, in terms of foreign interference,” she said.