Every Wednesday, our parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa Marie Vastel analyzes a federal political issue to help you better understand it.
The Trudeau government was quick to introduce bills to legislate its four priority promises. However, while the Liberals had set themselves the goal of having them adopted by Christmas, they themselves made it difficult to pass by twinning some and expanding others. A strategy that could prove to be “clever”, by allowing them to accuse the opposition parties of delaying the implementation of these expected measures. But who is also qualified as “cynical”, coming from a government which had promised to collaborate after the election.
On the first day of parliamentary proceedings, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced Bill C-2 aimed at extending part of the pandemic assistance programs. Two days later and Monday followed projects C-3 and C-4.
The first would offer ten days of paid sick leave to workers in federally regulated organizations and would punish more severely protesters blocking access to hospitals and clinics or those who harass health care workers. The second would ban conversion therapy.
On their face, these four objectives have the support, in principle, of the opposition parties. But Justin Trudeau’s government has changed its election promises somewhat, with the main objective, it seems, to evoke possible Conservative opposition.
“I have the impression that, if we thought we had a less partisan Parliament, this is not at all the case,” observed political scientist Geneviève Tellier of the University of Ottawa this week. “The Liberals will not waste an opportunity to make the Conservatives look bad. “
The announced fracture lines
The ban on conversion therapy resuscitates a dead bill, C-6, which had already divided Conservative MPs last spring (62 of 120 elected officials voted against). The new version expands its scope in order to ban this practice not only for minors, but now also for consenting adults. International opinion and the government’s position have changed, the Liberals now argue.
It is not good for parliamentarism to force the study of bills in four weeks
They have also paired their offer of paid sick leave to federal workers who do not have it – a measure that would not have sparked much debate – with their desire to amend the Criminal Code to crack down on protesters who are ‘attack workers and healthcare facilities – a promise that could raise concerns about freedom of expression or freedom to assemble. Both sides of the bill relate to the pandemic, the government said to justify itself.
There was little doubt about the strategy of the minority government, however, when Justice Minister David Lametti called on Conservative leader Erin O’Toole to show “leadership” to allow Bill C-4 to “pass immediately. as possible “. A message repeated for the C-3, which should receive “general support”, hoped the Liberals.
Combining sick leave with tougher criminal penalties against demonstrators who opposed the health measures risks cornering the opposition parties. They will have to justify themselves if they insist on not rushing the parliamentary study.
New Democrats have said they are prepared to speed up this work. However, the Conservatives and the Bloc are warning that they will want to properly study the most recent bills. The government risks accusing them of defending protesters rather than workers, who cannot take time off in the midst of a pandemic, and of hampering the smooth running of Parliament.
However, any amendment to the Criminal Code “deserves to be examined”, notes Geneviève Tellier.
The Bloc Québécois Louise Chabot found it “surprising” Tuesday that the government included one amendment to the Canada Labor Code and others to the Criminal Code in a single bill. New Democrat Alexandre Boulerice saw it as a possible “political game” that would be “extremely cynical”.
The broad outlines of the debates over the next few weeks seemed to have already been drawn.
Time is running out
Even if the opposition parties agreed to speed up the study of bills – as the government seems to be demanding – their adoption in less than three weeks would be unlikely. Before the parliamentary break on December 17, MPs must debate the Speech from the Throne and hold two opposition days. There are therefore nine days left to study three legislative proposals in the Commons. The committees that will be responsible for dissecting them in turn have not yet been formed.
The Liberal government is now saying it wants them passed through the Lower House and sent back to the Senate by Christmas – after venturing last week to dream of all this work being done by the holiday season.
But the pitfalls that the Liberals have raised by using strategies from the inception of the new Parliament make it difficult for them.
And if it turns out that the parliamentary study reveals that the opposition parties were right to demand a thorough examination of these proposed changes, the position of the Liberal government will be “weakened”, believes Professor Geneviève Tellier . “Ultimately, it is not good for parliamentarism to force the study of bills in four weeks. “