House Call with Carol Hughes

Government needs to remember there’s work to do

With the unexpected pandemic thrust upon us in the late winter, it’s easy to forget that the 43rd parliament had barely begun working at the time. In fact, MPs didn’t even meet until December 5, having gone through the federal election in the autumn. 

All this to say that MPs haven’t even scratched the surface of potential legislative work in the first session of this parliament. Now, we are preparing for a second Throne Speech in a year and the last-minute engagement with opposition parties belies the fact that the government is working in a minority scenario and must secure support from one of three parties to pass the impending confidence vote. The real question seems to be, do they even want the Throne Speech to pass?

That question would have had more gravity to it a few months ago when pollsters confirmed that the incumbent government was reaping the rewards of pandemic relief efforts and that Canada was no exception to the phenomenon. Then the WE scandal hit and most observers suggested that would put an end to any election fever in the prime minister’s camp. But this is the same person who survived a blackface scandal in the middle of an election so there may not be as much doubt in his camp as observers suggest.

By proroguing parliament, the government was able to close the committees that were looking into the WE scandal so there is no knowing what impact that would have on voters’ intentions in a hypothetical autumn election. The polling numbers dropped for the government in the aftermath and it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that further revelations may lead to more wavering support. These are important considerations for the governing party but aren’t reason enough to abandon the 43rd parliament in order to avoid them.

If the government wants to govern, they already have the ability do so. What is worrisome is that they appear more concerned with their own fortunes than those of people who are struggling under the pandemic—or those who were already struggling to get by before that. To help those people, the government needs to work with the opposition.

Less than two weeks from the event, it would seem that members of the press had more of an idea as to what was in the Throne Speech than any opposition party. We have seen trial balloons floated about housing investments, Employment Insurance reform and many other issues that, quite frankly, New Democrats have been proposing for years. If they truly want to pursue these ideas, they clearly have a willing partner that could help them get results for Canadians, but again, there has been no communication—formal or informal.

Additionally, the majority of voters in last year’s election supported parties that proposed stronger efforts to address climate change. Since then there has been nothing in the way of concrete measures, efforts or even discussion on the subject from the government. While we all realize a pandemic can force you to change your plans in the short-term, our ability to avoid the worst consequences of climate change are tied to a rapidly decreasing timeline. That timeline doesn’t have gaps and do-overs built in.

Canadians can’t wait until the Liberals get the parliament they prefer. If the priority becomes the well-being of political parties, we may as well admit we will never make headway on big issues. The Throne Speech will be challenging given the last-minute nature of consultation and negotiations. The budget will be even more important for that and if the government goes it alone, odds are they will get the election they, incredibly, desire. That said, Canadians may not be as eager to give them what they want when they realize the government mostly sees them as an accessory to their own desires.