How will the PM prioritize priorities?
WELCOME TO OTTAWA PLAYBOOK, I’m your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey. Today we get a Throne Speech, the highlight of the second sitting day of Parliament replete with arcane-but-entertaining Westminster custom that launches the government’s legislative agenda. The hitch: The clock is ticking and these crucial first weeks of the session will require cooperation — an oft-elusive concept in the House — if anything is to get done before 2022.
THE BIG FOUR — Government House Leader MARK HOLLAND sorta stole Governor General MARY MAY SIMON’s Throne Speech thunder on Monday when he set the Liberal agenda — at least for the legislative rush to the end of the year.
Holland identified four priorities: Covid relief for targeted industries, a new law to protect health-care workers from abuse, 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers and the Liberals’ third attempt to pass a bill that would ban conversion therapy.
NDP House leader PETER JULIAN told CBC’s Power and Politics that his party would support the government on at least sick leave and conversion therapy. But he said the end of the last suite of Covid relief programs left thousands of Canadians without the financial help they need. Those are the NDP’s table stakes, anyway.
Counting today’s mostly perfunctory sitting, the House has 20 days until the holiday break. Most Canadians return to work shortly after New Year’s Day. MPs won’t be back in the Commons until Jan. 31. “I’m not looking to tolerate a lot of obfuscation or political games,” Holland told reporters (with a straight face, after calling an election that delayed regular House business for more than a month). Clearly, the countdown is on until Christmas.
— Roadblocks: ZI-ANN LUM made a crucial point in our bureau Slack. Whatever the Commons sends to the Senate still needs to emerge from a round of sober second thought. Senators refused to rubber stamp the last bill that banned conversion therapy. And royal assent runs through their approval.
— For POLITICO Pro subscribers: 6 issues to watch as Parliament returns.
— What Holland didn’t mention: When all the parties were jockeying for headlines after the election, Trudeau repeatedly identified several other priorities: “finishing the fight against” Covid, “addressing affordability” in housing and childcare, and advancing reconciliation for Indigenous peoples. Count on the Throne Speech to fold these themes into the government’s dreams for 2022 (and maybe subtweet Ontario for resisting a child-care funding deal).
— Related reading from CBC’s AARON WHERRY: Whatever else happens, this Parliament looks set to be (mostly) about climate change.
DAY 2 — Get stoked for more pomp and circumstance today — a procession to the Senate chamber, a gaggle of MPs waiting behind the shiny bar of the Red Chamber, and a literal throne from which the GG will read the government’s priorities.
The Canadian Press reports this morning, “The most novel aspect of the speech may well turn out to be the person who delivers it: Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person to hold the office of Canada’s governor general.”
Throne speeches are not built for surprises. When they follow elections, they’re predictable. Which means the broad themes in Liberal platform, which mirror Trudeau’s post-election telegraphing, offer a useful blueprint.
Playbook will be watching for a few other early-session highlights:
— More key players: All of Ottawa, but especially Liberals who were snubbed from Cabinet, are still waiting for the announcement of a roster of parliamentary secretaries. This is the ministerial stand-in and support crew, a role that varies by minister but can involve substantive contributions — and also identifies key up-and-comers in the governing caucus. As the Commons gets down to work, parlsecs are essential to House debate. (They also get a salary bump of C$18,100.)
— Private members’ bills: Every session, MPs draw straws to determine the order of precedence for who gets to table PMBs. The lottery doesn’t guarantee anything, but MPs with numbers closer to the top have improved odds of seeing their ideas receive royal assent. Only six got lucky in the last session and saw their bills become law.
— The chosen backbencher: In 2019, Liberal MP LYNE BESSETTE delivered the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. In 2015, the honor fell to Liberal MP RÉMI MASSÉ. What do they have in common? They’re newcomers to the governing caucus, and they typically team up with another rookie who seconds a motion “to offer our humble thanks” for the “gracious speech” they just heard.
The chosen one isn’t necessarily destined for greater things. But they’re part of history (and solid candidates for future Playbook trivia).
THE (LITERAL) FRONT BENCH — Playbook talks a lot about Cabinet committees as a strong indication of the executive branch’s pecking order. But there’s more to it than that. The Commons seating plan offers powerful visual hints of who’s who in JUSTIN TRUDEAU‘s orbit. It’s all about location, location, location.
— Movin’ on up: Defense Minister ANITA ANAND shifted from the second row to the first, three seats down from Trudeau. Rookie cabinet minister MARCI IEN sits directly behind her, visible behind the PM when he’s speaking. Foreign Minister MÉLANIE JOLY is Ien’s neighbor. Whip STEVEN MACKINNON is right behind Trudeau, replacing MARK HOLLAND — now the House leader on Trudeau’s left. KARINA GOULD, the government’s face of childcare, is beside MacKinnon.
— Similar digs: Several ministers didn’t budge much. Deputy PM CHRYSTIA FREELAND sits to the right of Trudeau, and FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE is still right beside her. Trade Minister MARY NG keeps her second-row seat just over Trudeau’s right shoulder. Infrastructure Minister DOMINIC LEBLANC remains in his spot beside the House leader. Heritage Minister PABLO RODRIGUEZ, Employment Minister CARLA QUALTROUGH and Health Minister JEAN-YVES DUCLOS shifted over just a smidge.
— The formers: On the far flank of the front bench is where you’ll spot MARC GARNEAU, JIM CARR and BARDISH CHAGGER — the three cabmins dropped in the post-election shuffle. Rumors have swirled that Garneau would head to France as Canada’s next ambassador, but he tweeted he’s staying put. Chagger’s neighbor is NDP MP CHARLIE ANGUS, one of her chief adversaries in the WE Charity scandal.
— On the oppo benches: The cluster of MPs surrounding Tory leader ERIN O’TOOLE is strikingly similar to its pre-election configuration. Notable changes: MELISSA LANTSMAN, a rookie MP and shadow minister for transport, sits directly behind the leader (and was sporting a Toronto Blue Jays mask on her first day in the chair). RANDY HOBACK, formerly a fourth-row resident, now has a front-row seat as shadow minister for trade and supply chain resilience.
Tory MP MARK STRAHL used to sit in the front row. Now he’s back in Row 4. Strahl’s previous neighbor, SHANNON STUBBS, is now seated in the fifth row. MARILYN GLADU, another former front-rower, was also relegated to the fourth. Such is the cost of challenging a leader whose post-election hold on his job isn’t exactly a sure thing — and when vaccinations are a persistent wedge.
HALLWAY CONVERSATION — Playbook asked two key stakeholders: What do you need to see in the Throne Speech for it to be a success?
BRIAN KINGSTON, CEO of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association: We know the government committed in their platform to 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035 — a very ambitious target.
If they’re going to get there, we’re going to need a very clear action plan to achieve that. What that means is far more ambitious investments into consumer incentives, more investments into charging infrastructure, and a bigger initiative to build consumer awareness around electric vehicles.
The United States has committed $174 billion to winning the EV market. This includes consumer incentives and a massive national infrastructure rollout. If we’re going to hit our targets and keep up with the U.S., we need to plan.
JEFF MORRISON, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association: We’re looking for them to do what they said they would do during the campaign — notably, address housing affordability, particularly for low-income and vulnerable populations.
Specifically, we’re looking for them to enact their campaign promises regarding putting in place an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy; building more affordable housing supply by putting in more money through the National Co-investment Fund; developing a plan and a strategy to enact their promise to end chronic homelessness in Canada, which they also promised in the Throne Speech last year; and means to address financialization of housing, that…
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