OTTAWA—The stage is slowly being set for the return of Parliament on Nov. 22, with opposition leaders presenting their wish lists to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he gets set to unveil his cabinet next week — and with it, his own priorities for the coming months.
Returned in last month’s election with another minority government, Trudeau must resume walking a political tightrope in the House of Commons, requiring the support of either the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party or the Bloc Québécois to pass legislation.
The Liberals have 160 seats, the Conservatives 119, the Bloc Québécois 32, the New Democrats 25 and the Greens two.
In theory, the opposition parties could join forces to defeat Trudeau’s government at any time, plunging the country back into another election campaign.
It was with that in mind Trudeau spoke with the leaders of the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Québécois and the Greens this week to hear them out, and to make his own case for what he wants to get done.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberals cannot take his party’s support for granted.
“We’re prepared to vote against the government if they make the wrong decision, if they do something that hurts Canadians,” Singh told a news conference Wednesday after his meeting with Trudeau.
His party’s goal is to make Parliament work and ensure supports for Canadians, Singh said, adding that the Liberals will have the NDP’s backing if that’s what they want to do.
Trudeau’s wish list includes finalizing deals with the provinces on $10-a-day child care, legislating a ban on conversion therapy, instituting 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers, and making it a criminal offence to harass or threaten health-care workers, which was a key election promise made as protestors blocked access to hospitals over frustration with mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.
The vaccination issue also came up in Trudeau’s meetings; there’s now a rule in place requiring all MPs to be vaccinated before they can enter the House of Commons, but the Tories oppose it and so the issue is likely far from settled.
The tense nature of that debate was reflected in the duelling statements issued by the offices of Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole following their discussion.
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The Conservatives’ statement accused Trudeau of making vaccinations a wedge issue, while the Liberals’ statement simply noted that “the prime minister emphasized the need for all members of Parliament in the House of Commons to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Mr. O’Toole presented the prime minister with his party’s views on this topic ahead of the reconvening of Parliament on Nov. 22.”
Much the same wording was included in the PMO’s account of Trudeau’s meeting with Green party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May.
One thing on which the NDP and Conservatives stand united is a demand for Parliament to return far sooner than Nov. 22.
Singh said he told Trudeau the NDP wants COVID-19 benefits to continue, noting certain provinces are getting hit harder now than they’ve ever been, and that there needs to be immediate support for front-line health care workers who are burning out.
Conversely, O’Toole said the benefits ought to end, but Parliament needs to get going to address the ongoing economic challenges thrown up by the pandemic, including rising inflation and labour shortages.
“Canadians sent a clear signal that they want Parliament to get back to work to address the serious issues impacting Canadian,” O’Toole’s office said following his meeting with Trudeau. “The prime minister would not commit to recalling Parliament sooner.”
Singh said he also wants to see immediate support for Nunavut, which is grappling with a water crisis, an end to governments fighting Indigenous groups in court, and more action on climate change.
Demonstrating concrete action on those files would show the Liberals are willing to work with other parties, Singh said.
In his meeting with Trudeau, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet called for a summit meeting before the end of the year on health care transfer payments to the provinces, but said the key focus for Parliament must be climate change.
“Mr. Trudeau will be able to count on the support of the Bloc Québécois if he acts vigorously to ensure that Canada respects its climate obligations towards the planet,” Blanchet said in a statement after their meeting on Tuesday.
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz
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