MPs Suit Up for Battle – Don Newman on the upcoming Fall session of Parliament


[:en]Parliament is set to resume on Monday, so we sat down with Ensight’s Don Newman to talk about what we could expect to see and what to watch closely.

1. How would you rank Trudeau and the Liberals this summer?

I would rank them lucky. Almost halfway through their first term and they are still comfortably ahead in the polls, at a time when usually a government is facing declining support.

The Liberals have stayed on top despite the unpopular $10-million settlement to Omar Khadar, and despite the now festering controversy over punitive changes to people who have turned themselves into corporations for tax purposes.

The potential problem of still being so popular half way through the mandate is that when their popularity inevitably dips, they will be closer to the next election.

2. Given the recent cabinet shuffle, who are the Liberal ministers to watch this session?

‎Most of the Ministers to watch are not ones that were shuffled. But of those who were, Seamus O’Regan in the quagmire that is Veterans Affairs is probably the one to keep your eye on. Also, how the splitting of Indigenous Affairs into two portfolios with Jane Philpott joining Carolyn Bennett to deal with those intractable problems will be interesting.

But on a day to day basis, Finance Minister Bill Morneau with tax changes and deficits, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr with the Trans-Mount‎ain Pipeline and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with NAFTA, will be front and center.

3. The beginning of this session marks two years in power for the Liberals. So far, has Justin Trudeau delivered? And what does he need to do to ramp up for the 2019 election?

Well Trudeau promised “Sunny Ways” and certainly the mood of the country seems better than under the previous government. That’s atmospherics, but it has to count for something.

On the bigger issues, the Liberals now have to show more progress on big ticket items, like the infrastructure bank and actually getting more shovels in the ground and projects started.

By 2019 they will have to show that they finessed the pipeline issue‎ in B.C. That won’t be easy, with the energy industry and the Alberta Government on one side, and environmentalist and the British Columbia Government on the other.

The Indigenous file has the never-ending potential to go sideways. Look at the difficulties getting the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women under-way.

And of course, the ongoing NAFTA negotiations are a wild card, with the unpredictable President Donald Trump a wild card himself.

4. What’s your best bet for Opposition Leader Andrew Sheer’s first question in Question Period?

Barring some unforeseeable‎ event that captures the headlines that day, the first question will be about tax changes for incorporated small businesses, and the people who currently benefit from the present system.

5. Who in the Conservative ‘shadow cabinet’ is best placed to be effective in their role as critic?

The Finance critic, Pierre Poilievre. I don’t think he knows much about finance but he certainly knows a lot about politics and he plays a rough game in the House of Commons.

The Official Opposition‎ believes that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is a relatively weak performer and they have put their pit bull opposite him. They also think he is vulnerable on both corporate taxes and deficits. Morneau is a relative newcomer to politics and a gentleman. Neither description would apply to Poilievre.

The session will also be a testing period for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. He narrowly won the party leadership last June‎. Now Conservatives will see if they made the right choice.

6. What will be the “sleeper issue” this fall?

Because if there is one it will be a “sleeper’ so it is impossible to predict. However that doesn’t minimize its importance. When Harold MacMillan was retiring after seven years as British Prime Minister, a reporter asked him what his most difficult problems had been.

“Events, dear boy,” he said, “events.”

The unforeseen crisis, and the way a government responds to it, often are the difference between a successful government and one that isn’t.

7. How will the Senate co-operate with the Government with so many Independent Senators and things like the marijuana legislation coming down the pipe.

Before the summer recess it appeared the Senate might dig in its heels and fail to pass the budget bill. In the end enough of the Independents agreed they could not go against the will of the elected House of Commons. The Senate will propose amendments to the marijuana bill. Some may be accepted by the Government, and others won’t. But ultimately, I think the Senate will come to the same conclusion it did last spring. It might delay, but it won’t defeat. [:]