Canada has a new Finance Minister: Chrystia Freeland replaces Bill Morneau
Chrystia Freeland was sworn in as Canada's new finance minister today, becoming the first woman to take on the powerful role. Up until today, Freeland, the former foreign affairs minister, was serving as deputy prime minister and intergovernmental affairs minister. She will retain her role as deputy prime minister but hands over her responsibilities for relations with the provinces to Dominic LeBlanc.
Minister Dominic LeBlanc – a close friend and ally of Trudeau – was appointed as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, re-assuming that role from Minister Freeland now that he is back to full health after cancer treatment.
PM Trudeau prorogues Parliament until Sept. 23
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, putting a more than month-long pause on parliamentary business as his government focuses on plotting its roadmap out of the ongoing pandemic. Trudeau said the late-September throne speech will mark the beginning of a new legislative session that will have a renewed focus on the next phase of Canada’s response to COVID-19.
This is the first time Trudeau has taken that massive procedural step of prorogation, after vowing when first elected to not use “prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances,” as the Liberals accused former prime minister Stephen Harper of doing. News of Trudeau’s prorogation comes almost seven years to the day of Harper’s 2013 prorogation amid the Senate expense scandal.
A prorogation effectively ends the current Parliamentary session, killing all legislative business that has not passed. In this case means halting all ongoing WE Charity committee probes and wiping away the remaining pre-pandemic pieces of legislation.
Prorogation and a throne speech provides the opposition with a straightforward opportunity for a confidence vote which could force an election if the minority Liberals do not get the support of at least one of the opposition parties.
Throne Speech in September
The September Throne Speech will set a new policy agenda for the Government that accounts for both the immediate consequences of the pandemic and the potential for a changed economy thereafter. The Prime Minister said that agenda will focus on: Building healthy and inclusive communities, combating climate change, and supporting immigration.
Minister Freeland will be the driving force behind executing that policy vision. Ministers McKenna (Infrastructure and Communities), Wilkinson (Environment and Climate Change), and Guilbeault (Heritage) were already developing policies for a “green recovery”, which both the Prime Minister and Minister Freeland emphasized will be a high priority for the new Parliamentary session.
A fall election?
While the Prime Minister claimed today that he does not want a Fall election, but the Throne Speech will be crafted as a de facto election platform – a set of policies that the Liberals are comfortable offering to voters if all of the opposition parties refuse to support the Speech. In any case, we expect all major government communications in the coming months to take on a pre-election tone.
We expect the Government will issue new Ministerial mandate letters after the Throne Speech – as signaled by the Prime Minister’s statement today that governing priorities must change to respond to the current circumstances.
The Government has committed to giving an update on Federal finances this Fall, although it is unclear if that will take the form of a full budget or an economic statement. The Prime Minister pledged today that taxes will not be increased during the economic recovery.
The Official Opposition Conservatives will receive a boost in public profile when the new party leader is announced on Sunday night. The winner – with the odds favouring Peter MacKay or Erin O’Toole – will move quickly to restructure the party’s political leadership, hire political staff, begin election preparedness work, and consider a critic shuffle.
The House of Commons Finance Committee will begin pre-budget hearings for Budget 2021 shortly after Parliament resumes sitting. Especially in light of the new Throne Speech, that budget cycle is the best opportunity for stakeholders to get new spending initiatives off the ground – particularly if they align with the Government’s vision for economic recovery.