Federal Parliament Returned Yesterday
The Federal House of Commons resumes sitting today, likely continuing in the primarily virtual format that has made the 43rd Parliament unique in the history of Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic has dictated both the format and the politics of this Parliament, and that will continue to be the case in the coming weeks or (maybe) months.
High-stakes politics will begin this week. The government is facing a confidence measure vote on Bill C-14, the legislation to implement new measures, promised in the Fall Economic Statement, to address the impacts of COVID-19. While that Bill is expected to pass, the government must also begin gearing up for Budget 2021. The Finance Committee will meet tomorrow to debate the report on the pre-budget consultations prior to its publication, which is a major checkpoint in the budget process.
The increasing potential for a Spring election, which is closely linked to the tabling of the first Federal Budget in almost two years, and the ongoing rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will dominate the political discussion over the coming weeks. However, major legislation, such as amendments to the Broadcast Act and the Digital Charter Implementation Act, will progress through the legislative process in that time.
All of the parties are preparing for an election in 2021, whether it comes from a confidence measure vote on the Budget or a decision by the Liberals to seek a new mandate. Because vaccination will be crucial for public health and for allowing the government to move from crisis management to a more traditional fiscal and legislative agenda – or to an election – the pace of vaccination will be closely tied to the timing of a potential campaign.
With much of the vaccine supply secured by Federal contracts awaiting regulatory approval or, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, delayed due to manufacturing chokepoints, getting to herd immunity against COVID-19 is a key public policy and political challenge for the Liberal government. The Conservative Party in particular has indicated that it will focus on vaccine policy as its main criticism of the government.
The decision to focus Budget 2021 on policies for the post-pandemic recovery or on pandemic response is also a major policy and political consideration for the government. If COVID-19 infection rates are low and trending downwards in March and vaccine distribution has ramped up by that time – both huge IFs – stakeholders should expect to see a budget that focuses on ‘building back’ from the pandemic and functions as a de facto Liberal campaign platform.