What We're Watching: COVID, crustaceans, and comments on China

With grim new projections that, under current social-distancing protocols, Canada could have 20,000 new cases a day by the end of the year, Health Minister Patty Hajdu will be exhaustively grilled in the House of Commons later this week.

As per House order, Hajdu will spend up to four hours fielding questions from all sides of the Chamber on Thursday evening about her department’s latest budget requests, including — but not limited to — millions of dollars earmarked for programs and operations related to the ongoing pandemic.

While most reviews of estimates are handled by the relevant committee, opposition parties can select two sets of projected expenditures for scrutiny by the House as a whole during a committee-style ministerial question-and-answer session.

Not surprisingly, Hajdu’s portfolio made this year’s shortlist, along with Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, who will take her turn under the Commons spotlight on Tuesday.

For her part, Hajdu can expect to be cross-examined about everything from the approval process for rapid and home testing to possible timelines for cross-country vaccine distribution. Jordan should be prepared for questions about ongoing tensions between commercial and Mi’kmaq lobster fishers off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Also on the House programme this week: A take-note debate on the state of the French language in Montreal, which got the all-party nod of approval to proceed last week, is scheduled for Wednesday evening.

As the Canadian Press reported this weekend, Montreal-area Liberal MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos “set off alarms” during an otherwise by-the-book meeting of the official languages committee earlier this month by suggesting she needed to “see proof” of a decline in the use of French in Quebec.

“The 30-year-old parliamentarian’s skepticism prompted a week’s worth of censures from Bloc Québécois MPs, as well as Conservative ones,” CP notes, and while Lambropoulos “reversed her comments in a statement less than 24 hours afterward,” and subsequently resigned her seat on the committee, “the walk-back did little to satisfy opposition members.”

Trudeau, O’Toole hit the digital fundraising hustings

At the same time Hajdu takes the spotlight in the Commons, Prime Minister  will face a far friendlier audience when he joins Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to rally the virtual crowd at a “special grassroots fundraiser.” According to the party invite, there’s no set entry fee, though it does point out that “most people are chipping in about $30!” (Thursday)

The following morning, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will join Paul Desmarais III

On the Liberals’ legislative to-do list: Citizenship oath changes, privacy law revamp

According to the latest lookahead from Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, the first item on the Liberals’ legislative to-do list for this week is updating the citizenship oath to include a “a solemn promise to respect the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”

The bill, which was originally introduced just before last spring’s pandemic-imposed parliamentary shutdown, is currently at second reading. It’s being framed as a direct response to a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and has already secured preliminary all-party approval in principle.

MPs can also look forward to starting debate on the Liberals’ long-awaited proposal to overhaul the federal privacy regime, which was unveiled last week and is now in the queue to begin second-reading consideration on Tuesday.

Court-ordered changes to laws on medically assisted dying still under review at committee

After striking a tentative all-party deal to fast-track its review of the government’s proposed amendments to the laws on medical assistance in dying — which were triggered by a Quebec court ruling that found several provisions of the existing law to be unconstitutional, and set a deadline of mid-December to rewrite those sections — the JUSTICE committee is scheduled to spend at least a few more hours going over the fine print of the bill on Monday evening.

On the Senate side, meanwhile, the LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS committee will kick off its pre-study of the bill with a briefing with Justice Minister David Lametti, followed by panel discussions with medical experts and disability advocates. (Monday)

At committee this week:

With the clock ticking down to a make-or-break House vote on whether to sign off on the latest spending estimates, a fresh contingent of ministers hits the estimates circuit at committee: Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly (INDUSTRY, Tuesday AM) Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Tuesday PM), Public Safety Minister Bill Blair (PUBLIC SAFETY, Wednesday PM), Labour Minister Filomena Tassi (HUMAN RESOURCES, SKILLS AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, Tuesday PM), and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef (STATUS OF WOMEN, Tuesday AM), while House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota goes before PROCEDURE AND HOUSE AFFAIRS to explain the rationale for proposed new budget allocations to the Parliamentary Protective Service. (Tuesday AM)

In addition to his scheduled estimates appearance, Champagne is also booked in for what’s likely to be an intense cross-aisle cross-examination by members of the SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON CANADA-CHINA RELATIONS (CACN). (Monday PM)

The following day, CACN members will finally get the chance to question former ambassador — and one-time Team Trudeau front-bencher — John McCallum about his two years as Canada’s emissary to China, which was brought to an abrupt end in early 2019 after eyebrow-raising public comments by McCallum that seemed distinctly at odds with Canada’s official position on the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. (Tuesday PM)

Meanwhile, INTERNATIONAL TRADE members had already begun to study how a post-Brexit trade deal between Canada and the United Kingdom might work. But they might have to update the questions they were planning to ask the panel of witnesses in the wake of the transitional agreement unveiled over the weekend. (Monday AM)

PUBLIC SAFETY members get briefed on the latest annual report from the parliamentary committee on national security and intelligence, courtesy of committee chair David McGuinty and executive director Rennie Marcoux. (Monday PM)

HEALTH members have blocked off an hour to continue working out the logistics for their investigation of the “emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Monday AM)

CANADIAN HERITAGE hears from artists, directors, and representatives from arts and culture, as they explore the “challenges and issues” faced by the sector during the pandemic. (Monday AM)

Also taking a closer look at the impact of COVID-19: NATIONAL DEFENCE (Monday AM)

Finally, as part of their continued study of what would be involved in running a federal election during a pandemic, PROCEDURE AND HOUSE AFFAIRS members hold back-to-back panel discussions with representatives from the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, People First Canada, Canada Without Poverty, the Immigration and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, and Université de Montréal political science professor André Blais. (Thursday AM)

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