What We're Watching: MPs to vote on COVID probe, debate conversion-therapy ban

For the second time in less than a week, MPs are poised to hand down their collective verdict on an opposition-backed push to use their combined majority to force the minority Liberal government to defend its handling of the pandemic. But there will be two key differences from last week’s showdown over the Conservatives’ proposed “anti-corruption” committee.

For starters, this latest motion — which stands in the name of Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner — would extend far beyond the WE Charity controversy and other alleged conflicts of interest related to contracting and policy decisions. It would also instruct the Commons health committee to investigate the overall response to the COVID-19 crisis, including: the approval of rapid testing; progress toward a working vaccine; the delay in closing the borders; and the availability of protective equipment, among other mission-critical supplies.

Perhaps even more critical, however: In the event that it passes — which it almost certainly will — it won’t trigger a snap election, as the government has explicitly stated that it doesn’t consider it a confidence question; it’s fully prepared to comply with the various document and witness requests laid out in the terms of reference, although some concerns have been raised over whether the deadlines may need to be extended.

That, however, is exactly the sort of logistical detail that can be worked out at the committee table, once the study is officially underway, which — again, depending on the outcome of the vote — could happen as early as later this week.

In fact, there’s even an outside chance the Liberals could wind up supporting the motion, what with it being an all-but-sure thing already, which they could point to as evidence that the government has nothing to hide.

Fear not, political adrenalin junkies: Yet another opposition motion is set to take the main stage during a third designated supply day, tentatively scheduled for Thursday. It’s likely to be the Bloc Québécois in the driver’s seat, however, and they may not be quite as willing to put the survival of the government on the line.

Also on the Commons agenda this week, as per Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez: the Liberals’ much touted plan to ban forced conversion therapy, which is set to begin second-reading consideration on Monday.

So far, both the Bloc Québécois and New Democrats have indicated that their MPs will vote in favour of the bill, but Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said he would make it a free vote for his caucus. This could put him under increased pressure to state where both he and his party stand on the issue.

As yet, there’s no word from Rodriguez on what else may be in the legislative queue for this week. This may be due to ongoing negotiations with his opposition counterparts, particularly — although likely not exclusively — a working timeline to wrap up the first round of debate on the proposed changes to medically assisted dying. The changes are currently mired at second reading, despite a court-imposed deadline to rewrite the law by Dec. 18.

Backbenchers, take heart: Private members’ business is back!

Nearly eight months after the mid-March parliamentary shutdown effectively hit pause on all non-pandemic-related House business, backbench business is finally back on the program with the opening round of MP-initiated bills and motions on track to hit the House floor this week.

The first item on the private members’ business to-do list: Conservative MP Len Webber’s bid to start the process of setting up a national organ and tissue donor registry by allowing the Canada Revenue Agency to begin collecting and disclosing the required data, which is set to begin second-reading debate on Monday morning.

Also in the queue: Conservative MP Bob Saroya’s plan to increase the mandatory minimum penalty for illegal importation of firearms (Tuesday); Bloc MP Gabriel Ste-Marie’s pitch to have Ottawa hand over tax collection powers to Quebec (Wednesday); a draft Climate Change Accountability Act, courtesy of his fellow Bloquiste Kristina Michaud (Thursday); and finally, Conservative MP Scot Davidson’s proposed ban on the export of “certain types of plastic waste to foreign countries for final disposal (Friday).

Under standard Chamber protocols, each MP will have up to two hours to make the case for his or her respective proposals — one hour this week and a second (and final) hour later this fall when it comes back up in the rotation. At that point, it will be put to a vote on whether to send it to committee for further study.

On the House committee circuit

  • With the prospect of a stand-alone special committee to investigate the WE Charity controversy now seemingly off the table for now, ETHICS members will go back to debating a New Democrat-proposed pitch to drop its demand that Speakers’ Spotlight hand over the details of all paid appearances by Margaret or Alexandre Trudeau since 2008. At the same time, they’ll reissue an order to produce the same documentation related to any such work undertaken by the prime minister or his wife. (Monday 11 AM)
  • PUBLIC SAFETY members have set aside two hours to go over the fine print of Prime Minister ’s current mandate letter with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. As per the notice, Blair will be joined by a full contingent of top-level officials, including his deputy minister, Rob Stewart, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, CSIS director David Vigneault, and Canada Border Services Agency president John Ossowski, as well as Parole Board chair Jennifer Oades and Correctional Service of Canada chief commissioner Anne Kelly. (Monday 6 PM)
  • FISHERIES AND OCEANS continues to explore pertinent issues in the ongoing battle over Indigenous treaty fishing rights and Nova Scotia’s commercial lobster fishery, with back-to-back panel discussions with Assembly of First Nations regional chief Paul J. Prosper and Listuguj Mi’gmaq Chief Darcy Gray, as well as representatives from the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association and a local fishermen’s group. (Monday 3:30 PM)
  • As part of its newly launched study of the logistics involved in holding an election during a pandemic, PROCEDURE AND HOUSE AFFAIRS members will hear from the chief electoral officers of New Brunswick — which became the first province to go to the polls since COVID hit earlier this month — and Prince Edward Island, which is in the process of conducting a byelection. (Tuesday 11 AM)
  • The proposed new rules to require federal judges to undergo “continuing education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context” head to JUSTICE to kick off a lightning-round clause-by-clause review, during which the Conservatives are expected to put forward several proposed amendments. The new rules were initially proposed by then-interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, but they failed to make it through the Senate before last year’s election call, and were subsequently reintroduced by the government with all-party support. (Tuesday 11 AM)
  • Auditor General Karen Hogan and interim Environment Commissioner Andrew Hayes are booked for a joint appearance at PUBLIC ACCOUNTS,  which will begin with a one-hour, closed-door session with MPs before going back on the public record to discuss the proposed office budget included in the most recent main estimates. (Thursday 11 AM)

Also in and around the precinct this week:

Before joining Hogan at the committee table, Hayes is slated to deliver his annual report to House Speaker Anthony Rota, who will present it to the Chamber on Tuesday morning. Among the topics to be covered, as per the advisory: progress made in implementing sustainable development goals for “safe and healthy communities”; a status check on how the government responds to environmental petitions; and a “follow-up audit” on the implementation of past recommendations on transporting dangerous goods.  (Tuesday 10 AM)

Bank Governor Tiff Macklem hosts a conference call on the rationale for the latest decision on overnight interest rates, which are widely expected to remain unchanged for now. He’ll also provide an overview of the latest Monetary Policy Report, which is all but guaranteed to spark a flurry of belated follow-up questions about the eyebrow-raising comments made by Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre earlier this month, in which he warned that the central bank “should not be an ATM for Trudeau’s insatiable spending appetites.” (Wednesday 11 AM)

Finally, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland makes her first virtual appearance on the fall party-fundraising hustings, courtesy of an online “donor appreciation event” for Laurier Club members (Thursday 7 PM), while O’Toole fires up his webcam for another round of mixing and mingling via Zoom at a “private event” hosted by Duncan Jackman. (Wednesday PM)

Read original article here.