12 things to watch in Parliament this fall
The fall session begins on Monday, September 19. What's in store?
1. The NDP's performance as Official Opposition, including its interim leader Nycole Turmel
Elevated to Official Opposition status for the first time in history on the strength of an inspiring campaign by former leader Jack Layton and a landslide breakthrough in Quebec, the NDP must now carry on with a rookie MP at its helm. How effective will the NDP be against a Conservative government intent on exerting itself in its first majority mandate? Can calls for party unity trump the potential divisions inherent in a race to choose a new permanent leader?
2. Omnibus crime bill
Conservatives have made it clear that one of their top priorities will be legislation to push through many (but perhaps not all) of the justice and public safety initiatives the Conservatives couldn't pass without a majority of seats in the House of Commons and Senate. With both majorities now in hand, tougher sentencing and parole rules seem to be on the way. But will the government be willing to compromise on any of it, and make amendments to address Opposition or stakeholder concerns? And will everything be in one bill, or could more controversial items be split off to allow some things to pass quickly while the more contentious continue to be debated and/or delayed?
Replay our livechat on Parliament's fall session
A majority government. Three interim opposition leaders. The largest-ever class of rookie MPs. A continuing global economic crisis.
The fall session of Parliament promises a lot to talk about. Replay our live chat with Kady O'Malley, Greg Weston and Rosemary Barton taking your questions and sharing their thoughts about the return of the House of Commons.
Then let us know your P.O.V.: As Parliament resumes, what issues interest you most?
3. Possible extension of mission in Libya
Parliament has already extended Canada's involvement in the NATO mission to enforce the UN no-fly zone over Libya, but that expires on Sept. 27. With the Gadhafi regime all but swept from power, the Conservatives have said Canada will stay until the job is done, although it's not clear what form that might take. Government House leader Peter Van Loan has suggested the House of Commons could vote on a motion to extend the mission, as it did previously. The NDP vows to oppose any extension of military involvement, while the Liberals appear to be keeping their options open.
4. An agreement with the U.S. on trade and perimeter security
Talks to harmonize U.S.-Canada border security and anti-terrorism measures while reducing impediments to cross-border traffic and trade were announced in February. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said a plan for reaching a deal will arrive this fall, amid privacy concerns and questions over whether the U.S., and particularly the U.S. Congress, will give Canada the concessions it wants on trade in return for agreeing to American security priorities. Harper and Obama will meet in person this fall.
Related: Harper told CBC News earlier this month that his government intends to bring back two anti-terrorism measures enacted in the wake of Sept. 11 that expired after five years thanks to a "sunset" clause. With a Conservative majority, opposition parties will not be able to stop the renewal of these measures the way they did previously.
5. Scrapping the gun registry
Long-demanded by rural and Western members of Harper's caucus, a private member's bill to end the long-gun registry failed to pass last year against the combined opposition of most Liberal and NDP MPs. Harper has said the government will use its majority to kill the registry once and for all this fall.
6. Ending the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has rejected a vote by a majority of wheat and barley growers to maintain the board's monopoly on the marketing of their grain, and court battles over who has the right to determine the board's future continue. Nevertheless, the Conservatives will go ahead with plans to allow farmers to sell on the open market. The NDP and the Liberals oppose the change.
7. Human smuggling bill
Another bill introduced by a minority Conservative government that couldn't pass a Liberal-dominated Senate, this will be priority legislation this fall. The bill will target mass migrations to make it easier to reject refugee claims by people arriving in co-ordinated operations, like the recent case of ships bringing Tamil refugees to British Columbia.
8. Appointment of Supreme Court judges
With two openings to fill this fall, Stephen Harper has an opportunity to shape the top court by appointing two of the nine judges. A small committee of MPs, in consultation with the legal community, will whittle down the list of candidates to six by the end of September. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will choose the final two candidates from this short list. The two nominees then will appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions before their appointments are finalized. The Supreme Court resumes hearings in mid-October.
9. Fall reports from the auditor general
Always fodder for opposition attacks on the government, the chief watchdog of government spending and efficiency may offer more uncomfortable findings, including an audit of the government's "Economic Action Plan" stimulus spending expected this fall. Will opposition calls for a value-for-money audit on the $50 million G8 legacy infrastructure fund in Treasury Board President Tony Clement's riding lead to more embarrassing revelations? The commissioner of the environment and sustainable development will also report on the government's climate change plans under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, as well as evaluate the "cumulative environmental effects of oil sands projects."
Bonus intrigue: The government has yet to name a permanent replacement for Sheila Fraser, the fiercely independent auditor general whose term ended in the spring. Who will preside over future audits?
10. House of Commons decorum, including new Speaker Andrew Scheer's performance policing the tone and civility of debate
Both Conservatives and New Democrats pledged greater civility in the Commons following the May 2 election, and the early evidence from June's short sitting suggested progress. Will it hold?
11. New RCMP commissioner
William Elliott, the first civilian leader of the national police force, announced he would leave the force earlier this year, but stayed on through the summer. CBC News has reported the government has a short list of candidates and will announce Elliott's replacement this fall, as early as the end of this month. Consensus is that the new commissioner must come from within the Mounties' ranks.
12. Fall economic statement
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has resisted calls to move up the date of his regular fall economic update to reflect the ever-changing and persistently-sombre economic circumstances that have emerged since last spring's budget. But everyone's wondering how gloomy forecasts may affect the government's ability to balance its books on time.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons still has to pass the implementation bill for some of the measures in last spring's budget. And a government-wide cost-cutting exercise to trim five or ten per cent from departmental budgets is underway, with all the job-cutting and spending-tightening details due in time for the 2012 budget.