Liberals hope focus on housing, crime halts their plummet in the polls as Parliament returns
Conservatives to attack Trudeau’s record as fall sitting heats up
After taking a beating in the polls all summer, Liberal MPs are expected to focus on two areas of political vulnerability for them — housing and public safety — when Parliament resumes today after the summer break.
Conservatives, riding high in the polls and re-energized after a September policy convention, will use every opportunity they have during the fall sitting to argue that after eight years in government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's policies have failed to address a shortage of housing or to keep communities safe.
Question period will resume this afternoon for the first time since June, after a summer of growing voter anxiety over the cost of living and unprecedented wildfires.
"Our focus is really going to be about affordability and public safety," Government House Leader Karina Gould told Rosemary Barton Live.
"That's going to be my main focus as government House leader ... making sure we're advancing legislation that is dealing with the very real challenges that Canadians are facing within their households and their budgets ... as well as addressing some of the public safety challenges that we faced over the past year."
Here are the issues expected to dominate Parliament this fall.
Duelling housing measures
After meeting with caucus in London, Ont., where his party's sinking political fortunes were raised, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a fleet of new measures Thursday aimed at countering rising housing and grocery prices.
The federal government says it will remove the GST from the construction of new rental apartments to spur new development.
The GST change announced Thursday was part of the Liberal Party's election platform in 2015. The Liberal government abandoned that policy in 2017, saying there were better ways to boost rental construction
"We feel that now is the right time to bring this in," said Gould.
The Liberals also will now require municipalities to repeal or amend exclusionary zoning policies in order to access the government's Housing Accelerator Fund.
The Thursday announcement appeared to be an attempt to deflate Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's claims that Trudeau has been missing in action on the file.
Undeterred, Poilievre held a separate media conference Thursday announcing plans to introduce a private bill he says would fast-track the construction of new homes in Canada.
While the "Building Homes Not Bureaucracy Act" is not yet on the House of Commons notice paper and likely won't become law, it signals how the Official Opposition will approach the issue in Parliament.
Under the Conservatives' proposal, cities would have to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent each year — a rate that Poilievre said might alleviate the housing crunch.
Poilievre is also threatening to impose what he calls "a NIMBY penalty" on municipalities that block housing because of "egregious" complaints from residents that ascribe to the "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) philosophy.
"Very simple folks, if you get out of the way and let builders build, you get more money. If you don't, you get less money. Go at it," he told a press conference in Ottawa on Sunday.
Canada's national housing agency says progress is being made on building enough housing to close the country's affordability gap, but almost 3.5 million new units will still have to be built by the end of the decade, over and above what's already in the works.
Bail reform bill given priority
The first day of the fall sitting will see MPs debate another controversial topic: bail reform.
The first government bill on the docket is Bill C-48, which was introduced by former justice minister David Lametti in the spring.
C-48 would make it harder for some offenders who are charged with violent crimes involving a weapon, and who have similar previous convictions, to obtain bail. It would do so by implementing a "reverse onus" provision.
The bill is the federal government's response to chiefs of police, premiers and Conservative MPs pushing for stricter bail laws.
Canada's bail system came under heavy scrutiny after Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala of the Ontario Provincial Police was killed late last year. Randall McKenzie, one of the two suspects in the murder, was out on bail for assault and weapons charges, and also had a warrant out for his arrest.
It's an issue Poilievre was quick to pounce on. He used a portion of his speech at the Conservative convention to sell what he's calling his "jail not bail" policies.
Changes at the grocery store?
The federal government hopes to launch the fall sitting by meeting Monday with the heads of Canada's five biggest grocery chains to discuss ways to steady food prices.
Trudeau said the grocery chains have until Thanksgiving to share their plans to stabilize their prices. If they don't, he said, Ottawa will take action.
"It's not okay that our biggest grocery stores are making record profits while Canadians are struggling to put food on the table," Trudeau told a press conference Thursday.
The opposition has cast doubt on the Liberals' ability to make food more affordable.
"I would just point out that Justin Trudeau has been prime minister for eight years. If he admits now that grocery prices and grocery profits are too high, why hasn't he done anything about it?" Poilievre said Sunday.
The Conservative leader sought to tie government spending to the broad inflation issue in a populist argument.
"Of course [grocery companies are] making way more money than they should. Because that's what happens when governments print money and cause inflation. The rich get richer, the corporations roll in dough," he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that after remaining silent for months on the issue, Trudeau has released a "vague" plan that "doesn't force CEOs to act."
NDP's demands could change
The government also announced Thursday it plans to bring forward legislation to empower the Competition Bureau to ensure that corporate mergers and acquisitions do not have an adverse effect on the affordability of goods and services.
That could steal some of Singh's thunder. The NDP leader has plans to kick off the fall sitting by tabling a private member's bill to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act.
It will be interesting to see how Liberals respond to the bill from their partner in the House.
In 2022, the NDP agreed to support the minority Liberal government in the House of Commons and stave off an election until 2025 through a confidence-and-supply agreement. In exchange, the Liberals agreed to move on certain shared priorities, such as a national dental program for low-income Canadians.
According to sources who spoke to Radio-Canada over the summer, the NDP is looking to push the federal government for more policy concessions — knowing that the Liberals have little appetite for an election over the coming year
Singh's party is now trying to secure additional concessions behind the scenes — including housing and cost-of-living commitments — in exchange for the NDP's continued support, the sources said.
Gould said the original agreement was supposed to be a roadmap.
"I think we feel very strongly that, you know, we have an agreement in place," she told Barton.
Public inquiry commissioner's first day on the job
Monday also marks Justice Marie-Josée Hogue's first official day as commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions.
It's still not clear when the hearings will start and how much of Hogue's work will be made public. Her runway is somewhat limited. According to her terms of reference, she has to deliver an interim report by the end of February. A final report is due by the end of 2024.
Trudeau's government has faced sharp criticism over how it handled and responded to intelligence about China's alleged meddling in the past two federal elections.
But with the opposition parties agreeing to the terms of reference and approving Hogue's appointment, the issue may not receive much in the way of heated debate in the House.
With files from Aaron Wherry and J.P. Tasker