Parliament resumes: MPs return from summer break to campaign-style rallies, debates

MPs returned to Parliament Hill today with a lot of House cleaning to do. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke to his MPs earlier today, with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau taking questions from reporters following question period.

Stephen Harper rallies caucus, staff, as MPs return to Parliament

A group tourists leave the Parliament Buildings below the Peace Tower of the Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sunday. Parliamentarians return to work Monday after summer break. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

MPs returned to Parliament Hill today with a lot of House cleaning to do, and a lot about trade and the economy.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked things off with a campaign-style speech to Conservative MPs and staffers Monday morning, trumpeting the tax breaks his government has introduced, which he said add up to about $3,500 a year per family.

"We are here for Canada," Harper told supporters during his speech in an Ottawa Convention Centre hall rented for the occasion by the Conservative Party. He did not take questions.

"We will keep delivering for Canadians and their families," he said.

Harper wasn't the only one who wanted to direct MPs' attention to the economy. The NDP and Liberals also kicked off the year with a focus on pocketbook issues.

Two emergency debates set

But the House got down to business quickly, welcoming four new MPs, elected in a set of June byelections, and arranging for an emergency debate on the Ebola virus Monday night. 

House Speaker Andrew Scheer also granted an emergency debate on the brutal conflict being waged by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, setting it for Tuesday evening. 

The parties will reconvene in the House of Commons Wednesday to hear Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko address the Canadian Parliament.

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New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice told reporters later Monday his party's proposal to establish a minimum wage for federal workers will be the subject of the party's first opposition day motion this fall.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the NDP would "assume our responsibility" if they become a federal government, and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

EI premium exemption

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the Conservatives' newly announced changes to Employment Insurance payroll taxes are actually an incentive to lay off workers, offering about $2,000 if a worker is fired and about $200 if one is hired.

"It's a completely poorly thought-out and ill-conceived plan and we're glad to offer a positive proposal that would work better," Trudeau said.

The Liberals instead propose an EI premium exemption, he said.

The government pushed through much of its legislation last spring, leaving only a handful of bills to be dealt with this fall.

"With the exception of the prostitution bill [C-36] ... what remained at the end of June were largely housekeeping bills," said Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc.

Prostitution bill, housekeeping items remain

The government's proposed rewrite of Canada's prostitution laws is likely to be the first big piece of legislation MPs will wrap up with their return. The bill went through the House justice committee over the summer and was pre-studied at the Senate last week.

MPs will have a crack at third reading debate before the bill is referred to the Senate. The Supreme Court, which last year struck down the existing laws around prostitution, gave Parliament until the end of the year to implement new ones.

The other big item for the fall will be the second budget implementation act of the year. The spring Budget Implementation Act was 359 pages and included changes that did everything from cutting three senators from their pension plan to forcing the banks to report the tax information of dual Canadian-American citizens to the U.S.

The remaining bills include:

  • C-3, which would make technical amendments to the aviation, aeronautics, marine and other related acts.
  • C-8, which would update copyright laws in an attempt to fight counterfeit products.
  • C-22, which would increase the liability of companies for offshore oil and gas spills.
  • S-3, which would make it illegal to import fish caught during illegal fishing.

LeBlanc said he expects the government to introduce some new legislation because what's left is "the dregs of what hadn't cleared in June," while Julian suggested the Conservatives could try to "roll back some of the mean-spirited legislation they've brought in over the last few years." 

Regulations, free trade bills coming

Government House leader Peter Van Loan said the government's first new bill this fall will be on reducing regulations.

"When we come back to the House on Monday, the very first subject we're going to be discussing is going to be our red-tape reduction bill," Van Loan said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House.

Along with the budget implementation bill, Van Loan said he expects "we will see a bill to implement the Canada-Korea free-trade agreement. Those will be two major pieces that you will see this fall."

The opposition NDP and Liberals will have seven opposition days on which they can set the agenda before the holiday break in December. Both parties expect those days to be front-loaded into the early part of the fall so that the government doesn't have to put its agenda on hold closer to the break, when it's facing an imminent holiday deadline.


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