Parliament returns with security, economy on the agenda

MPs return to the House today for the last few months of the 41st Parliament amid a weakening economy and strengthening debate over public safety and security.

Conservatives will use $3B contingency fund to balance budget, House leader Peter Van Loan says

Security and the economy will be hot topics as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other parliamentarians return for the last sitting ahead of the 2015 election. Harper attended a campaign-style rally with supporters in an Ottawa suburb Sunday. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

MPs return to the House today for the last few months of the 41st Parliament amid a weakening economy and strengthening debate over public safety and security.

The latest the 2015 election can be triggered is early September, meaning the last sitting of Parliament starts today. Much of what MPs do over the next five months in the House will be focused on the campaign, foreshadowing the parties' messaging before the summer break.

With the price of oil plummeting, leading to concerns that government coffers will be less flush, government House leader Peter Van Loan said the Conservatives are intent on balancing the budget, and will use the government's $3-billion contingency fund to cover any shortfall. Van Loan said he's not aware of any planned cuts to federal departments.

While Parliament has been on break since Dec. 16 when the Senate rose, the federal party leaders have been criss-crossing the country and making plain which topics occupy their thoughts.

That continued Sunday, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper telling a rally of supporters in Ottawa that the government's new anti-terror legislation would be introduced Friday and will include "a range of measures ... to keep Canadians safe."

"These measures are designed to help authorities stop planned attacks, get threats off our streets, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and prevent terrorists from travelling and recruiting others," Harper said.

"To be clear, in doing so, we shall be safeguarding our constitutional rights of speech, of association, of religion and all the rest."

Fight for the middle class

But arguably the bigger issue facing MPs is a problem that's worsened since the House rose in December: the stalling economy. Between mid-December and the end of January, the price of oil has dropped another $11, from around $58 to under $47.

Last week, the Bank of Canada cut its benchmark rate for the first time since September 2010, just as it lowered its 2015 growth projection from 2.4 per cent to 2.1 per cent. Most economists had been predicting it would hold the key rate stable until raising it slightly next fall.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had already been trying to stake out economic territory by asserting their commitment to fight for middle-class Canadians. Harper and the other Conservative MPs, meanwhile, have placed their political capital on the government's economic management record.

Both the Conservatives and the NDP will hold press conferences Monday morning to kick off the resumption of House business, with the NDP to focus on its opposition day motion. A media advisory said the motion is about the party's "fight for the middle class."

With the federal budget approaching sometime in April, the Conservatives have at least two months to determine whether they'll be able to eliminate the deficit.

Anti-terror bill coming Friday

Amidst the opposition's undoubted focus on the economy will come the government's proposed anti-terror provisions. 

The CBC's Chris Hall reported earlier this month that the legislation will give national security agencies the explicit authority to obtain and share information that is now subject to privacy limits.

The government had already tabled new provisions dealing with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS, and the new bill will provide additional provisions for policing.

The legislation is to include:

  • Changes to the privacy limits governing information submitted in passport applications to allow it to be shared with national security agencies.
  • Changes to authorize information-sharing with investigative agencies on the movement of controlled goods such as automatic weapons and tracking devices, and substances that can be used to make chemical weapons.
  • Changes to make it easier for police to detain suspected extremists.
  • A new strategy to help prevent young people from becoming radicalized.

While many MPs will be back in the House on Monday, Harper will be in Alberta for the funeral of RCMP Const. David Wynn, who was shot last week.


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