If there’s anything to be said about the Liberal minority government so far, it’s this: Justin Trudeau government doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do much of anything.
That might sound harsh, given that Parliament just resumed for the first time since before the Christmas break. It pushed to get the new North American trade deal implemented as quickly as possible. But the government has been rather unwilling to set out a timetable for accomplishing any of the things it vowed to do during the fall election campaign.
New measures to restrict assault-style rifles and ban handguns? It’s complicated, says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. So, apparently, is the question of whether to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to take part in Canada’s 5G mobile network.
Pharmacare? Cutting taxes? Lowering cell phone bills? New measures to reduce emissions? All in the works. Stay tuned.
Even the budget appears set to land in late March, just before the end of the fiscal year.
Trudeau Government: The Pressure of Events
Now, some of the factors may be due to events beyond the government’s control. Its focus over the past three weeks has been on holding Iran accountable for the deaths of so many Canadian passengers.
The Quebec Superior Court’s decision last fall to strike down part of the law limiting medically-assisted dying required an expedited round of public consultations. Those consultations have to respond to the court’s March 11 deadline. Besides, it also includes concerns about whether the government should extend the law to mature youth. They also have to consider whether Canadians should have the right to make advance requests for medical assistance in dying before they’re caught in the grips of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Relations with China are also fraught. Since the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the Americans, the diplomatic relationship with Beijing has deteriorated. It followed the detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig by the Chinese in an apparent act of retaliation.
And the new coronavirus is consuming official attention as federal and provincial authorities work to prepare for possible new cases in Canada — while easing fears that this could be the new SARS outbreak.
Government is all about setting priorities and delivering on commitments made. But Trudeau now leads a minority government that could last the full four years — or four months.
Look at the throne speech, says Rodriguez
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said the agenda hasn’t changed: NAFTA first, then gun control and medically assisted dying.
“Other things will come,” he told CBC News after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. “We have a full set of agenda that’s coming. Look at the throne speech, it will give you a very good idea.”
The speech, delivered Dec. 5, does provide clues. It talks about strengthening the middle class, continuing “to walk the road of reconciliation” with Indigenous people.
What it doesn’t do is establish any kind of time frame.
The opposition parties, of course, are eager to fill any void.
Between now and June, the Conservatives are going to be distracted by their second leadership race in three years. They kicked off this week in the Commons by dusting off an old favourite: their running battle with the Liberals over the best way to fight crime and the illegal use of firearms.
“It’s much harder to track down illegal guns. It’s much harder to stop the flow of smuggled guns and it’s much more difficult to infiltrate gangs and hold them accountable,” outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said during question period on Monday. “But that is the work the Conservatives are prepared to do.”
Trudeau Government: No Timetable on Guns
The Liberals are pledging to create an expanded list of prohibited firearms. Trudeau says his government also invested more than $327 million to combat gun and gang violence. He also added that continues to consult mayors on proposals to allow cities to ban handguns if they choose to do so.
But he and Blair seem reluctant to offer a timetable.
“I tell you, there’s a complexity in the work we are doing,” Blair told reporters covering the cabinet retreat a week ago when asked about gun control.
He used almost the same line yesterday when asked about whether Canada might follow the U.K.’s lead in granting Huawei limited access to this country’s 5G network.
“The security issues are clear, but there are additional concerns,” he said. “There are discussions taking place with our allies and with industry. We will make the decision that is right for Canada and right for Canadians. We will take the time necessary to do that.”
Equally mysterious is the government’s plan for pharmacare. In the Commons this week, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called on Trudeau to introduce a bill now.
“There are millions of Canadians who can’t afford the medication they desperately need and the Liberals are telling them to just wait,” Singh said Monday. “Well, we’re not going to wait. We’ve announced that our first bill in this House will implement pharmacare for all based on the Canada Health Act principles.”
In his response, Trudeau opted to look backward rather than forward. He listed what his government did in its first mandate to reduce drug prices. He also reminded the NDP that the government commissioned former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins to recommend the best approach to pharmacare.