OTTAWA — Canada’s federal politicians return to the House of Commons on Monday for what promises to be a politically volatile session.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the opposition parties say they are not seeking an early election. Still, the political rivals are intent on laying the groundwork for a campaign, whenever it comes.
Harper will promise to create jobs, put criminals in prison, guard against terrorism, stop human-smuggling and rebuild the economy. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will blast Harper for spending billions on military planes and overcrowded prisons and will promise to put the focus on health care, education and pensions.
NDP leader Jack Layton will say both Harper and Ignatieff are divisive and only the New Democrats can bridge regional differences facing the country. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe will campaign for federal largesse in his province and accuse Layton of being a hypocrite on gun control.
Beyond that, there are 10 issues to watch in the fall session. All are triggers that will heighten political tension on the Hill.
1. Gun registry: MPs vote Wednesday on whether Tory MP Candice Hoeppner’s bill to kill the gun registry should proceed. It appears the bill is in trouble. Several New Democrats who once opposed the registry have changed their votes. The Liberals will be out in full force, as will the Bloc, to support the registry. Still, it will be a squeaker and no one is predicting the outcome. If it dies, the Tories will make it an election issue. If it survives, the bill will proceed to a final vote within a couple of weeks.
2. Refugee legislation: The government will table a bill early in the session that cracks down on human-smuggling and proposes new measures to handle boatloads of refugees, such as the one that came from Sri Lanka this summer.
3. Census: The story broke in the summer when Parliament wasn’t sitting, but the bad news isn’t over yet for Industry Minister Tony Clement. The opposition will accuse him of misleading Canadians and tarring the reputation of Statistics Canada.
4. G20/G8 security costs: The opposition is convinced there’s a scandal here. They will battle for the release of internal documents that show how the $1 billion was spent.
5. Stimulus boondoggle: Auditor General Sheila Fraser releases a report Oct. 26 that could be a bombshell. She has audited the billions of dollars the government spent on the economic-stimulus program. Was it money well spent? Were Conservative ridings favoured? Opposition parties are praying for a boondoggle.
6. Fighter jets: Prepare for a noisy debate. Opposition parties contend the $16-billion price tag for the F-35 jets is too high and say the government should have opened the purchase to other bidders. Conservatives insist the contract is financially sound and that Canada needs the jets to defend its sovereignty.
7. The economy: The government is coyly promising three economic measures early in the session. Will they be substantive or window dressing? Similarly, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will table an economic update later in the session. Will it just be a simple economic forecast with revised deficit projections, or will it be a mini-budget that contains items the opposition cannot support?
8. Guergis/Jaffer: This one’s not over yet. MPs are angry at former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer for giving misleading testimony at a committee. The House will consider whether he should be punished. Independent MP Helena Guergis, who has been cleared by the RCMP but hasn’t been allowed back in the Tory caucus by Harper, still hasn’t testified.
9. Afghanistan: It’s the critical debate that still hasn’t been held. Are we really going to remove all our troops from the country in 2011? Might we leave some there to help train Afghan soldiers?
10. The supremacy of Parliament: Last spring, there was a kerfuffle over whether aides can be compelled to testify at a Commons committee. Harper’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, and others have failed to appear. The prime minister says only ministers will testify. MPs are not impressed. Count on this to heighten tensions and raise a fundamental question: Who’s supreme? Parliament or the PMO?© Copyright (c) Postmedia News
Please let there be an election…soon!