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These issues will dominate federal politics in 2020

Opposition says throne speech failed to bridge divides
A key message in the Liberal government's throne speech was its commitment to work with other parties and to support all Canadians.

Five days after Parliament resumed in December, it became even clearer that Canada’s current minority government situation will require the Liberals to engage in even deeper cross-party collaboration to accomplish their goals.

On Dec. 10, the Liberals experienced their first defeat after opposition parties voted in favour of a Conservative motion to strike a special parliamentary committee to probe Canada’s tense relationship with China.

House votes in favour of special committee on Canada-China relations
House votes in favour of special committee on Canada-China relations

Though the Liberals survived their first confidence vote that same day, they will need to get at least one of the opposition parties on-side to ensure that future votes of confidence go their way in the future.

Here are some of the top issues that will be tackled by Parliament over the next year after it’s scheduled to return on Jan. 27.

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Income tax cuts

The Liberal Party’s hallmark campaign promise of an income tax cut will likely be one of the easiest ones to follow through on, as the Conservatives had also pushed for large-scale tax cuts.

On the first day of Parliament in early December, the Liberals introduced a motion to increase the amount of tax-exempt income to $15,000 by 2023. The Liberals say that an estimated 20 million Canadians will benefit from this, with individuals saving an average of $300 annually.

Throne Speech: ‘First act’ for new parliament is a tax cut for ‘all non-wealthy Canadians’
Throne Speech: ‘First act’ for new parliament is a tax cut for ‘all non-wealthy Canadians’

“Conservatives always support tax cuts,” Pierre Poilievre, the Conservatives’ finance critic, told reporters in response to the Liberal motion. “It’s in our DNA. it’s who we are.”

Climate change and pipelines

The Liberals’ speech from the throne highlighted the government’s “ambitious, but necessary” plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A government report from April warned that Canada’s climate, especially in the north, is warming at twice the global rate.

While the speech did not explicitly refer to pipelines or the oil and gas industry in western provinces, the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline is predicted to induce the most division in Parliament.

During meetings with federal leaders in Ottawa earlier this month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued five demands for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including that the government put a hard deadline on completing the pipeline project as the province’s unemployment rate rose a percentage point to 7.2 per cent in November.

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Debate over pipelines clouds concern for climate change
Debate over pipelines clouds concern for climate change

A recent poll found that just 15 per cent of people who supported the Liberals during the fall election said the pipeline expansion should be a top priority, strikingly lower than the 52 per cent of Conservative Party voters who said it should be top of mind.

The NDP and the Greens vehemently oppose pipelines and have vowed to urge the Liberals to take aggressive stances to tackle climate change. Trudeau has said that his government would use proceeds from the government-owned TransMountain pipeline to invest in initiatives to lower Canada’s overall emissions.

Medical assistance in dying

In September, a Quebec judge struck down the part of the Liberals’ 2016 assisted death legislation that limits eligibility to terminally ill patients whose death is “reasonably foreseeable.” The court stated that this requirement is unconstitutional because it can force patients to live in significant pain.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin suspended the ruling for six months to allow federal lawmakers to respond. In the meantime, she allowed the two plaintiffs to proceed with their request for a medically assisted death.

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Leaders’ Debate: Trudeau says he would “relax” assisted dying law in next 6 months
Leaders’ Debate: Trudeau says he would “relax” assisted dying law in next 6 months

During the campaign, the Liberals vowed to “relax” the assisted death legislation. Trudeau urged Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti in his mandate letter on Dec. 13 to expand the legislation.

During the French leaders’ debate in October, the Greens, NDP and Bloc Québécois said they would support expanding the assisted death criteria. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party would “evaluate” the court’s decision and would be devoted to the protection of “vulnerable people.”

Pharmacare

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh opposed the Liberals’ speech from the throne, in part, for being too vague on its pharmacare promise.

Trudeau’s mandate letter to new federal health minister Patty Hajdu tasked her with implementing national universal pharmacare, including the establishment of the Canada Drug Agency and a national formulary to reduce the cost of expensive drugs for rare diseases.

In June, a national advisory council struck by the Liberals and overseen by former Liberal provincial health minister Eric Hoskins called for a universal, single-payer pharmacare program, the cost of which would be $15 billion a year by the time it’s fully implemented by 2027.

Scheer and the Conservatives had previously opposed such a program.

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Gun control

Earlier in December, on the 30th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in which a gunman killed 14 women, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair renewed the government’s gun reform pledges and said that it will soon draw up a list of semi-automatic weapons it wants to ban.

The Liberals had promised during the election to ban military-style assault rifles and allow municipal governments to implement their own restrictions on handguns. Trudeau has also said the government will buy back roughly 250,000 military-style assault rifles at an estimated cost of $400 million.

In his mandate letter, Blair is tasked with bringing this about and also imposing stronger penalties for gun smuggling. However, the government will not re-impose the scrapped long-gun registry.

The NDP, Green and Conservative parties had their own gun reform proposals that overlap with the Liberal plans, signalling possible consensus on those plans. However, the Conservatives had proposed harsher mandatory minimums and halting bail for repeat “gang” offenders.