Given the unease that many parents feel ahead of back to school, it was hardly bad politics for the prime minister to announce that his government was going to make a sizeable contribution toward the cause of school safety.
So, not surprisingly, there was little angry reaction to Ottawa’s announcement this past week that the provinces would be receiving $2 billion to help facilitate a safe return to school. Even though the premiers hadn’t asked for this funding, most sounded appreciative of the gesture.
However, there are a number of legitimate questions about this announcement specifically and the broader issue of Justin Trudeau’s tendency to bypass Parliament when it comes to such matters.
As for the school funding announcement, it comes just mere days before in-class learning it set to resume across the country. If the government was sincere about addressing the issue of school safety, why didn’t it reach out to the provinces weeks or even months ago to talk about what sort of assistance might be needed and how best to provide it? The prime minister is surely aware of the back-to-school planning that has been ongoing for weeks now across the country.
Furthermore, only half of this money is supposed to be allocated in the short term (when the first instalment is due to arrive is unclear). Apparently the government is going to review how it was spent before sending out the second half sometime later this year or early next year.
But why now? The timing might have more to do with the upcoming confidence vote and the possibility of a fall election. It certainly had the feel of a campaign-style announcement. It also comes at a time when the House of Commons isn’t even sitting, thanks to the prime minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament.
In fact, this isn’t even the first — or the biggest — spending announcement we’ve had since prorogation was announced.
Just two days after Parliament was shut down, Trudeau announced a $37-billion COVID-19 aid package, which included an extension of CERB, expansion of EI and additional sick leave benefits.
Strangely, Trudeau asserted that it would be “irresponsible” to bypass Parliament on this plan, but couldn’t provide an explanation for why he announced it two days after announcing prorogation.
There’s no reason why these plans couldn’t be presented to the House for debate and votes. Government-by-press conference is a slap in the face of Parliamentary democracy, especially considering that we have a minority government to begin with.
So rather than allow MPs to have some direct input on the school funding announcement or the plans for CERB and EI, the government is simply going to dare the opposition to vote against the throne speech and try and sell any votes of non-confidence as opposition to those announcements. It’s rather cynical politics at a time when some genuine cooperation and collaboration would be helpful.
Just as Canadians would probably agree that additional supports for a safe return to school might be necessary, Canadians most likely recognize that many across the country are in a precarious situation still and that there remains a need for programs like CERB. Addressing these issues doesn’t have to mean bypassing Parliament. Only the most hardened Liberal partisans would see the other parties as obstacles to helping Canadians.
But we now have an obstacle to getting this assistance to Canadians: the uncertainly of the throne speech and the subsequent confidence vote. If the government falls, what does that mean for these changes to CERB and EI? What does it mean for the financial support for schools?
The government has tried to reassure everyone that this support will be forthcoming, but it would be a lot more believable if these matters were being debated and voted on prior to a throne speech and confidence vote. If the government falls, all bets are off – Liberal assurances aside.
The frustrating thing is that it didn’t have to be this way. That’s on the Liberals.