The country is facing a “serious hour” as the House of Commons returns amid a challenging global landscape of high inflation, continued war in Ukraine, and the spread of conspiracy theories online that are spurring people to seek out easy answers to complex problems, the government says.
In a press conference just ahead of the return of Parliament on Tuesday, Government House Leader Mark Holland laid out the priorities for the fall session and said the government will look to work together with parties offering “reasonable” proposals.
But he warned against the “seduction” of latching onto conspiracy theories spreading online, and urged MPs to take their job offering up solutions seriously.
“These are historic times. We are all called, each of us in this world right now, to rise to the occasion of enormous tumult. We’ve lived in a world that was a lot more certain in past times,” Holland said.
“I was an opposition critic. I respect what they have to do. They have to punch us. They have to make us accountable. Sometimes I got carried away in that … but this isn’t that kind of time. I think it is a time that is more serious, and I hope we’re all reflecting on that as we start today.”
Holland added: “We can’t play games with truth.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signalled over recent months that the government’s fall priority will be passing measures that help support Canada’s most vulnerable amid soaring costs of living, including a lack of affordable housing and rising rents, and spiking grocery costs and energy prices.
The first pieces of legislation tabled by the government in the fall session are expected to be a proposal doubling the GST tax credit for low-income Canadians, and creating a new dental benefit for children under the age of 12 in families making less than $90,000 per year.
The House of Commons will also be debating legislation introduced last spring to enhance disability benefits.
The latter has been a key requirement for the NDP in order to maintain that party’s support for the Liberals in the governance deal struck between the two parties earlier this year.
Tuesday also marked the first question period for Pierre Poilievre as Conservative leader, though any sparks between him and Trudeau are on hold until Thursday when the prime minister returns from meetings with the United Nations in New York.
Poilievre focused his questions on cost of living and affordability, and in particular criticized the government for the increases to CPP and EI premiums. He and other members of the Conservative Party frequently raised the increases as unaffordable at a time when inflation and fuel costs continue to rise.
The NDP, meanwhile, released a new attack ad against Poilievre just an hour before his first question period as leader. In the 30-second video, the party takes aim at the new Conservative leader by asking viewers off the top “who is the real Pierre Poilievre?”
By the end of the clip, which notes Poilievre’s voting record on measures like opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage, the video makes the argument: “Pierre Poilievre: he’s not in it for you.”
Poilievre did vote against a 2014 NDP motion to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. He also voted against the 2021 federal budget, which included a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The budget bill passed, and the federal minimum wage went into effect on Dec. 29, 2021.
All political parties are indicating the cost-of-living crisis is their top priority, though how each party proposes to tackle that is expected to see fierce debate over the coming days, weeks and months.
With files from The Canadian Press.