Train tracks near a city

Chris Gray is a Senior Consultant based in Ottawa who worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for the Liberals. Chris can be contacted at chris@grassrootspa.ca.

Rail blockades keeping MPs hopping

Parliament resumed sitting this week and had a very busy agenda, with meetings on to address the rail blockades, committee agendas and Chairs established, the new CUSMA trade deal debated and the Finance Committee wrapping up its pre-budget consultations. The House of Commons will now sit for two more weeks before taking another week back in the ridings for March break (week of March 16th). The Prime Minister, who spent 10 days recently with meetings in Africa, has established a team of cabinet members dedicated to finding solutions to the rail blockades. Canadian businesses are calling on the PM to take decisive action to limit the effects of these blockades. As expected, the opposition parties are pressing the government for answers and action.

Other news around Ottawa

With memberships now sorted out for the committees, most of them met this week to elect a Chair and plan committee business. The Finance Committee heard from Minister Bill Morneau (along with departmental officials) on Wednesday as he laid out the government’s fiscal priorities leading up to Budget 2020.  The Trade Committee met a number of times this week to discuss Bill C-4, the new NAFTA implementation legislation with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland appearing Tuesday. The Health Committee, which has been studying Canada’s response to the coronavirus, met Wednesday afternoon to plan future work.

The Bloc Quebecois flexed its new muscle this week and press the House of Commons to support them as they look for the government to increase employment insurance coverage for people dealing with a serious illness (such as cancer) by extending from the current 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Ideally for the Bloc, this measure would be included in the government’s 2020 Budget expected in the coming weeks.

The NDP are committed to keeping pharmacare on the front-burner in the House of Commons. We are still expecting the party to introduce a private member’s bill soon that would call on the governing Liberals to keep their campaign pledge and extend the existing health care system to include prescription drugs. The private member’s bill, “An Act to implement the Canada Pharmacare Act”, could be introduced as early as this week.

With a few days to go until the private members’ circuit is officially up and running, New Democrat House Leader Peter Julian is set to set to launch a new backbench bid to put national pharmacare — and specifically, the New Democrat call for the federal Liberals to keep their campaign pledge and extend the existing health care system to include prescription drugs — on the House agenda. As per the notice paper, Julian served notice of his intention to introduce a bill to implement the Canada Pharmacare Act, although that’s just the first stage in priming the proposal to make its debut on the House floor.

We expect the next two weeks to be very busy leading up to the March Break. Committees will be busy tacking initial studies and the House agenda will be full and MPs will be pulled in all directions as stakeholders look to establish relationships with new MPs and influence the federal budget, expected in late March or early April.

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