Issues Tracker

COVID-19

  • COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Common signs of the infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. As of February 12, 2020, more than 43,000 people had become infected with coronavirus and more than 1,100 people died as a result.
  • On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus an international health emergency.
  • In Canada, there have been seven confirmed cases of coronavirus (as of February 12, 2020). Four of these are in British Columbia and three are in Ontario. The risk of contracting the virus remains low.
  • In late January 2020, the Canadian government suspended all direct flights between China and Canada to contain the spread of the virus.
  • The Canadian government chartered two flights of Canadian evacuees from the Wuhan area to an Ontario military base. Upon arrival at CFB Trenton, the evacuees are quarantined for two weeks. As of February 12, none of the evacuees showed any signs of the virus.
  • About 255 Canadians were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship when the ship docked Tokyo, Japan for quarantine due to the coronavirus. On February 16, the Canadian government announced it would evacuate the Canadians on board and bring them to a centre near Cornwall, ON for quarantine.  Nearly 40 Canadians on board have tested positive for the virus.
  • In early February, the Canadian government committed to providing $2 million to the World Health Organization to help vulnerable countries prepare and respond to coronavirus events.
  • In March, most of Canada went into lockdown as a result of COVID-19. More than 8 million Canadians lost their jobs as a result and applied for government assistance. Many businesses across Canada have closed permanently.
  • As of October 27, 2020, more than 10,000 Canadians had died as a result of COVID-19 and there have been more than 220,000 confirmed cases of the virus.

COASTAL GAS LINK PROTESTS

  • On December 31, 2019, the British Columbia Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink, a $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline in the northern part of the province, an injunction for the removal of any obstructions on any roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use.
  • The next day, The Wet’suwet’en First Nation served the company with an eviction notice, writing that company workers are “trespassing” on their territory.
  • Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en agreed to seven days of meetings with the province to address the issues, but the talks broke down after just two days.
  • On February 6, protestors near Belleville, ON, begin blockades on railway tracks. Via Rail was forced to halt service as a result; rail service was still shut down as of February 18. Blockades and protests begin in other parts of the country, including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
  • On February 13, CN Rail shut down its operations in Eastern Canada. Many in the Maritimes are worried about a propane shortage as a result.
  • On February 15, the government’s Indigenous Services Minister held meetings with the Mohawk First Nation near Belleville. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled a planned trip to Barbados to address the protests.
  • The Coastal GasLink Project has the support of elected band councils across the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

DEFICIT

  • A December Parliamentary Budget Officer report estimated the country’s deficit at $26.1 billion for 2018-2019, and predicted it could reach $31.1 billion next year. Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise of a balanced budget was for October 2019.
  • The same report also found the oil price decline could reduce Canada’s GDP by billions of dollars annually, potentially leading to a worse deficit.
  • However, Justin Trudeau has publicly said he isn’t concerned the deficit could impact Canada’s ability to deal with unexpected events like economic downturns.
  • The federal government released its latest budget on March 19, 2019 and the deficit continues to grow. There was $41.3 billion in new spending in the budget.
  • The Trudeau government has increased spending by 20%, from $270 billion to $323 billion, in the fast three years, and there’s no evidence it created any growth in the Canadian economy.
  • As a result of COVID-19, the deficit has ballooned to an estimated $343 billion, the biggest deficit in Canadian history.

PIPELINES

  • Since purchasing the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in 2019, the federal government has done little to revitalize the project. The federal Court of Appeal issued a decision against the pipeline, ordering the government to do more Indigenous consultation.
  • In February, the National Energy Board released a report finding the project to be in the national interest.
  • Justin Trudeau also failed to deliver promised legislation to assert federal authority over the project, and voted against Senate Bill S-245, which would have provided that authority.
  • As a result of these events, American oil companies are receiving a $100 million dollar a day discount on Canadian oil because Canadian oil cannot reach international markets. This means less revenue to provinces and territories to pay for essential services and Canada’s reputation as a safe and predictable place to invest bas been severely damaged.
  • Despite renewed interest in the Energy East pipeline, the Prime Minister has publicly stated that project won’t go forward because “there is no support for a pipeline through Quebec.”
  • Cabinet officially approved construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion on June 18. Afterwards, the Prime Minister stated that there would be “shovels in the ground this construction season” for the project.
  • On September 15, 2020, it was reported the project was proceeding well and is expected to be completed on time by the end of 2022.

NO-MORE-PIPELINES BILL C-69

  • This bill was tabled by the government in February 2018 to create a new federal impact assessment process and will replace the National Energy Board with the new Canadian Energy Regulator.
  • The bill was passed in the House of Commons by the Liberal majority government.
  • With this new bill, resource projects will need to pass a number of obstacles before approval is given to the projects, including:
  • Taking into account Indigenous knowledge and consulting Indigenous groups on decision-making;
  • Ensuring projects assess how groups of “women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and projects.”
  • Many industry groups have voiced concerns that this bill will slow down an already-rigorous approval processes.
  • The Senate then recommended some 229 amendments to the bill. Sixty-two of these amendments were accepted by the government, most of which pertained to limiting politicians from making final calls on energy projects, and maintaining timelines.
  • Conservative senators recommended amendments attempting to deal with investor confidence concerns, but only seven percent of their amendments were accepted by the government.
  • The bill was passed into law following its third reading in mid-June 2019.

CARBON TAX

  • A federal carbon tax was introduced by the Liberal majority government. The tax is currently set at $20 a tonne and is scheduled to rise to $50 a tonne by 2022.
  • The carbon tax raises the cost of living for Canadians through higher gas prices, home heating costs and grocery bills. The federal government issues a carbon tax refund once a year to Canadians who file taxes.
  • Alberta previously had a carbon tax under former NDP Premier Rachel Notley. Premier Jason Kenney passed legislation to repeal the carbon tax after being elected in April 2019.
  • The Liberal government imposed its federal carbon tax on Albertans beginning January 1, 2020.

FIREARMS LEGISLATION

  • The Liberals passed Bill C-71 in May 2019, which changes Canada’s firearms regulations.
  • Changes to firearms laws under Bill C-71 require the RCMP to conduct a background check on a person’s entire life before issuing a firearms licence and requires gun retailers to keep sales records for 20 years.
  • The legislation aims to correct firearms crimes, but doesn’t address the root causes. Bill C-71 targets law-abiding firearms owners; the word “gang” does not even appear in the bill.
  • The government is also expected to table more gun-related legislation in 2020, including a ban on “assault-style” weapons and more restrictions on where firearms can be stored.
  • In May 2020, the federal government enacted an Order in Council banning numerous firearms.
  • The government has stated it will start a buy-back program for owners of the now-banned firearms. As of September 2020, details of the buy-back program had not been announced and the government was reported to still be looking for a company to run the program.

CHINA

  • In December, Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese communications company Huawei, after a request from the United States. She was later released from Canadian custody and is on house arrest at her Vancouver home.
  • In retaliation, the Chinese government detained some Canadian citizens and sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg, who has been in Chinese prison since 2015, to death on drug charges.
  • On January 22, John McCallum, the former Canadian ambassador to China, held a press conference with Chinese media to say Meng Wanzhou had a good case to avoid extradition to the United States. After repeating similar comments to another reporter later that week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired McCallum.
  • After a month of indecision, Trudeau has acknowledged the detentions of Canadians in China are “completely politically motivated” but still has not called the Chinese president to address this escalating diplomatic dispute.
  • On Monday, January 28, the United States Department of Justice announced they are seeking the extradition of Meng Wanzhou and charged her with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. The Department of Justice is also charging Huawei with fraud, IP theft and sanctions violations.
  • On March 3, Meng’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the federal government, alleging “serious violations” of her constitutional rights. The case will return to court on May 8.
  • On March 4, the Chinese government accused the detained Canadians or conspiring to steal state secrets. The Prime Minister responded by saying it is “unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions.”
  • In May 2020, a BC chief justice ruled that the proceedings against Meng should continue as the case meets the bar for “double criminality” and her alleged offence would be considered a crime in Canada.
  • Meng remains on house arrest in Vancouver.

CANADA INFRASTRUCTURE BANK

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established the Canada Infrastructure Bank after coming to office in 2015.
  • The bank cost taxpayers $35 billion to establish and its role is defined as attracting “private sector and institutional investment to new revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.”
  • The bank has announced just one project in the last three years, an electric rail system for Montreal. However, that same project was already promised by Trudeau a year earlier.
  • Despite only announcing one project, the Canada Infrastructure Bank has requested more than $11 million in additional funds to cover salaries, legal services, travel and expenses for its board of directors.
  • In late July, the bank’s head of investments, Nicholas Hann, stepped down due to concerns with “the direction” the bank’s leadership was taking it.
  • I’ve written more about the lacklustre performance of the Infrastructure Bank in the Financial Post.

MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IN DYING

  • The federal government passed legislation in June 2016 that allows Canadian adults to request medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Physicians are able to administer MAiD if a person meets of this criteria:
    • Be eligible for health services funding by the federal government, province or territory;
    • Be at last 18 years old and mentally competent;
    • Have a grievous or irremediable medical condition;
    • Make a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that is not the result of outside pressure or influence;
    • Give informed consent to received medical assistance in dying.
  • In September 2019, a Quebec Superior Court judge found it unconstitutional that only people near death can qualify for MAiD and gave the government until early 2020 to amend the law.
  • The government is being urged to remove the requirement that a person’s natural death is imminent as well as the requirement to consent to receive MAiD immediately before receiving the procedure.
  • The government opened up a public consultation website for submissions from Canadians; this website closed at the end of January 2020.
  • The proposed amendments have yet to be introduced by the government.

NATIONAL PHARMACARE

  • An advisory council formed by the Liberal government recommended the establishment of a universal pharmacare program in a June 2019 report.
  • The report called for the government to fully implement the new system by 2027, at an estimated cost of $15 billion annually.
  • The Liberals promised to expand pharmacare during the recent election campaign. In December, the Prime Minister sent mandate letters to his cabinet ministers and instructed Health Minister Patty Hajdu to begin to implement “national universal pharmacare.”
  • Both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois support expanding pharmacare. In our minority Parliament, the governing Liberals will need the support of at least one other party in order to pass its legislation.
  • The Conservative Party does not support the implementation of a national pharmacare program, which will have huge cost implications for taxpayers. Research shows 98% of Canadians already have or are eligible for private or public drug coverage.

WE CHARITY SCANDAL

  • On April 22, the Prime Minister announced a $9 billion package of student aid, including a program to pay student volunteers up to $5,000 toward education costs based on the number of hours they volunteer.
  • Two months later, on June 25, it was announced that WE Charity will administer the program for the federal government. Almost immediately, there is backlash because of the Trudeaus’ ties to the program. A day later, Trudeau said the public service made the recommendation and the government accepted it.
  • On July 3, the government announced it was parting ways with WE. After a request by the Conservative Party, the federal Ethics Commissioner begins an investigation into the awarding of the contract due to the Prime Minister’s close ties to the group.
  • Days later, WE says it has paid Margaret Trudeau about $250,000 for 28 speaking appearances at WE events between 2016 and 2020. The Prime Minister’s brother and wife have also received payment for their participation at events.
  • Documents have shown Small Business Minister Mary Ng had an introductory phone call with WE executives in early April and their proposal was sent to the government following that call.
  • It is also revealed Finance Minister Bill Morneau has direct ties with the organization, as two of his daughters have been involved with WE and he has also accepted travel paid for by WE. The Ethics Commissioner announced it will launch a separate investigation into Morneau’s actions.
  • On July 22, Morneau, appearing before the Finance Committee, says he wrote a cheque to WE for $41,000 related to travel expenses the organization paid for him and his family. Less than a month later, Morneau resigned his position as Finance Minister.
  • On July 28, Craig and Marc Kielburger, the founders of WE Charity, testify before the House of Commons Finance Committee and say their experience landed them the contract, not their ties to Liberal cabinet ministers.
  • Two days later, Trudeau testifies in front of the House of Commons Finance Committee, a rarity for a sitting Prime Minister. He says WE Charity didn’t receive preferential treatment and it is now unlikely the grants will be rolled out.
  • On August 18, Parliament is prorogued until September 23, shutting down the work of several House of Commons committees investigating the WE controversy.
  • On September 9, WE Charity announced it is selling off assets, laying off staff and shuttering operations in Canada. They say the ongoing scandal and a loss of sponsors has put it in a tough financial situation. It will keep its international humanitarian programs running.

PROROGATION OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

  • On August 18, 2020, the Prime Minister announces the prorogation of the House of Commons.
  • Though the Prime Minister says this move is to allow for the government to deliver a new Speech from the Throne outlining its renewed priorities in the wake of COVID-19, many are skeptical this move is to distract from the ongoing WE charity scandal.
  • The prorogation shuts down all committees that were digging into the WE scandal and cancels a planned sitting day in August.
  • The Speech from the Throne will be delivered on September 23 and will be followed by a confidence vote from Members of Parliament.

RESIGNATION OF THE FINANCE MINISTER

  • Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced his resignation on August 17, 2020, following weeks of scrutiny from the WE charity scandal.
  • He also resigned his seat, saying he will seek a new position with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • Morneau served as Finance Minister since the Liberals formed government in 2015. He was replaced with Chrystia Freeland, who also serves as the Deputy Prime Minister.

BORDER CLOSURES

  • In March, the federal government closed international borders for all non-essential travel to protect Canada from the COVID-19 threat. The federal government has continued to extend the order on a monthly basis, with no clear timeline on when the border will fully reopen.
  • Currently, the only people being admitted to Canada at our borders are:
    • Citizens and permanent residents of Canada;
    • A person registered under Canada’s Indian Act;
    • A protected person;
    • An immediate family member of a citizen or permanent resident;
    • Those travelling for an essential purpose.
  • After work by Conservative Members of Parliament, the federal government expanded the definition of immediate family to include long-term partners and adult children on October 2, 2020.