The Liberals have accused Parliament of becoming toxic to its minority agenda while the Opposition Conservatives say Canada’s institutions are broken under the Trudeau government — finger-pointing that fuels growing speculation voters could soon head to the polls.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers are calling out Conservatives for using procedural delay tactics to stop votes from happening on outstanding pieces of legislation, which time is ticking on to pass before the House of Commons breaks for summer on Wednesday.
One bill that did clear the legislative hurdle Tuesday was the government’s proposed ban on the widely condemned practice of trying to change someone’s LGBTQ identity to heterosexual, which the Liberals reintroduced last fall after proroguing Parliament over the summer.
The conversion therapy ban passed the house in a 263-63 split, with only Conservative MPs along with former party member and independent MP Derek Sloan voting against.
With 62 out of 119 of its representatives coming out against the bill, aimed to protect those who are LGBTQ from experiencing the harmful act, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has reconcile the vote with his message that he’s clear on social issues and is modernizing the party to appeal to more voters whenever the next election happens.
Uncertainty around where former leader Andrew Scheer stood on LGBTQ issues, as well as around abortion, dogged him during the 2019 campaign.
O’Toole voted Tuesday in favour of the conversion therapy ban, while Scheer and deputy leader Candice Bergen did not.
In a statement issued following the vote, the party’s justice critic reiterated that Conservatives support banning conversion therapy. However, he said there are concerns the Liberals’ definition of the practice is too broad and threatens to infringe on the ability of people to speak freely about sex and gender issues.
“Conservatives are committed to ensuring protections are in place to ban conversion therapy in Canada and that the law targets coercive practices, and not conversations,” Rob Moore’s statement read.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau said he welcomed parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s work.
But, he said, he found it troubling to see opposition MPs recently bring the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada to be publicly shamed before the House of Commons using parliamentary rules for a failure to release information.
Conservatives say the agency needs to spill on why two scientists were escorted from Canada’s highest security laboratory in Winnipeg two years ago and eventually fired, flagging potential security concerns involving China.
Trudeau considers the recent admonishment of PHAC president Iain Stewart, who he pointed out has steered the agency through the COVID-19 pandemic, done for “purely partisan political purposes.”
“We have seen a level of obstructionism and toxicity in the house that is of real concern,” Trudeau said outside of the steps of Rideau Cottage, where he’s quarantining under COVID-19 rules after a trip to Europe to attend international meetings.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong pointed to the government and agency’s repeated failure to hand over the unredacted documents, despite being ordered by the Commons to do so, as proof that the system of order under Liberal governance is broken.
“The pandemic has laid bare the state our institutions,” he told the house on Tuesday.
Chong detailed how scandals have led to Canada currently being without a governor general and eight top military officials leaving their posts over fallout from misconduct allegations.
“The government is in contempt of Parliament. The government does not deserve another mandate. The government must go,” said Chong.
Earlier inside the House, one of the government’s own echoed the conundrum the pre-summer moment has created for opposition parties and political pundits alike.
“One of the undoubtable problems with a minority Parliament is you never quite know when that election might come,” said Ontario MP and House regular Mark Gerretsen.
“Whether the rumours are true or not, two years certainly is, by conventional wisdom, on par for the standard length of a minority Parliament.”
October will mark two years since Trudeau was re-elected to power after first forming a majority government in 2015.
The Liberal’s budget implementation bill is among the pieces of legislation still being debated in the House of Commons.
Trudeau said his government’s push to enshrine Canada’s goal to get to net-zero emissions by mid-century — introduced last fall — can happen with the help of the Bloc Québécois and NDP.
In a late-night session of Monday’s sitting of the House, the Liberals proposed changes to Canada’s Broadcasting Act was adopted at third reading to be sent to the Senate.
Conservative MPs been vehemently opposed to Bill C-10 and voted against it, saying it gives the government powers to regulate Canadians’ social media and it’s an attack on free speech.
“If this controversial bill is adopted, a Conservative government will stand up for Canadians and repeal this deeply flawed legislation,” Alain Rayes, the party’s critic for heritage, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Only Canada’s Conservatives will keep on fighting for the freedoms of Canadians.”
—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press