O’Toole tells Trudeau to bring Parliament back sooner to deal with economy

Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail

October 23, 2021 


Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has written a letter to Justin Trudeau urging the Prime Minister to reconsider his timeline for parliamentary sittings in order to deal with pressing economic concerns.

The letter was sent a day after Mr. Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled a $7.4-billion plan to continue providing COVID-19 supports for the hardest-hit businesses through to May 7, 2022. The announcement also included a decision not to extend the Canada Recovery Benefit, which is the main financial pandemic income support program that goes directly to individuals who cannot work for reasons related to COVID-19.

Mr. O’Toole’s letter lists the pandemic supports, the recent trend of high inflation, global supply chain concerns and the government’s approach to deficit spending as matters that should be urgently debated by MPs in Ottawa.

“Canadians deserve to see their House of Commons return immediately to address these issues,” Mr. O’Toole states in the letter. “Canadians have spoken and returned a minority Parliament. That Parliament must get to work.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have also strongly criticized the government’s timeline for the House, which has not met since MPs recessed for summer in June.

Mr. Trudeau’s office announced last week that Parliament will not return until Nov. 22, eight weeks after the federal election.

When asked publicly about that timeline for the first time Thursday, Mr. Trudeau suggested that the House will sit for more days this year than it did after the 2015 and 2019 elections. However, Mr. Trudeau did not mention the fact that those elections took place in late October, while this year’s election was on Sept. 20.

“We’ve demonstrated this government has gotten to work right away after the election to deliver on vaccine mandates, on supports, on many important things for Canadians and we will continue to do that,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. O’Toole’s letter highlights this week’s inflation numbers from Statistics Canada, which reported a 4.4-per-cent increase in September from a year earlier. It was the sixth consecutive month that inflation has exceeded the Bank of Canada’s target range of 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

That inflation target defines the BoC’s monetary-policy mandate, serving as its central guide for setting interest rates. The bank manages the mandate independently from the government, but the mandate is subject to review and reapproval every five years by the federal finance minister – including this year, with the renewal due to be completed before the end of the year.

The mandate has remained largely the same for more than a quarter century, but discussions this year have looked at possible adjustments. These have focused on whether the bank should have a dual mandate that also targets full employment, and whether it should adopt an average inflation targeting regime that could allow for higher inflation after recessions.

“You must show urgency with respect to the risks caused by inflation and maintain the Bank of Canada’s monetary policy framework at the 1-per-cent to 3-per-cent inflation target,” Mr. O’Toole wrote.

“During the election, you seemed unconcerned about the inflation target and that sends the wrong message. You must resist the temptation to include growth or other social-mandate expansions to the framework for the Bank of Canada.”

The Conservative Leader also urged the government to scale back the level of planned deficit spending that was projected in the April federal budget.

“Excessive spending is adding to inflationary pressures and will produce a larger structural deficit that will be impossible to address as we emerge from the pandemic,” he wrote. “You should present a fall economic update and eliminate this enhanced deficit fund.”

Ms. Freeland has not yet committed to releasing a fall economic update.

In announcing the revised pandemic support programs this week, Ms. Freeland described them as a more narrow, targeted and “less-expensive” approach to the pandemic programs that have been in place to date. Payments to businesses and individuals have made up the majority of the roughly $289-billion in direct program support Ottawa has approved during the pandemic.