With the House of Commons set to resume its business on Monday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted on maintaining his government’s focus, even as his own remarks reflected the attention that the #MeToo movement is demanding in the wake of a week that saw one of Trudeau’s own cabinet ministers compelled to resign.
Speaking to Liberal MPs on Sunday, with TV cameras watching at the back of the room, Trudeau said the government’s “focus heading into this spring is going to be where it has always been … on continuing to deliver the real change that Canadians told us they need.”
He enthused about the national economy and the government’s efforts on trade, but with the third section of his remarks Trudeau turned to #MeToo and the “systemic problem” of sexual harassment — something that has consumed the political world’s focus over the last week.
“When women speak, we have the responsibility to listen to them and to believe them,” he said.
In the hallway outside the Liberal caucus room, reporters asked Trudeau’s ministers about nearly nothing else but Kent Hehr and the allegations of inappropriate conduct he faces.
This could be a model for the next few months. While the Liberals carry on trying to build an economic record to campaign on in 2019, there will be any number of other things to talk about.
The Aga Khan and a deadline for marijuana
The Conservative Opposition’s first question on Monday afternoon will likely have to do with the ethics commissioner’s finding that Trudeau violated federal ethics rules when he took that fateful trip to the Aga Khan’s private island in 2016.
The commissioner’s report landed after Parliament had adjourned for Christmas and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will no doubt be only too happy to remind the prime minister of it.
On Sunday, Trudeau touted his government’s agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Scheer has also already indicated an eagerness to speak up for the Canadian dairy, egg and poultry producers who are unhappy with the deal.
Legislatively, the government is facing a July deadline to legalize marijuana, and senators have suggested they might take their time to review the bill. Coincidentally, the Liberals have suggested they might take a more proactive approach to getting legislation through the upper chamber.
The government is also keen to pass S-2, which would implement new regulations around vaping and new plain-packaging rules for tobacco products, and C-50, which establishes new rules for political fundraising.
To all that might be added at least two other government bills and one committee study that are deserving of specific note.
What will MPs say about Islamophobia?
Last spring, MPs passed a motion calling for a study of Islamophobia and the committee assigned to that task is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to consider a draft of its final report.
The original motion’s central concern — anti-Muslim bigotry — was nearly subsumed by complaints that passing it would ultimately result in some new limit on the right to free speech. The heritage committee’s recommendations will thus be closely watched.
The Trudeau government has also not yet taken a position on a proposal, made by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, to create a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia to mark the anniversary of the 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque. A committee recommendation could conceivably influence such a decision, or at least force one.
The Liberal take on national security
Three years ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government passed anti-terrorism legislation amid loud concern about the measures and implications. In opposition, the Liberals voted for that bill, but with a promise to amend it if they won government. Last June, the Trudeau government followed through with C-59, its own attempt to overhaul Canada’s national security regime.
That bill was sent to a House committee last fall for study and possible amendment, but it is considered a government priority this spring. Critics have raised some concerns, but so far the bill has not quite attracted widespread attention.
What’s next for #MeToo?
At noon on Monday, MPs will begin debating C-65, the government’s bill to create new rules for dealing with sexual harassment in federally regulated workplaces, including Parliament Hill. Labour Minister Patty Hajdu is expected to speak first.
But the legislation itself will only be part of the discussion around the #MeToo movement and Canadian politics. In the wake of three high-profile resignations — Hehr, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown and Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Baillie — will more women step forward with revelations of misconduct? Will other parties, like the Ontario PCs, be asked to account for how they have handled allegations in the past?
Even if C-65 passes Parliament with broad support, there will also be a broader debate about what needs to change in Canadian politics to ensure that Parliament Hill is a safer environment for women.