This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter about federal politics. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Parliament was strangely relevant this summer. But the past few months have been just a prelude to what could be one of the most profound periods in Canadian politics in recent history.
The weeks between the suspension of the House of Commons in June and the re-session in September are mostly quiet around Parliament Hill, with only tourists and a single committee hearing breaking the silence.
But from mid-July to early September of this year, seven different House committees held a total of 21 meetings and hearings to examine six cases of genuine public interest, including allegations of political interference in the investigation into the mass shooting in 2020 in Nova Scotia, the federal government’s decision to return a Russian turbine to Germany, the service outage that hit Rogers customers in July, and delays at Canadian airports.
The Heritage Committee addressed concerns about Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual misconduct; those hearings were probably among the most watched parliamentary proceedings in recent years. In August, the Justice Commission met to hear from Michelle O’Bonsawin, the first Indigenous judge in Supreme Court history.
The extent of that parliamentary scrutiny over the summer somewhat undermines initial fears that the trust-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the new Democrats would mean far less government responsibility. Hockey Canada’s hearings also showed what can happen when MPs apply Parliament’s powers to a shared concern.
Even more special is that the parliamentary summer has now come to a close with a special two-day session to mark the death of the Canadian head of state. The last time Parliament had to respond to such an event, Louis St. Laurent was Prime Minister and George Drew was Leader of the Opposition. And Queen Elizabeth’s passing inspired not only gracious tributes to the woman herself, but also reflections on the parliamentary system based on her office.
WATCH: Trudeau, MPs pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth
“Democracy institutions are challenged around the world, but Canadians can rightly be proud to live in one of the strongest democracies in the world.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Representatives on Thursday.
“It is this strength and stability, represented by the Crown and embodied by the Queen, that Canadians have always benefited from, and we, as parliamentarians and Canadians, devote ourselves every day to those democratic principles.”
Pierre Poilievre, the new leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition, said Elizabeth’s “humility reminded us that government is not about us. It is about those we serve. We are indeed servants and not masters.”
There was a feeling in those speeches of two leaders looking at each other across the aisle before the main event started.
A Coming Clash of Partisanship and Personality
The liberal and conservative parties may now differ more ideologically than ever before. And they are led by two of the most interesting characters in recent Canadian political history – with all due respect to Stephane Dion, Andrew Scheer and the other leaders who have come and gone over the past two decades.
Poilievre and Trudeau are individuals with fundamentally different visions and they will sit opposite each other, in the two main seats in the House, at a uniquely challenging moment for this country and the world.
Recovering from the global pandemic is harder than anyone ever imagined. The cost of housing and food are the top concerns of many Canadians. The tenor of our political debates – powered by social media’s rage machines – is growing more alarming. The threat of climate change continues to weigh on us. The future of liberal democracy feels far from guaranteed.
Every era has its share of seismic problems – but this moment is comparable to many other pressure points in our history.
In parliament, the agenda will be largely determined by that historic agreement between the liberals and the NDP. Unpredictable events will intervene. The official investigation into the first-ever use of the Emergencies Act — to lift last winter’s “freedom convoy” protests — will begin sometime in the fall. At some point, the newly independent Senate could make its presence felt.
Not everything will be beautiful or dignified. Individuals, problems, interests and disagreements will lead to conflicts. Whether that conflict can remain within healthy limits is another pressing question.
The noise level in politics can often be a reason to tune everything, or even despair. But what happens in the coming months should still matter to the average person — because it will have consequences.
Part of the genius of a constitutional monarchy is that it allows its citizens to go through life without worrying much about the head of state. As Conservative MP John Nater noted on Thursday, the Crown has been described as the “worthy” part of our government.
Sometimes it’s nice if politics doesn’t demand our constant attention.
But this is not one of those times.