Petulance on Parliament Hill
‘Heckling aplenty,’ but no showdown
Parliament is back in session, and tensions are high on the Hill.
MPs returned to the House Tuesday with one key player missing — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was out of the country, first for the Queen’s funeral and then to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. But Pierre Poilievre was on the floor with plenty to say about the Liberals’ policies.
From the get-go, the newly minted Conservative leader set an adversarial tone, sparring with Liberal MPs over everything from carbon pricing to inflation to housing. His leadership team, a group rewarded for their loyalty to the Carleton MP, followed suit.
Liberal MPs have so far walked the fine line between cordial and confrontational in their response. When he returned to the Hill, Trudeau seemed to tread a similar path, encouraging the Conservative leader and his party to support the Liberals’ latest affordability measures but still working in a jab about Poilievre’s ill-advised take on cryptocurrency.
Ultimately, the first exchange between the two leaders wasn’t quite the dust-up some were anticipating.
“I think people expected a more dramatic showdown between Trudeau and Poilievre in question period on Thursday,” Natasha tells me. “As usual, there was heckling aplenty, but to me, a novice political reporter, it all seemed fairly tame.”
That doesn’t mean Poilievre’s ascent to head of the Conservative Party of Canada hasn’t ruffled a few feathers. Even before he won the leadership race, opposition MPs were taking shots at his confrontational brand of politics.
Poilievre presents a puzzle not just for the Liberals but all other parties represented in Parliament: he is bold, brash and decidedly not the same as his predecessors, Erin O’Toole or Andrew Scheer. Clearly, that approach has resonated with Conservatives — he won the leadership race by a landslide — but it’s also reaching voters in other parties: although a Léger poll from earlier this week found Trudeau is still the top pick for prime minister, Poilievre is not far behind.
All of this has set the stage for what some Hill watchers expect to be a particularly divisive parliamentary session. For now, though, the Liberals seem content to remain mostly cordial. They “knew that this was going to be a big moment for Poilievre,” Donald Desserud, professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island, told Natasha this week.
“One way of deflecting from that is not bringing out all your big guns and giving him the stage that he wants.”
What that stage will look like when it comes to tackling climate change remains to be seen. The Conservative Party’s recent track record on the file is abysmal: last year, members voted against making the very basic acknowledgment that climate change is real. In the leadership race, only one of the five candidates put forward a climate plan, and it wasn’t Poilievre. So far, the new leader has stayed mum on his approach to pretty much all things climate, promising only to have a plan for the file sometime before the next election, but his vow to cancel carbon pricing speaks volumes about where the party might be headed.
“Although the Conservatives have never had a credible climate plan, UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison told me Poilievre's stance on climate seems to be a retreat from the progress made under previous leaders,” Natasha says.
“He has boasted about relying on technology, not taxes, which suggests — though we don't actually know — that subsidies for things like carbon capture could be on the table. He has already pledged to repeal environmental legislation including Bill C-69 and increase oil and gas production.”
For now, at least, the top-of-mind issue is affordability, a file Poilievre has focused on heavily in his attacks. Still, one in five Canadians put climate change high on their list last election. The Liberals are trying to weave these concerns together by tackling both at once, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told Natasha earlier this month.
That effort includes speaking to mainstream media about both the government’s new affordability measures and its climate plans, something Poilievre has avoided. Poilievre’s first press conference as leader, for example, was more of a public speech: reporters were told ahead of time the leader would be making remarks but not taking questions. This drew the ire of Global News’ David Akin, who later apologized for shouting over Poilievre as he attempted to make a statement. But as CNO executive editor Karyn Pugliese points out, a press conference without questions isn’t actually a press conference.
As the parliamentary session continues, Natasha will be watching to see whether the new Conservative leader engages more with reporters — dodging questions from news outlets “poses a big problem for Canadians, all of whom deserve accountability from politicians,” she says.
Read more on the new Conservative leader
- Justin Trudeau attacks Pierre Poilievre's 'irresponsible' politics
- Feds can tackle affordability and climate change at the same time, says Steven Guilbeault
- Who the hell calls a press conference, then tells reporters they can’t ask questions?
- Text message campaign targets Quebec MP who deserted Conservatives
- Pierre Poilievre's war on the media has only just begun
- Rachel Notley could teach Trudeau a thing or two about his new adversary
Reads of the week
Friday's global climate strike urged governments and corporations to ‘put people first.’ People from all walks of life converged on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and Queen’s Park in Toronto to urge governments, corporations and institutions to get serious about climate change as part of a global day of action, Matteo Cimellaro and Nairah Ahmed report.
Jamaica will investigate migrant working conditions and claims of mistreatment on Canadian farms. The news came after the country’s labour minister dismissed a letter from Jamaican workers who came to Canada under the seasonal agricultural workers program, Natasha Bulowski reports.
Bison on this Prairie farm bring back birds, biodiversity and fewer floods. Marc Fawcett-Atkinson talks to a Manitoba rancher who bought a herd of bison — and saw his farm turn into a haven for biodiversity.
Finally, there’s a vision for a vast network of marine protected areas on the West Coast. The plan took more than a decade to create, Rochelle Baker reports, and seeks to conserve key habitats, species and areas of cultural value to First Nations.
‘Where did the monarchy get that kind of wealth?’ Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont doesn’t doubt the character of Queen Elizabeth II but wants to see the Royal Family apologize for colonial injustices with both words and action, Matteo Cimellaro reports.
Climate change will cost Ontario billions for transportation infrastructure by 2030, the province’s financial watchdog says. That means an extra $13 billion this decade alone to keep roads, rail lines, bridges and other transportation infrastructure functioning as extreme heat, rainfall and freeze-thaw cycles change, Jessica McDiarmid reports.