What We’re Watching: Feds under pressure; resistance to ‘siege’

As the capital heads into its third straight week under what’s been called both a “siege” and an “occupation” — courtesy of the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” and its rolling protest against mandatory vaccination — the federal Liberals are under increasing pressure to intervene, not just to end the takeover of downtown Ottawa, but blockades at Canada-U.S. border checkpoints across the country.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he’d “convened a meeting of the Incident Response Group.” According to the official readout, “he was joined by ministers and senior officials working to help provinces and municipalities get the situation under control, and end the ongoing illegal blockades and occupations taking place across the country.”

He also said an “enhanced Integrated Command Centre in response to the escalation of the current occupation in Ottawa” would be organized by the Ottawa Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the RCMP.

While his office failed say what action his government intends to take, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told CTV News on the weekend it’s “prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act.”

“We have an Emergency Act, (and) there has been a near-constant and vigorous examination of those authorities and what’s required,” Blair, who was once Toronto’s police chief, told CTV’s Question Period.

“When circumstances exceed the capacity of the provinces to manage it under their authorities, we’re quite prepared to use additional authorities that are available to the federal government, (including) emergency powers, and to make sure we bring every resource of the federal government to bear.”

Describing it as “a critical situation for the country,” Blair also told CTV his office is “in constant contact with Ontario.”

The embattled federal Liberals are also facing a non-binding, but politically high-stakes vote in the House of Commons on Monday, courtesy of a Conservative motion that would urge the government “to table a plan for the lifting of all federal mandates and restrictions … by Feb. 28, 2022.”

The motion is expected to garner the support of the Bloc Québécois, and possibly the New Democrats, which would be enough to pass it, even if Liberal MPs vote against it. There’s also a chance that some backbench Liberals will break with their party to side with the opposition parties in pushing the prime minister to say exactly when he’ll ease the current restrictions on everything from travel to the compulsory vaccination of federal public servants.

That vote is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Russia-Ukraine tensions also mounting

As if that weren’t enough to keep the prime minister and his staff in round-the-clock briefings and strategy sessions, they’re undoubtedly keeping a close eye on the increasingly dire reports of Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border, particularly from the United States, which is now warning that Russia is poised for full-scale invasion.

That was enough to prompt Canada to pull its remaining diplomatic team out of Canada’s embassy in Kyiv, according to a statement issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly on Saturday.

“Given the continued deterioration of the security situation caused by the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, we will be moving our operations to a temporary office in Lviv, and temporarily suspending operations at our embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine,” she noted, while reaffirming that “Canada’s diplomatic presence and strong engagement in Ukraine will continue.”

On Sunday, National Defence announced that the Canadian military will also be “temporarily relocating components of Joint Task Force (in Ukraine) to elsewhere in Europe,” while also pointing out that the “temporary repositioning … does not signal the end of the mission.”

Seniors’ benefits and funding for rapid tests on House pre-break to-do list

With the House powering down for a weeklong hiatus on Friday, the procedural stage has been set for a cross-aisle standoff over the minority Liberal government’s bid to put two of its most time-sensitive bills on the legislative fast track: Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’ request that the House sign off on up to $2.5 billion on COVID-19 tests for urgent dispatch to provinces and territories in need (C-10), and Seniors Minister Kamal Khera’s proposal to ensure that seniors who received COVID-related benefits don’t forfeit any of their Guaranteed Income Supplement as a result (C-12).

Under the terms of the motions put forward by the Liberals last week, each bill would be dealt with in a single House sitting, with just four and a half hours allowed for debate, after which MPs would vote on whether to adopt it at all stages.

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives — who’ve made it clear they support both bills — have pushed back by proposing an amendment to the motion that includes the government’s preferred schedule, which was presented to the House on Friday.

If adopted, the revised motion would send Khera’s bill to the House Human Resources committee, where members would get the chance to question the minister directly before moving to an abbreviated clause-by-clause review, then report the bill back to the House the following day.

It’s not yet clear if the Liberals are prepared to agree to the Conservatives’ counteroffer on the seniors’ bill, but they’ve already filed the necessary paperwork to force a vote on the other motion (money for rapid tests) as early as Monday afternoon.

That suggests they’re fairly confident they can count on the support of at least one opposition party, which, in the current minority configuration, is all they need to win the count.

Even so, it’s safe to assume that the back-and-forth over those two bills will keep the House busy until Wednesday at the earliest, while Government House leader Mark Holland has tentatively designated Thursday as the next opposition-controlled supply day, which would most likely go to the Bloc.

Mandate letters, House ethics rules, and pre-budget consultations at committee this week

Four more Team Trudeau front-benchers are going before their respective home committees this week to discuss the mandate letters they received from the prime minister after last fall’s post-election cabinet reconfiguration.

First up is Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, whose responsibilities also include “infrastructure and communities.” He’s scheduled to appear for one hour before TRANSPORT, INFRASTRUCTURE AND COMMUNITIES alongside senior officials from the Office of Infrastructure of Canada. (Monday AM)

That same day, HUMAN RESOURCES, SKILLS AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, AND THE STATUS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES has scheduled back-to-back briefings with Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen, who’ll be joined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation CEO Romy Bowers and other departmental officials. (Monday AM)

Later this week, newly installed Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray will describe the priorities laid out in her latest mandate letter at FISHERIES AND OCEANS. (Thursday AM)

Over at NATIONAL DEFENCE, MPs will continue undertaking a “threat analysis affecting Canada,” specifically, the “operational readiness” of the Canadian Armed Forces to “meet those threats.” On the witness list are Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellows Colin Roberson and Andrew Rasiulis, Royal Military College professor Christian Leuprecht, Marathon Initiative co-founder Elbridge A. Colby, former national security adviser Richard Fadden, and J. Paul de B. Taillon, among others. (Monday/Wednesday PM)

Meanwhile, as part of an ongoing five-year review of the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs, PROCEDURE AND HOUSE AFFAIRS members will hear from former federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel, Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher, Parliamentary Internship Programme director Paul Thomas, and U.K. Parliament Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone. (Tuesday AM)

Later this week, Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault will brief committee members on the contents of the final report on the 2021 election, which was presented to the House earlier this month. (Thursday AM)

Finally, after what’s been universally described as “the shameful and disrespectful behaviour shown by protesters at the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument” during the first wave of anti-mandate protests, VETERANS AFFAIRS members kick off an “urgent study” of those incidents with a briefing from National Defence chief historian Stephen Harris, and senior officials from Veterans Affairs and Public Works and Government Services. (Tuesday PM)

Also this week:

  • INTERNATIONAL TRADE members examine the “modernization” of the Canada-Ukraine free-trade deal with a panel of senior departmental officials. (Monday PM)
  • FOREIGN AFFAIRS members get an update on the situation in Ethiopia. (Thursday PM)
  • JUSTICE members resume their five-year review of changes to Canada’s prostitution laws brought in by the previous Conservative government. (Tuesday PM)
  • FINANCE starts going through the fine print in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s latest omnibus budget bill, which includes measures announced in her most recent fiscal update. (Monday AM)

Out and about on the ministerial circuit:

Immigration Minister Sean Casey briefs reporters in person on the latest Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, which will be tabled in the House on Monday afternoon and will include the 2022-24 Immigration Levels Plan. (Monday PM)

Justice Minister David Lametti teams up with Cree Nation of Mistissini Chief Thomas Neeposh to unveil new federal money for the “revitalization of Indigenous laws,” as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Monday AM)

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