With the parliamentary clock ticking down and the government yet to pass their affordable housing and groceries bill—the first piece of federal legislation tabled in the fall sitting—the NDP have agreed to help the Liberals advance Bill C-56 in exchange for a series of amendments inspired by a similar bill from Leader Jagmeet Singh.
On the agenda for Mondays return to the House is a lengthy motion programming the path forward for the bill, which CTV News has learned is the product of cross-party negotiations.
Under the motion—which is expected to be voted on later in the week—the Liberal minority government is seeking to set some timelines around each remaining stage of debate, and spells out instructions to the House Finance Committee, allowing them to expand the scope of the bill during what would be a compressed study of Bill C-56.
When the Liberals tabled the legislation, we had some concerns… So we wanted to push at that. We also wanted to push at the housing issue… and frankly, it took longer for us to get agreement on some of these changes than we thought it would, NDP MP and finance critic Daniel Blaikie told CTV News.
But, because the Conservatives werent willing to let debate on the bill collapse… we thought that was an opportunity for us to have some leverage to get the Liberals to improve the bill.
Government House Leader Karina Gould is the sponsor of the motion. In a statement to CTV News on Friday morning, her office said theyve always said we are willing to work with all parties in the House to advance legislation that will get help to Canadians.
WHAT DOES BILL C-56 PROPOSE?
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled Bill C-56 during the first week of the fall sitting of the House, making good on a suite of commitments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made during the end-of-summer caucus retreat.
The legislation, which the Liberals have given the short title of, The Affordable Housing and Groceries Act, has two parts.
One portion of the bill aims to incentivize the construction of more apartment buildings, student housing, and senior living spaces by offering a 100 per cent rental rebate off of the GST paid on new purpose-built rental housing.
This move is estimated to provide $25,000 in tax relief for a two-bedroom rental apartment valued at $500,000, according to Finance Canada, and is expected to cost $4.5 billion over the fiscal period of the program.
The second element of the bill proposes to beef up protections for Canadians in connection to grocery sector competition, which is dominated by a handful of companies.
The government is pursuing amendments that, if passed, would give more power to the Competition Bureau to investigate and take enforcement action on unfair behaviour in the sector, such as price fixing or price gouging, according to officials.
The bureau would also be empowered to request information from companies through court orders in order to conduct market studies and block collaborations that stifle competition and consumer choice, particularly in situations where large grocers prevent smaller competitors from establishing operations nearby, according to Finance Canada.
Despite calls from the Liberals for all political parties to get on side, Bill C-56 has been stalled at second reading in the Commons after five days of debate—which Goulds office attributes to Conservative obstruction— leaving a long legislative runway left before the bill could become law.
WHAT CHANGES HAVE NDP SECURED?
Despite Singh similarly pushing for a crackdown on anti-competitive practices he says have contributed to Canadas sky-high food costs, the NDP leader was quick to slam Trudeaus version of the pledge as vague and unlikely to prompt change.
Thats because just hours before the prime minister promised grocery-centric competition changes, CTV News broke the story that Singh would be kicking off the fall sitting by tabling a private members bill aimed at tackling essentially the same efforts: empowering Canadas Competition Bureau to tamp down corporate powers and practices such as price gouging.
Titled the Lowering Prices for Canadians Act, Singhs version, in the NDPs view, went further and had more teeth than what the Liberals brought forward.
According to an NDP source close to the negotiations, who CTV News spoke with on a not-for-attribution basis, and as outlined in the motion coming up for debate on Monday, the Liberals confidence-and-supply dance partner has secured a series of competition-enhancing amendments through this new deal.
Specifically, the changes that will be permitted to Bill C-56 are:
- Increasing the maximum penalty for bad corporate behaviours, such as price fixing and overcharging, to $25 million for the first infraction and $35 million each infraction thereafter;
- Allowing the Competition Bureau to conduct market study inquiries if directed by the minister responsible or recommended by the Commissioner of Competition, and require consultation between the two officials prior to the study; and
- Enabling the Competition Bureau to go after big corporate players who abuse their dominance to engage in anti-competitive acts, such as squeezing out smaller players, by revising the legal threshold to lessen competition in the market.
Out of the gate, we were clear that we were happy to talk about how to move the bill forward, but we thought there had to be changes in order for us to be willing to expedite the bill as a partner, Blaikie said, while noting not everything the NDP proposed was accepted. Negotiation is exactly that.
Blaikie also told CTV News that the NDP have received assurances that these changes, as well as one tweak to allow co-operative housing to be eligible under the GST housing rebate, will be backed by Liberal MPs on the finance committee when they come to a vote.
Should the motion pass as drafted, Bill C-56 will be brought for second reading vote in short order, and then go through a rapid committee study using late sitting hours. Then, the motion outlines single days only for debate at report stage and third reading, before Bill C-56 would come to a vote that would send it to the Senate, in hopes it will clear that chamber before the long holiday break begins mid-December.
We are planning to work with others in the House to get this bill passed quickly because our priority is to put the needs of Canadians first, Goulds office said.
Asked by CTV News on Friday to comment on the Liberals accusation of Conservative obstruction, and whether his party supports the proposed efforts to crack down on anti-competitive practices and offer a GST break on rentals, Poilievre didnt directly answer.
Justin Trudeau can pass any bill he wants, hes got a majority in his coalition with the NDP. So, its a complete distraction, Poilievre said.