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Ready to rumble: Liberal ministers brace for critics’ grilling in the…

Canada’s political parties are preparing to start a new session of Parliament and run the daily gauntlet of question period — when opposition MPs fire out questions and hold the government to account.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s political parties are preparing to start a new session of Parliament and run the daily gauntlet of question period, when opposition MPs fire out questions and hold the government to account.

Each opposition party leader has enlisted a team of critics to shadow the Liberal cabinet ministers, scrutinize their policies and keep them on their toes in the House of Commons.

Here’s a look at some of the personalities Canadians will see battling over key ministerial files.

(For the purpose of these comparisons, CBC News looked mostly at the three main national political parties. While the Bloc Québécois will have more time than the NDP to grill ministers because it has a higher seat count, the BQ runs candidates only in Quebec and its MPs tend to ask questions solely on issues related to Quebec.)

The leaders: Trudeau—Scheer—Singh—Blanchet

Clockwise from top: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press, Ben Nelms/CBC, Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

It will be a different dynamic in the House this time for the re-elected Liberals, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returns to Parliament with a minority government and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer works to throw his toughest political punches while dealing with internal party critics and a push for a new leader.

After a nasty election campaign, many observers will be watching to see if that tone carries over to the House of Commons, or if the daily duels are more civil. After losing 15 seats, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is now relegated to fourth spot behind BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who will take his seat in the Commons for the first time. That means Singh will have lower priority when it comes to asking questions in question period, and less speaking time in the House of Commons.

The deputies: Freeland—Alleslev—Boulerice

Clockwise from top: Liberal Deputy Leader Chrystia Freeland, Conservative Deputy Leader Leona Alleslev, NDP Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice. (J. Scott Applewhite, Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau named Chrystia Freeland deputy prime minister — the first deputy PM since Anne McLellan in Paul Martin’s government. (Stephen Harper never appointed one.) She’s also in charge of the challenging intergovernmental affairs file, tasked with strengthening national unity and leading talks with the provinces and territories on complex issues like health care, pipelines and climate change at a time of deep political dissatisfaction in the West.

Conservative MP Leona Alleslev, a former Liberal who crossed the floor, will serve as Scheer’s deputy leader. Alexandre Boulerice will act as Singh’s right hand.

House leaders: Rodriguez—Julian—Bergen

Clockwise from the top: Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, NDP House Leader Peter Julian, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen. (Patrick Doyle, Justin Tang, Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Losing their majority government means the Liberals no longer get to call all the shots. Instead, they must engage in tough negotiations with opposition caucuses to advance their legislative agenda. The House leaders for each party are in charge of parliamentary procedure and day-to-day business in the House, including negotiating the timing of debates and votes.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez will be thrashing things out with Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, NDP House Leader Peter Julian and Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Therrien.

Finance: Morneau—Poilievre—Julian

Clockwise from the top: Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, NDP finance critic Peter Julian. (The Canadian Press)

Perhaps no portfolio is more important than finance. The department decides how Canadians’ tax dollars are spent — and could be tasked with steering the economy through rough times ahead.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is one of a handful of ministers Trudeau has kept on the same file since 2015. He’ll be grilled by the same opposition critics he faced in the 43rd Parliament: Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre and NDP finance critic Peter Julian.

The next budget will be Morneau’s most important yet, as it must win the confidence of the House to ensure the minority government survives — though no party likely has an appetite for a snap election right now.

Public Safety: Blair—Paul-Hus—Harris

Clockwise from top: Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus, NDP public safety critic Jack Harris. (The Canadian Press)

Public Safety is one of the biggest, most important government portfolios; it was presided over by one of Trudeau’s most trusted ministers, Ralph Goodale, until he was defeated in the election. Former Toronto Police chief Bill Blair is stepping up to stickhandle some important files: national security and border control, and overseeing organizations such as the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Correctional Service Canada.

Delivering on the government’s controversial promise to ban semi-automatic rifles and empower cities to ban handguns is likely to be a top priority for Blair. Monitoring his every move will be Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus and NDP public safety critic Jack Harris.

Foreign Affairs: Champagne—O’Toole—Harris

Clockwise from top: Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole, NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris. (The Canadian Press)

Freeland remains the lead minister on the crucial Canada-U.S. relations file, dealing with the Trump administration on key projects such as getting the trilateral trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico approved in all three countries.

But new Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne will still be kept busy giving voice to the Canadian government’s positions on international matters, from global conflicts to consular cases. The tense bilateral relationship with China is a pressing priority; Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are still being held in Chinese prison cells a year after their initial detention. Conservative MP Erin O’Toole and the NDP’s Jack Harris will be Champagne’s critics.

Justice: Lametti—Moore—Garrison

Clockwise from top: Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, Conservative justice critic Rob Moore, NDP justice critic Randall Garrison. (The Canadian Press, CBC)

David Lametti has a dual role as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, overseeing Canada’s justice system and providing legal services to the government. He is tasked with ensuring all government legislation is constitutional.

Lametti can expect a lot of opposition interest in the matter of whether he intends to provide a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin, which could effectively halt criminal proceedings against the Quebec-based engineering company. Lametti has described deferred prosecution agreements a “legitimate legal option” but has said he will not make any decision because of ongoing litigation involving the company. (SNC-Lavalin’s legal situation was, of course, at the heart of the political scandal that consumed much of Trudeau’s first term and cost him two cabinet ministers.)

Lametti will face questions in the House of Commons from Conservative justice critic Rob Moore and NDP justice critic Randall Garrison.

Indigenous Services: Miller—Vidal—Singh

Clockwise from top: Indiginous Services Minister Marc Miller, Conservative Indigenous services critic Gary Vidal, NDP Leader and Indigenous services critic Jagmeet Singh. (The Canadian Press, CBC)

Trudeau has stated that reconciliation and improving relations with Indigenous persons is a top priority for the government, and improving access to services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis is critical to fulfilling that promise. Among the pressing tasks facing the government are working out a compensation program for First Nations children affected by the on-reserve child welfare system and providing clean water on reserves. Conservative MP Gary Vidal will serve as his party’s Indigenous services critic. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appointed himself to the critic’s role.

Immigration: Mendicino—Kent—Kwan

Clockwise from top: Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan. (CBC, The Canadian Press)

Marco Mendicino will step into the hot seat as the new minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, overseeing the complex system that sets immigration levels, grants citizenship and manages the refugee intake. It also handles Canadians’ travel documents, such as passports.

One of the most pressing problems for the government on this file is managing the flow of asylum seekers entering Canada outside official border points — a trend that has generated considerable criticism for the Liberals. Conservative MP Peter Kent is his party’s new immigration critic, while Jenny Kwan returns to the critic’s role for the NDP.

Environment and climate change: Wilkinson—Findlay—Collins

Clockwise from top: Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Conservative environment and climate change critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay, NDP environment and climate change critic Laurel Collins. (The Canadian Press)

Addressing climate change emerged as a top election issue, and it will continue to be a priority debate in the coming Parliament. Expect Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to be on his feet a lot, explaining how the Liberal government will deliver on a plan to cut emissions while it proceeds with plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Some critics say the Liberal environmental plan is not robust enough, while others insist a central component of it, a federal carbon tax, will cost Canadian families and harm the economy. Kerry-Lynne Findlay will serve as the Conservative critic — she succeeds Ed Fast, a former cabinet minister who declined a critic’s post over concerns about Scheer’s leadership. Laura Collins, a former city councillor and instructor at the University of Victoria, is the NDP’s critic.

Health: Hajdu—Davies—Gladu

Clockwise from top: Health Minister Patty Hajdu, NDP health critic Don Davies, Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu. (The Canadian Press)

New Health Minister Patty Hajdu will be kept busy with issues ranging from the opioid crisis to taking the first steps toward a national pharmacare program. She also will be tasked with working on a new health funding formula with provincial and territorial leaders, who are pushing for a significant increase in federal transfers. Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu will keep her on her toes, along with NDP critic Don Davies.

Natural Resources: O’Regan—Stubbs—Cannings

Clockwise from top: Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs, NDP natural resources critic Richard Cannings. (The Canadian Press)

The natural resources file comes with built-in controversy, as the battle rages over reconciling the need to protect the environment with oil and gas development and transport. The portfolio also is responsible for promoting new energy sources (such as nuclear) and other sectors like forestry and mining.

But job number one for new Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan will be to get a pipeline built to ease political tensions in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Liberals were shut out in the last election. O’Regan can expect a daily grilling from Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs and NDP critic Richard Cannings.


CBC coverage of Thursday’s throne speech

Rosemary Barton hosts special coverage of the Speech from the Throne beginning at 2 p.m.ET on CBC News Network, CBCnews.ca and Facebook. Tune in to CBC Radio One for coverage of the speech starting just before 3:30 p.m. ET. And find analysis and reaction on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics at 5 p.m. ET, World at 6 on CBC Radio One and on CBC TV’s The National at 10 p.m. 

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