In his first opportunity to question Justin Trudeau since winning the Conservative Party leadership, Pierre Poilievre reiterated his calls for a federal payroll tax freeze and berated the Prime Minister for choosing international travel over the presence in the House of Commons.
“It’s nice to see the Prime Minister here, visiting Canada,” Mr. Poilievre began. The prime minister has spent most of this week in New York for UN meetings, missing the first two days of regular sittings, which resumed after the summer break on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister started the week in London for the Queen’s funeral and he leaves on Saturday for a five-day trip to Japan to attend the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Although this was Mr. Poilievre’s first opportunity to interview Mr. Trudeau as a Conservative leader, the parliamentary scene had a sense of familiarity. Mr. Poilievre had many opportunities to question the Prime Minister in his previous capacity as his party’s finance critic.
Throughout this week, Liberals and Conservatives have been debating how Ottawa should respond to affordability concerns facing Canadians in light of the current high levels of inflation.
Poilievre is urging the government not to increase Employment Insurance (EI) premiums, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) premiums and the federal carbon price in 2023.
The Liberals responded with their own $4.6 billion affordability plan. It includes Bill C-30, which would allow the government to double the GST tax credit for low-income Canadians for six months, and Bill C-31, which provides payments for dental care to uninsured parents with children under 12 and also increases rental subsidies. .
The Liberals have argued that their plan is more effective because it targets low-income Canadians who need it most.
“Canadians can’t afford a bigger chunk of their paycheque. Will the Prime Minister reverse his tax hikes on Canadian paycheques? Mr. Poilievre asked.
The factory of Pierre Poilievre, conservative proselyte
Trudeau responded by pointing out that EI premiums were 20 per cent higher in 2015, when Poilievre was the Conservative minister responsible for the program.
“On the issue of CPP, we promised to be there for workers as they age to help them retire, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he said. “When it comes to pricing pollution, we promised it would no longer be free to pollute anywhere in this country, and that’s no longer the case.”
The tone of the exchange between the two party leaders was civil. Mr Poilievre only asked an initial round of questions, leaving other Tory MPs to ask similar questions about the cost of living for the remainder of the roughly 45-minute Question Period.
Immediately afterwards, the two men stood again for a special event marking the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series. The surviving members of Canada’s hockey team – including Paul Henderson who scored the winning goal in the last game in the series – received standing ovations from MPs and secured seats on the floor of the House of Commons as Mr Trudeau, Mr Poilievre and others gave speeches in their honour.
Mr. Poilievre politely applauded during Mr. Trudeau’s speech and the prime minister returned the favor during the Conservative leader’s remarks.
The cost-of-living debate took a turn on Wednesday when the Conservatives said they “could” support Bill C-30 on the GST credit, but not Bill C-31. Mr. Poilievre previously rejected the entire Liberal package, first announced by Mr. Trudeau last week.
During debate on Bill C-30, the GST credit bill, on Thursday afternoon, Conservative MP and finance critic Dan Albas said the Liberal plan comes after a “summer of silence” as Canadians struggled with rising prices due to inflation.
In a speech, he told MPs that while Tories fear the Liberals’ overall spending plan will make inflation worse, his party is prepared to back a ‘Band-Aid of a Bill’ that provides a benefit in the short term to people who receive the GST credit.
“Providing them with some of the GST that they refunded to them at such a difficult time is something that we as the official opposition will support,” he said. “I think we all need to be extremely aware of those who are still suffering and who will not be helped by this bill.”