Disgraced Senators and debates over child care: 5 things to watch in Ottawa this spring

Disgraced Senators and debates over child care: 5 things to watch in Ottawa this spring

The rest of the spring sitting is looking to be a busy number of weeks. After MPs take a two week recess from April 3 to April 17, it’s full steam ahead for parliamentarians until the House rises at the end of June. All of this, too, with a federal election on the horizon. Here are a few things to watch over the coming months:

Finally, a budget date

Finance Minister Joe Oliver finally announced the date that the federal budget drops this year: April 21. Ottawa has been waiting, and waiting, for the the budget date, which typically comes in February or March, but was delayed this year on account of slumping oil prices and the damage done to Canada’s economy.

“We needed the time to obtain as much information as possible to make reasoned fiscal decisions and receive current forecasts from our independent economic advisors whose projections we rely on,” Oliver told reporters at a press conference in Toronto on Thursday.

The Conservatives have promised to balance the federal government’s books, a difficult task after the Canadian economy took a hit from faltering oil prices.

"Balanced budgets are important because, to the extent you have a deficit, that means more money has to go to paying off debt instead of going for important social programs that Canadians want and need,” Oliver said.

The Bill C-51 saga continues

The Conservative government’s controversial anti-terror bill made its way through committee stage and will be heading back to the House of Commons for report stage.

The committee process was a frustrating experience for many involved — with only a few amendments proposed by the government passing and all amendments submitted by opposition parties getting shot down by the CPC majority public safety committee. The report stage allows for some changes, depending on how the House votes, and the NDP has promised to try and delete some provisions of the bill they find problematic.

Child care, income splitting

Child care is shaping up to be a major election issue. The federal government introduced legislation in late March that will increase monthly universal child care benefit payments, legislation that also allows for hotly-debated income splitting measures.

Employment minister Pierre Poilievre has accused the NDP and Liberals, who support a national child care program, of dismission stay-at-home parents.

“The problem with the NDP, Liberal plan for government day-care is that if you have a stay-at-home parent, you get nothing. If you use a family member, you get nothing. If you use a neighbourhood private day care, you get nothing. If your kids are too old for day care, you get nothing,” Poilievre said last week.

The NDP is by no means a fan of income splitting, and say such a program will only benefit the richest of Canadians. The party has also rolled out a national childcare strategy as an election plank, to create $15 a day child care across the country.

Senate expense audit

After last year’s Senate expense scandal, auditor general Michael Ferguson embarked on an investigation into Senate expenses. The results of his audit are expected to be released by the end of June — and any negative news from the audit will be a boon for the anti-Senate New Democrats, who’ve made the promise of abolishing the Upper Chamber if they formed government.

Mike Duffy on trial

Speaking of Senators, or former Senators … Mike Duffy’s trial is set to begin next week in Ottawa, while MPs are back home in their ridings. The embattled, suspended Senator is on trial for fraud, accused of claiming expenses he was not entitled to, and accused of accepting a bribe — that infamous $90,000 cheque — from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright.

No word yet on whether the prime minister will be called to testify, although that’s considered unlikely by many. However the trial, no doubt, will offer much political fodder for Harper’s opponents in the House of Commons.