House Call with Carol Hughes -December 20, 2019

Carol Hughes

Is Parliament ready to work for you?

The 43rd Parliament assembled last week to elect a Speaker and debate the Throne Speech. While I was not successful in my bid to become Speaker, there was a surprise outcome when the former Speaker was unseated by North Bay MP, Anthony Rota. However, I was honoured to have been re-appointed as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of the Committee of the Whole.

The Throne Speech followed with some claiming it was more of the same, which was to be expected given the government didn’t change hands. The contents of the speech largely reflected the language they had campaigned on and issues that were central to many party’s platforms. There was more interest in the tone of the speech which suggested the government may be prepared to work more collaboratively.

This shouldn’t be surprising given the hand the government was dealt. It was clear from October’s results that Canadians are demanding more cooperation from their federal representatives and most MPs seem to have received the message. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree with each other but should help MPs learn to listen to opposing points of view a little more carefully in search of common ground that can be built upon. That alone would significantly change the way Parliament presents itself which is something Canadians have repeatedly asked for.

As for the contents of the speech, there are more items than would fit in this format, however, near the end there was mention of good ideas from other parties that deserve to be explored. One of the items that was specifically mentioned was dental care which New Democrats had spoken to voters about during the election.

Apart from the Throne Speech, Parliament also debated Supplementary Estimates from last spring’s budget. The government added some changes to the tax code that will raise the amount an individual can earn before paying tax to $15,000. While this is an important piece of work, the estimates go further to reduce taxes on those with much healthier incomes who don’t require the same urgent attention low-income Canadians do. It’s at this point that New Democrats asked the government to consider a different path.

The NDP proposal amounts to a small change to the tax plan that would make a big difference for millions of Canadians. It preserves the important changes for those at the lowest level but would invest the money the government is willing to give to higher income earners into a dental care program. Such a program would still help middle class families while representing a transformative moment for those who forego necessary work and cleanings because they simple can’t afford it.

The government’s proposal costs $6 billion when fully implemented but 47 percent of Canadians will receive no benefit at all. Better dental care will reduce health care costs for everyone due to the direct link between oral health and overall health. When looked at this way, redirecting part of the money ear-marked for tax cuts becomes an investment that pays dividends year after year.

It’s encouraging that the government mentioned dental care in the Throne Speech, and this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a real commitment to Canadians who have been struggling. This small change to the government’s plan would make the proposed dental program possible and save households at least $1,200 every year. It’s one of the ways this minority can deliver for Canadians and could cement its legacy in the early days of the 43rd Parliament.