Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to strengthen parliamentary committees and reduce what the Liberals say was meddling from the Prime Minister’s Office in committee work under the former Conservative government.
The finance committee is considered by many to be the most important House of Commons committee and can exert significant influence on how tax dollars are spent.
It will have a heavy agenda as the government pursues tens of billions of dollars in deficit spending over the next few years; implements a tax cut for the middle class and tax hike for wealthier Canadians; prepares its first budget; and looks for ways to improve anemic economic growth.
Some former provincial and federal cabinet ministers will sit on the finance committee. Several other members also boast impressive business and economics experience.
Former federal cabinet minister Wayne Easter is the senior Liberal on the committee and is expected to chair it. He’ll be joined by new Liberals Steve MacKinnon, Raj Grewal, Jennifer O’Connell, Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Francesco Sorbara.
MacKinnon, before becoming MP, was a senior vice‑president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and the firm’s national practice leader in mergers and acquisitions. He worked on major deals such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) controversial $15.1-billion takeover of Calgary-based petroleum producer Nexen.
Grewal was a lawyer at a Bay Street firm, where he specialized in public and private mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and securities. Sorbara is a trained economist with more than 20 years of experience in corporate finance.
O’Connell was a three-term city and regional councillor in Pickering, Ont. and a member of the region’s finance and administration committee. Ouellette is a respected aboriginal community leader and new Winnipeg MP who spent nearly two decades with the Canadian Armed Forces.
Conservative MPs on the committee include former senior Tory minister Lisa Raitt (who serves as the Conservative finance critic) and former Alberta finance minister Ron Liepert, the lone MP on the committee from the three most western provinces.
Veteran Ontario Conservative MP Phil McColeman is also on the committee, as is NDP finance critic Guy Caron, a Quebec MP who is an economist by training and previously worked on finance and natural resources files for the New Democrats.
Liberal MP MacKinnon said the biggest challenge facing Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the country is finding ways to squeeze growth out of a sluggish economy. To that end, the finance committee “can add value,” he said.
“The committee will want to do whatever it can to get to the bottom of some of these problems that are vexing us, and frankly, the government has inherited,” MacKinnon said.
The main job of the finance committee will be to “get a real sense of the tradeoffs involved in budget formulation,” he said, and to provide a forum for individuals and groups who want to make their case as to why their sector, organization or project warrants federal dollars.
Conservative MP Liepert said he hopes the Liberal government will use the opportunity to have the committee meet with Canadians “in a meaningful way” and perhaps consider setting aside some election commitments to help keep the country’s financial house in order.
“It’s pretty darn clear that the Liberals have far underestimated the severity of the economic situation in the country. I don’t think anybody would be surprised if the budget deficit came in at double what they had talked about during the campaign,” Liepert said.
He plans on keeping a close eye on any potential changes to taxation that could further hobble a western Canadian economy already battered by low commodity prices.
The list of MPs on the finance committee still must be finalized after the Bloc Québécois blocked a motion in the Commons by government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc asking for unanimous consent on its membership, and for permission for the committee to travel in Canada and present a report on pre-budget consultations by Feb. 5, 2016.
The committee membership will now have to be finalized after the Commons returns from the holiday break on Jan. 25, meaning any pre-budget consultation will likely be extremely limited.