Dec 22, 2021

Mandate letters – The knowns, surprises, and what didn’t make the cut (PART I)

By: Mark Agnew, Senior Vice President, Policy & Government Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Part I

On December 16 the Prime Minister’s Office released the mandate letters for his cabinet. For those outside the Ottawa bubble, this is catnip for Ottawa insiders. Every word and bullet point – or absence thereof – gets scrutinized for stakeholders to see whether their issues made the cut. As a multi-sector business association, with companies of all sizes in our membership, the Canadian Chamber takes a fairly broad scope to the mandate letters in terms of what we are looking for.

When looking at the total tally of items across the various mandate letters, it is a gargantuan set of marching orders. But it is not even the final tally. The Prime Minister’s Office said that the “mandate letters are not an exhaustive list of all files a minister will work.” That’s the reality of government, whether it’s responding to issues of the day or dealing with the day-to-day requirements of managing a department.

There are a number of headline government priorities that the letters reaffirm, such as childcare and Indigenous Reconciliation. The focus on climate change and finishing the fight against COVID is palpable. The word “deliver,” or some derivative thereof, appears repeatedly in the header and footer sections that are common to all the mandate letters. The focus on COVID is obvious, and aside from that, the Canadian Chamber lens is looking at what will make businesses competitive to drive economic growth.

Five issues that stood out

There is far more in the mandate letters than could possibly be covered in a single blog post and the Canadian Chamber policy team will be looking at individual letters in greater detail. However, there are a few big ones that came off the virtual page:

  • Climate change – As noted above, climate change is a major theme throughout the mandate letters. To start it off, there is the government’s intent to table its major climate plan by end of March 2022. Alongside that are numerous other initiatives such as a Buy Clean procurement strategy for public procurement and making climate-related financial disclosures more robust in collaboration with provinces and territories. There is also the continued work towards the CCUS investment tax credit. The Fall Economic Statement did not include the tax credit in the government’s fiscal framework, so we will wait until Budget 2022 to get a clear sense on the government’s thinking. Lastly, the government reaffirmed its intent for the PM to lead efforts towards championing a global carbon price and explore border taxes for emissions-intensive imports. This could shape up to a major trade fight in the coming years.
  • Critical minerals – We have been hearing about an impending critical mineral strategy for some time. Canada has a lot of products in the ground and there is potential for Canada to be a critical mineral powerhouse. But we need a compelling strategy that focuses the minds and efforts of government departments to ensure the full toolkit of government measures – tax, regulatory, international dialogues – are leveraged to get products to market.
  • Privacy and cyber security – Legislation to update privacy reforms started in the last Parliament but did not pass before the election. In an era of ever increasing scrutiny on the protection of personal information, this will likely generate significant interest. In a minority Parliament, the arithmetic to pass it becomes more complicated. It was also noticeable that cyber security received a mention in several mandate letters.
  • Indo-Pacific strategy – We have heard about this before, but it seems to be edging closer to reality. China did not appear in the mandate letters, and the Indo-Pacific Strategy is where we are likely to see what the government’s plan is for relations with Beijing.
  • EI reform – The government has been engaging stakeholders on the future of the EI system and the Chamber has been actively engaged in those conversations. While at times very technical, the outcomes of this will affect nearly every employer.

There is lots more to be said about the sleeper issues that could become big as well as some items that were missing. Tune in tomorrow for Part II to learn more!

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