OTTAWA — In the speech from the throne marking the opening of the 44th Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is vowing to “deliver results” on the commitments the Liberals made during the federal election, promising the country will be in a better place coming out of the pandemic.
From the ongoing response to COVID-19 and the economic and inflation concerns, to the need for more progress on reconciliation, inclusivity, and climate change, the federal government’s third mandate agenda picks up on where the previous Parliament left off, with what the government says is a “clear” direction sent from voters this fall.
“Not only do they want Parliamentarians to work together to put this pandemic behind us, they also want bold, concrete solutions to meet other challenges that we face,” said Gov. Gen. Mary Simon in delivering the speech in the Senate chamber.
Simon delivered the speech in three languages: English, French, and in parts, Inuktitut. It’s the first time Canada’s first Indigenous governor general will be reading a throne speech.
“The decade got off to an incredibly difficult start, but this is the time to rebuild. This is the moment for Parliamentarians to work together to get big things done, and shape a better future for our kids,” said Simon, to a room of masked participants in the paired-down ceremony.
Much like the Liberal’s election platform, the speech outlines Trudeau’s plans to steer Canada out of the COVID-19 crisis by committing to put billions more into the post-pandemic economic and health recovery, though Tuesday’s remarks included few specifics.
As is often the case in throne speeches, Tuesday’s remarks included few specifics, but it said enough to have the opposition parties able to express their frustrations over what was left out of the address, opening the conversation over what support there will be for the Liberal’s agenda.
COVID-19 MEASURES, AFFORDABILITY
The Liberals say over the coming months and years they want to work with the provinces and territories on improving health care accessibility and the standards in long-term care facilities, after institutions were taken to the brink with each wave of COVID-19 infections.
“I want to thank all the workers across Canada, especially those in health care, for their efforts to keep us safe and healthy, and offer my deepest condolences to those who have experienced loss of loved ones during the pandemic,” Simon said.
Noting the federal vaccine mandate that’s come into effect this fall for public servants and anyone looking to board planes or trains in this country, as well as the standardized proof of vaccination system developed, the government says it will continue to do what’s needed to keep the pandemic in-check.
This includes ensuring the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children as well as booster shots for the general population, as well as making sure vaccine supplies are shared internationally.
The speech also noted the trickle-down pandemic health impacts being felt by those in rural communities, folks who have had procedures delayed, as well as those struggling with mental health and addictions.
While the health situation continues to stabilize, and employment back to pre-pandemic levels, the government intends to pivot the pandemic aid benefits on offer, vowing instead to focus in on the hardest hit businesses and industries.
A promised bill to extent the current aid programs is already on notice, with the government likely to table it in the next day or so.
The speech also mentioned that while the better the situation with the pandemic gets, the better off the economy will be, inflation continues to be a challenge faced across the world.
To tackle this, the government says it will follow through on housing affordability initiatives including the a “Housing Accelerator Fund” to help build more homes and the updated “First-Time Home Buyer’s Incentive.
Also aimed at reducing the rising costs facing households, the government says they will keep working on implementing $10-day child care deals, including keeping talks going with the two provinces who have yet to come on board and considering the “unique infrastructure challenges” facing the territories.
ACCELERATING RECONCILIATION, CLIMATE ACTION
Simon’s first throne speech had a focus on reconciliation efforts, in the wake of the ongoing discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada.
“We must turn the guilt we carry into action,” Simon said.
In the speech, the government said it intends to accelerate Indigenous reconciliation efforts through responding to the numerous still unfulfilled calls to action, implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), eliminating water advisories, and appointing a ‘Special Interlocutor’ to advance justice on residential schools.
As well the government’s ongoing efforts towards what they view as “fair and equitable compensation for those harmed by the First Nations Child and Family Services program,” was mentioned.
Coming as British Columbia continues to grapple with devastating flooding, climate change was also a leading focus in Tuesday’s address, with the government saying future supports for the badly-damaged province will be coming as needed.
In promising “bolder” climate action, the speech mentioned Trudeau’s intention to cap and cut oil and gas sector emissions, increasing the carbon price, mandate the sale of zero emission vehicles, and implement the first national adaptation strategy to prepare for future natural disasters.
EQUALITY AND GUN REFORM, NEW BILLS
The speech also touched on the government’s commitment to moving ahead with new gun control measures including a mandatory buyback of banned assault-style weapons.
The Liberals also have committed to fight systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct, and abuse, though the ongoing crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces was not mentioned directly in Tuesday’s speech.
Other key commitments included the intention to table new legislation in the short-term, including getting the long-awaited bill banning LGBTQ2S+ conversion therapy practices through Parliament; bringing forward new criminal sanctions for threatening health care workers or medical facilities; and picking up on halted bills meant to crack down on web giants and address concerns of harmful online content.
OPPOSITION NOTE CLOCK TICKING
“Canada will emerge from this generational challenge stronger and more prosperous,” Trudeau promises in the speech, which MPs will now be asked to act on quickly after the government took two months to recall Parliament following the summer election.
The Liberals have a lot to get going on, with less than 20 days on the House of Commons sitting calendar before the holiday break and the clock ticking on a range of promises that Trudeau said he would deliver on in his first 100 days.
Given the minority dynamics, the Liberals will need to find allies across the aisle to help pass they agenda and Tuesday’s speech asked MPs to “collaborate with and listen to each other.”
“Parliamentarians, never before has so much depended on your ability to deliver results for Canada. That is what people expect and need from you,” Simon said.
The speech from the throne is the main event of the opening of a new session of Parliament, which kicked off on Monday with cross-party conflict over the vaccine mandate on the Hill as well as the re-election of Anthony Rota as speaker.
After a series of further procedural steps in the House Tuesday afternoon, government business will soon kick off in the House of Commons. The rules provide for up to six days of debate on the speech in the House before it is put to a vote, in what may be the first confidence vote this government faces.
Reacting to the speech from the foyer of West Block, opposition leaders expressed disappointment in both what was said, and what the government left out of Tuesdays’ address, and cautioned that the Liberals’ plans to move quickly won’t come at the expense of their intended thorough scrutiny and ability to propose changes.
“The government has run out of ideas, and has ran out of steam,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, signaling his caucus is willing to vote against the speech.
“We’ve voted against the throne speech in the past and we’re prepared to do it again. We want to be really clear, we have said our goal though, is not to arbitrarily find ways to tear down government, we want to make this government work for people,” Singh said. “We are open to working together, but I’ve been very clear: I don’t want the Liberals to think that our desire to work together in making this Parliament work for people mean they can take our support for granted.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole confirmed that his caucus will be voting against the speech, in a vote of non-confidence in the Liberals.
“Today we heard more of the same from the Trudeau government. What we didn’t hear was a plan for the economy, a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis,” O’Toole said. “It’s time to see Mr. Trudeau and his team stop using the pandemic to divide people.”
Still, the government is set to survive this vote with the backing of the Bloc Quebecois, despite Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet calling the speech an “empty piece of paper, gently read in three languages.”