Governor General Mary Simon delivered her first Speech from the Throne in the Senate yesterday, outlining the Government's vision and priorities for Canada's 44th Parliament. In this minority Parliament, the governing Liberals will require the support of at least one opposition party to win the confidence of the House of the Commons. That support will likely come from the Bloc Québécois.
The Speech largely reiterated the Liberals' core campaign commitments, highlighting in broad terms the key policies that appeared in the Liberal election platform. Specifically, the speech focused on economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, and health.
Legislation on COVID-19 benefits will likely be a political focus in Parliament. Some measures mentioned in the Speech from the Throne will find broad support, but opposition parties have competing visions of Canada's COVID-19 recovery in many areas.
The Speech from the Throne stated that getting the pandemic under control is "priority number one," with vaccination being the most important measure to achieve that goal. The Government will secure next generation vaccines and boosters, while working with partners to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines and resources.
The Government will also strengthen the health care system, paying particular focus to seniors, veterans, those with disabilities, vulnerable members of Canadian communities, and those who have faced systemic discrimination. In a health care system under strain, the Government committed to acting on rural care, accessibility, remediating procedure delays, mental health and addiction treatment, and improving data collection practices to offer better care.
Building a resilient economy
Putting an end to the pandemic for good will help rebuild the economy. Moving forward, the Government will provide targeted COVID-19 support and will make efforts to manage spending. Support will be extended for industries that continue to struggle with the challenging economic conditions presented by pandemic such as the previously announced Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program by Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland on October 21, 2021.
The Throne Speech suggests that Canada is in a better economic positon than most countries notwithstanding inflation. Although there is no mention of measures planned to address the 4.7% rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the largest increase in 18 years, the Government is explicitly committed to addressing the rising cost of living by tackling the housing crisis and continuing to build a $10 a day childcare across the country.
In addition, the Government intends to "build a more resilient, sustainable and competitive economy" with a transition to a green economy.
The Government of Canada will continue to work with partners to build more housing units, improve access to affordable housing, and address chronic homelessness. In addition to the Home Accelerator Fund, the Government will seek to introduce legislation to help first time home buyers through the First-Time Home Buyer's Incentive, introduce a Rent-to-Own program, and reduce closing costs for first time buyers.
The Government will continue to increase the Canada Child Benefit to reflect the rising cost of living, and will establish a national early learning and child care system. Annual child care fees will be cut in half in most Canadian jurisdictions. The federal Government has negotiated deals with provincial and territorial Governments to provide affordable child care, with only four jurisdictions without a deal in place.
Immigration levels will increase, with new measures to reduce wait times, support reunification, and facilitate refugee resettlement.
Noting the current challenges faced by British Columbians, the Speech from the Throne stated that the Government of Canada will continue to support the province. The speech referred to climate change throughout, identifying key challenges and presenting proposed solutions. In the wake of COP26, climate change is a focus for all parties.
The Government will focus on innovation, the development and green jobs, and the promotion of international cooperation to create a sustainable and competitive Canadian economy. Production of clean steel, aluminum, building products, cars and planes will be a focus moving forward. The Government will tap into global capital to attract investment and generate opportunities.
The Government will cap and cut oil and gas emissions and implement a net-zero electricity future. The Government will also increase investment in public transit and mandate the sale of zero emissions vehicles to improve quality of life.
The Government will continue increasing the price of pollution.
The creation of the Canada Water Agency will seek to protect Canada's water resources.
The Government will improve flood, wildfire, drought, coastline erosion protection measures, and a National Adaptation Strategy will be implemented.
All of these measures will be implemented with a commitment to partner with Indigenous communities to respect their traditional knowledge.
The Government will address gun violence by supporting law enforcement and strengthening gun control. New measures will include mandatory buy-back programs for banned assault-style weapons, and the federal Government will move forward with provinces and territories that want to ban handguns in their communities.
To address the increase in violence against women and girls during the pandemic, the Government will move forward with a ten year National Action Plan on gender-based violence, as well as a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy.
Diversity and inclusion
The Government will reform the criminal justice system and policing while investing in the empowerment of Black, racialized, and Indigenous peoples.
These efforts will include a ban on conversion therapy, which the NDP have committed to supporting. This measure was passed in the House of Commons in the last Parliament, but was not passed by the Senate before the election was called.
The Government stated that it will support official language minority communities, and protect and promote French outside and within Québec. The Government will also reintroduce the proposed Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English, and strengthen the Official Languages Act.
Regarding culture and creative industries, the Government will reintroduce legislation from the last Session of Parliament to amend the Broadcasting Act, which the Bloc Québécois strongly supported. The Government will also ensure that web giants pay fair share for the creation of Canadian content.
The Government of Canada will continue to respond to the Calls to Action, will create a national monument to honour survivors, and appoint a Special Interlocutor to advance justice on residential schools. The Government will also invest in distinction-based mental health and wellness strategy.
The Government will also work with Indigenous partners on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People and ensure fair and equitable compensation for victims of First Nations Child and Family Services program.
Efforts will continue to eliminate drinking water advisories, implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canadians expect Parliamentarians to work together after re-electing a minority Government in September. The Prime Minister restated key points of today's Speech from the Throne, saying that, "the Government of Canada has listened to Canadians, and we are ready to finish the fight against COVID-19, take strong climate action, make life more affordable, walk the shared path of reconciliation, put home ownership back in reach, create jobs, and grow the middle class."
In the press conference following the Speech from the Throne, Leader of the Official Opposition Erin O'Toole noted the importance of addressing inflation, highlighting that the Speech from the Throne only briefly noted the inflation crisis. O'Toole committed to represent working Canadians and support Canada's energy sector, while promoting national unity. He did not commit to voting in favour of the Throne Speech, but stated that his party will lead on economic issues.
Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh noted a lack of commitments to pharmacare or the protection of universal healthcare in the Speech from the Throne. He also criticized the lack of details on environmental measures and support for workers. Singh stated that the Liberals should not take the NDP's support "for granted." He would not commit to the NDP voting in support of the Throne Speech. The NDP committed to supporting paid sick leave for federal workers, protection of health care workers, and a ban on conversion therapy.
Leader of the Bloc Québécois Yves-Francois Blanchet expressed his party's disappointment with the Speech from the Throne, citing its lack of detail. The Bloc will seek to make gains by discussing and negotiating with the Liberals, and will vote in favour of the Speech from the Throne despite its lack of substance.
With only a few weeks of sittings scheduled in the House of Commons before Christmas break, Parliament will be actively engaged as the Government attempts to pass high-priority legislation. As announced by Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Mark Holland, the Liberal government is proposing an ambitious legislative agenda for the 20 days the House will sit before Christmas. That agenda includes passing Bills to prohibit protests outside healthcare facilities, to implement 10 days of paid sick leave for federally-regulated workers, to ban conversion therapy, and to extend and modify pandemic economic benefits as well as introduce targeted support measures for specific industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House of Commons is scheduled to commence its holiday break on December 17, 2021, with MP's returning on January 31, 2022. Party leaders will be negotiating in the coming days and weeks to secure support for their legislative priorities in this 44th Parliament. While it appears that the Liberals will be able to rely on the support of at least one Opposition party for each Bill, it is unclear if the Government will be able to pass legislation while key procedural rules are being addressed in the context of a potential hybrid Parliament. Standing Committees will also need to be formed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons did not rule out closure or time allocation rules to fast-track the progress of the legislation in the House of Commons. The Senate will also have to determine if it is willing to accommodate the Government's timetable.