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Canadian Parliament Building

Speech From the Throne – Proof Strategies Update

September 24, 2020

Through the new Speech From the Throne, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government has chosen to put forward a deliberately bold, broad and progressive agenda, designed to chart Canada’s path out of the pandemic and “build back better.”

From promises to improve access to COVID-19 testing to tackling systemic racism, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government provided a broad swath of promises in a Speech From the Throne that reset their governing agenda, reflecting a country that may well be facing its second wave of the pandemic. Other key points included a promise to create one million jobs, the return of a national childcare program, implementation of national long-term care standards, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The full Speech From the Throne can be read here.

Overview

Speaking from inside the Senate chamber, Governor General Julie Payette delivered the Trudeau government’s new Speech From the Throne, setting out the government’s planned focus for the months to come and beyond.

The speech coincided with the return of Parliament following prorogation in mid-August amidst the WE Charity controversy. The Throne Speech was delivered against a backdrop of rising pandemic case numbers across the country, increasing demands from provincial premiers for more support, and a freshly elected Leader of the Official Opposition (Conservative MP Erin O’Toole). Despite the gravity of the day, neither O’Toole nor Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet were present in Parliament, as both were forced to isolate after both recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The speech comes at a pivotal point in the lifespan of the Liberal government’s second mandate: eleven months since their re-election with a minority government in 2019, just over nine months since the last Speech From the Throne, and six months since the onset of pandemic lockdown measures in March.

Expectations had initially been set high about the speech’s contents: speaking in late August, Prime Minister Trudeau underlined how the impact of the pandemic offered an opportunity to introduce transformational measures designed to “build back better.” Despite some work to temper those expectations over the last few weeks, the final speech was, in fact, bold in both length and scope.

Typically a brief document, today’s speech instead bucked tradition: at nearly 7,000 words, it is one of the longest Speeches From the Throne in the last 30 years and covers a broad range of ground.

In preparation for the speech, the Liberal government held cabinet roundtables over the last several weeks to help inform its final contents, and also consulted with the leaders of the other parties in Parliament.  As a follow-up to the Governor General’s reading of the speech, Prime Minister Trudeau delivered a televised address to Canadians, carried live by the country’s broadcasters, reinforcing the speech’s key messages and reminding Canadians to be vigilant amidst the ongoing pandemic. Remarks from the opposition leaders followed.

Key Policy Themes

The Throne Speech divided the government’s priorities into four key sections:

Protecting Canadians from COVID-19

A unifying “Team Canada” theme was prominently highlighted, with Canadians encouraged to look out for one another and work together. Echoing a call from Ontario Premier Doug Ford for more COVID-19 testing options from Health Canada, the speech outlined plans to move forward with new testing technology to help reduce wait times across the country. To ensure support in the event of further regional shutdowns by local public health units, the speech noted how the government is preparing funding for businesses that could be affected. The speech also highlighted the COVID Alert app and encouraged provinces that have not yet adopted it to sign on. With a potential vaccine thought to be within sight, the government reiterated its preparedness strategy, designed to ensure all Canadians will have access to a vaccine as soon as one becomes available. The speech also offered reassurances that the country’s top scientists are guiding the government’s COVID-19 decisions.

Helping Canadians Through the Pandemic

Despite emergency support programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), unemployment is in the double digits, and underemployment is high. The government’s view is made explicit in the speech: “this is not the time for austerity.” To restore employment to previous levels, the government intends to launch a campaign to create over one million jobs. To help more women get back into the workforce, the Government intends to create an Action Plan for Women in the Economy. It also intends to make “a significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system.” In addition to extending the wage subsidy, the government plans to expand the Canada Emergency Business Account, enhance the Business Credit Availability Program and introduce further support for the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, as well as cultural industries like the performing arts. The government also plans to identify additional ways to tax extreme wealth inequality, for instance, by “addressing corporate tax avoidance by digital giants.” The government will act to ensure web giants’ revenue is shared more fairly with Canadian creators and media. It will also require them to contribute to the creation, production, and distribution of Canadian stories, including on screen, in lyrics, in music, and in writing. Later this fall, the government also plans to release an update to Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan (e.g. a fall economic update), designed to outline the government’s economic and fiscal position, provide fiscal projections, and set out new measures to implement the Speech From the Throne.

Building Back Better – A Resiliency Agenda for the Middle Class

The government reinforced its focus on “the middle class and people working hard to join it” through prioritizing gaps in our social system, investing in health care, creating jobs, fighting climate change, and addressing fiscal sustainability. Proposed measures will include legislative amendments to penalize those neglecting seniors and new national standards for long-term care. A disability inclusion plan will be brought forward that will include a new Canadian Disability Benefit. The government recommitted to a national, universal pharmacare program, including savings on drugs. Other priorities included protecting Canadians from firearms, infrastructure investment, broadband access and speeds, regional routes for airlines and combatting homelessness.

The Canada We’re Fighting For

In the final section, the speech also outlined a set of combined steps comprising the government’s approach to “defending Canadian values” at home and abroad, and to addressing inequality. Areas of focus included:

Opposition Reaction

Conservatives: In his televised remarks, Leader Erin O’Toole made clear the Conservative Party would not support the Throne Speech, and called on the Liberals for solutions to COVID-19 testing, support for businesses and a focus on addressing Western alienation (“We need jobs for Canadians, not just fine words”).

Bloc Québécois: Leader Yves-François Blanchet said in a tweet that the Speech from the Throne ignored the demands of Quebec and the provinces and that the government needs to respect the jurisdiction of Quebec and other provinces, primarily in health.

New Democratic Party: Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized elements of the speech — stating it did not go far enough — but emphasized his party had not made a decision yet as to whether it would support the government’s direction. He suggested the NDP would consider supporting the government if COVID-19 assistance (to families who may be unable to return to work) is not eliminated — and added that he’d like to see the government establish permanent paid sick leave for Canadians.

Green Party: In a tweet, Elizabeth May stated that climate action has to be the bottom line and tweeted again that it is critical Canada increase international development assistance. She stated in a press conference she agrees with many things in the speech but called for more concrete action from the government.

Provincial Reaction

Ontario: In a statement the Premier released on Twitter, Doug Ford stated that he felt the government missed a critical opportunity in the speech to commit a desperately needed increase to Canada Health Transfer and called on the federal Liberals to invest in its fair share of healthcare and approve additional testing methods for COVID-19.

Quebec: In a tweet, Premier Legault noted his disappointment with the speech’s implications for Quebec, suggesting it did not respect the provinces’ jurisdiction on healthcare.

What’s Next?

Questions?

Please feel welcome to contact us for any questions you might have: Greg MacEachern, Senior Vice-President at gmaceachern@getproof.com.