Photo Credit: PC Photo/Sean Kilpatrick
Photo Credit: PC Photo/Sean Kilpatrick
Fresh off a disappointing—and, unnecessary, in the eyes of many—federal election that saw him fail in his bid to earn a majority government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally revealed the core priorities of his third mandate through the Throne Speech, which was read by Governor General Mary Simon on Tuesday, November 23. The document is the political equivalent of an apple pie, as coined by Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet: it contains various aims that are universally endorsed by Canadians and are unlikely to ruffle feathers.
It was Justin Trudeau’s third Throne Speech in as many years, and much like the one read in September of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom large. Indeed, while Canada’s vaccination uptick was the story of 2021, the way our country will emerge from the fourth wave of the pandemic—and mitigate an upcoming fifth wave—is top-of-mind for the Liberals.
It can also be argued that there is very little—if anything—“net new” in today’s Throne Speech. The core themes around climate change, reconciliation, health and COVID-19 recovery are virtual carbon copies from the recent campaign and the months leading up to election day in September 2021.
Notably, this Throne Speech comes at a time when the government’s emergency response capacity is being tested in more ways than one. Between the devastating storms in British Columbia, the ongoing water crisis in Iqaluit and the pandemic, this government is being forced to reimagine what emergency preparedness and response entails. Justin Trudeau’s decision to divide the Public Safety portfolio and appoint Bill Blair as the Minister of Emergency Preparedness earlier this month, coupled with the focus on pandemic and emergency response measures present in the Throne Speech, demonstrates how Justin Trudeau has brought his pandemic learnings into his vision for this mandate.
While governments can use Throne Speeches as an opportunity to shake things up or redefine themselves, the tone of this Throne Speech shows that the Liberal government will not be taking that risk. After all, they say that consistency is the key to success. The Speech focused on the same themes that were present in the Liberal Party platform during the election and reiterated many promises. With this Speech, and after a long hiatus, the Liberal government has shown that it is ready to get back to work addressing some complicated and ongoing issues.
As expected, ending the fight against COVID-19 was heralded as the government’s foremost priority. And the best way to achieve that goal is vaccination, notably for children aged 5 to 11.
Affordability—arguably a subject the Liberals failed to truly own throughout the last election—is going to be a priority of this new administration, notably through housing affordability and supply measures like the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, a new Rent-to-Own program, and incentives allowing municipalities to build more and faster.
Tackling climate change remains a prime concern. Mere days after a rather productive stint at COP 26 and seeing first-hand the impact of devastating floods in B.C., Justin Trudeau’s government appears ready to accelerate its efforts to tackle climate change. It pledges to cap and cut oil and gas sector emissions, invest in public transit, mandate the sale of zero-emission vehicles and increase the price of pollution. It will also craft a new framework, the National Adaptation Strategy, which will help prevent and prepare for major climate hazards.
Finally, the Liberal government did not waver from its commitment towards reconciliation. The words read by Mary Simon—the first Governor General of Indigenous descent—had a deeper meaning. Her challenge to Canadians to confront the ills and mistakes of our past in order to best move forward was powerful. After a summer that brought to light horrific injustices, the government knows it must deliver meaningful change. One key task will be the crafting of an action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: how far will Justin Trudeau’s government go to ensure that the full rights (territorial, cultural, political, economic and social) of Indigenous Peoples are finally realized?
What was notably missing from the Throne Speech, is how this government will address the issue of inflation. Throughout the 30-minute speech, the word “inflation” was only used once, but the economy was mentioned 12 times, including in the Speech’s title. Affordability is on the mind of every Canadian, especially as supply chain issues continue to drive up the price of our everyday goods and services. But are housing initiatives and childcare deals enough to tackle this issue? Likely not.
Furthermore, is Prime Minister Trudeau, once again, priming for a fight with Premiers over healthcare spending? The status of the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) was not addressed directly—and plainly—in the Speech to the likely dismay of provinces and territories, who have steadily relayed their wish to see Ottawa increase it contribution from 22 to 35 percent of the overall sum. Justin Trudeau continues to delay a conversation that is inevitable. As a result, the Bloc Québécois and the CPC’s Quebec caucus will continue to champion this issue.
Opposition parties' reactions
- The government promised action on childcare and housing, designed to help address the issue of affordability, fell short of addressing inflation in the eyes of the Conservative Party. The immediate reaction from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was that it simply isn’t enough because people are still being “left behind.”
- This sentiment was echoed by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who noted that while there were many promises that he endorsed, the Speech fell short of showing meaningful support for Canadians, specifically on healthcare, climate change and housing. While the overall tone of the Speech attempted to convey that the government is seeking to take a bolder and more collaborative approach, the NDP feel that the contents of the Speech say otherwise. Despite this, there is still little to no reason for the NDP to vote against the Speech.
- Finally, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet feels that while there is no reason to vote for or against the Speech, he will not oppose it, saying “you don’t vote against apple pie.”
The Throne Speech is a de facto motion of confidence. The essence of the Speech is tabled in a document that is then debated in the House of Commons. Should a plurality of MPs vote against it, it would immediately spell the end of the 44th legislature and trigger yet another federal election. However, Canadians do not want to head back to the polls. There is simply no looming threat to take down the government.
It is a virtual guarantee that this Throne Speech will pass, and that the Parliament will officially settle into its usual routine.
The Liberal government now has definite direction, that is going to define political conversations throughout the 44th legislature. NATIONAL’s team of experienced government relations experts is looking forward to relaying all the key milestones of this new legislature.
——— Tiéoulé Traoré is a former Director, Government Relations at NATIONAL Public Relations