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Building bridges: A review of Prime Minister Trudeau’s Throne Speech

Faced with the brunt of Western alienation that has deprived his party of representation in two provinces, and in dire need to appease frustrations throughout the Confederation, yesterday’s Throne Speech was the first in a series of hurdles Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have to clear.

Six weeks removed from a very contentious and often nasty election campaign, there was a consensus among most Ottawa observers that Trudeau had to demonstrate that he heard and understood the messages Canadians sent forth on Election Day.

Arriving at the Senate for the Speech, the Prime Minister needed to show he could deftly walk a tightrope, while grappling with four objectives:

  • Address and substantially alleviate the anger of Western Canadian provinces;
  • Emphasize willingness to decentralize more powers and prerogatives to provinces;
  • Present policies and orientations left-of-centre parties can readily support, particularly on the environment, Indigenous rights and healthcare fronts;
  • Present policies that can align with Quebec’s nationalistic sentiment.

At face value, the Speech, delivered through Governor General Julie Payette, ticked these boxes and started to lay the groundwork for other files his minority government will pursue. While details remain scarce, Canadians at least now have a general understanding of what lies ahead for the duration of this 43rd Parliament.

Cost of living

Despite rosy economic numbers (a near-record low unemployment rate and the strongest growth rate amongst G7 countries), many Canadians are feeling anxious. The positive indicators have not, however, translated into tangible increases in Canadians’ purchasing power and their ability to save for the future.

The Government has thus set out to immediately cut taxes for all but the wealthiest Canadians, a central element of the Liberal campaign plank, which sought to save the average family $600 per year, lift nearly 40,000 Canadians out of poverty and ensure 700,000 will pay no federal taxes. Additional measures include making school care more affordable, strengthening pensions and increasing the federal minimum wage. While details are slim, the essence of these proposals should bring some reassurance to struggling Canadians that the government is seeking to alleviate some of their financial hardships.

National unity

All eyes were on the Prime Minister as he attempted to address what has unequivocally been the biggest story emerging out of the federal election: Western provinces’ tangible anger towards a federal government that in their view puts its fight against climate change above the need to secure new markets for the region’s most important commodity: oil.

By declaring his commitment to get Canadian resources to new markets and offering his support to the “hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors”, Trudeau sought to reassure a frustrated workforce that has felt the effect of near-record low oil prices. Nonetheless, it is virtually guaranteed that Western Canada, spurred by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s relentless pressure (boosted in turn by the support from federal Conservative cousins), will continue to push for more federal leadership on pipeline projects.

Environment

Meanwhile, Trudeau sought to highlight his environmental bona fides, spending considerable time telling progressive Canadians that his administration will accelerate efforts to tackle climate change.

Indeed, by reaffirming his commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and doubling down on some of the core elements of his campaign platform (investment in energy-efficient homes; lower taxes for clean tech business, etc.), he will likely secure the support of the NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois.

Healthcare

As expected, the Speech offered some generic language around pharmacare, a pledge which was a centerpiece of the Liberals’ election platform. The Liberal government will go ahead with this principle, while remaining noncommittal regarding the mechanisms of the future framework.

Despite pressure from the NDP—who has been vocal in its need to see the government move towards a universal, single-payer framework—the Liberals have been warned by premiers that each step leading to the implementation of pharmacare would have to be the result of negotiations with provinces, some of them even outright asking for an opt-out clause (Quebec). In opting to find a middle ground, the Liberals managed to expertly push forward an issue of importance to centre-left Canadians, while ensuring provinces that they will have a say.

As featured in its electoral platform, the Liberal government will also work on improving access to family doctors and mental health care.

Indigenous rights

“No relation is greater than the one this government holds with Indigenous people” was a defining mantra of the previous Trudeau government. Reconciliation will continue to be a core element of this new mandate. The government is redoubling its commitment to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the first year of the new mandate. It will also work towards ending long-term drinking water advisories and look to strengthen communities via consequential spending in infrastructure and mental health.

Also to watch

As noted, the Speech was essentially built on high-level ideas. In that regard, it wasn’t particularly different than Throne Speeches of the past. The ratification of the new NAFTA deal did get some mention, specifically in regard to commitment to supply management and compensation for dairy farmers hurt by trade deals. There was also some language around reducing cellphone fees.

Going forward, the Prime Minister’s blueprint for success will surely rest on the future details of his promises, and the support he can cobble together in this fractured Parliament … and despite rising regional tensions. The next few months are sure to be interesting.

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