In repairing the inequalities the pandemic has exposed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened the new session of Parliament with a reprioritized national agenda, fixated mainly on the way to finance Canadians during COVID-19. The Liberals are pledging a “resiliency agenda for the middle class” that includes creating over one million jobs while topping up and extending existing aid programs, more money for COVID-19 testing and long-term care homes, and building a national child-care program. Gov. Gen. Julie Payette emphasized that Canada has to tackle climate change, systemic racism, and gender inequity to address the current challenges and think of the future.
Payette wondered whether to move Canada forward or let people be left behind. She added that it was a chance to eradicate the pandemic and build back better, together. The speech indicated the way the new session of Parliament will focus on different priorities than those spelt out in the Liberal’s 2019 speech. Payette read, “Less than a year ago, we gathered here for a throne speech to open the 43rd Parliament. Since then, our realities have changed. And so must our approach. It is no small task to build a stronger, more resilient country. It will take hard work. It will require a commitment to finding common ground.”
COVID-19 cases have increased nationwide since Parliament was halted, from about 300 cases per day in mid-August to 1,248 on Tuesday. This made Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam beseech Canadians and public health policy-makers to redouble infection prevention efforts now or face a “very sharp and intense peak” in new COVID-19 cases. According to the government, its approach to the months and years ahead will have four foundations: building back a more resilient Canada; standing up for who Canadians are; fighting the pandemic and saving lives; and supporting businesses and people through the crisis.
TESTING, LONG-TERM CARE STANDARDS
The throne speech concentrated mainly on the reality of a resurging COVID-19 spread stating that it was the government’s top priority. Besides, the Liberals are pledging support to provinces in terms of testing capacity and speed to meet surge needs. The government also said it was planning to increase supports for long-term care facilities. The liberals will give the local communities and the businesses within them that might have to lockdown to control new outbreaks support. The speech also revealed the way Canadians did their part during the first wave of COVID-19.
WAGE SUBSIDY EXTENDED, 1M JOBS
Trudeau is pledging support to people and businesses during the pandemic by launching a campaign to create one million jobs. He said during his speech that it would be done using a range of tools. Moreover, the Liberals will be prolonging the wage subsidy for workers up to next summer. While the federal government covered up to 75 per cent of their wages, the program has enabled businesses to bring back workers. The Liberals will also be moving ahead with legislation to execute three new temporary benefits meant as part of a package of Employment Insurance (EI) reforms. The Liberals are also planning to create an action plan for women in the economy.
CHILD CARE, CLIMATE PLAN
The government has also said it would make “a significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and child-care system.” It is also planning to work with all provinces and territories to make sure that everybody can access affordable care. There is also a new “disability inclusion plan,” that takes in new benefit similar to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and an employment plan. The speech also addressed a more moderate focus on the green recovery than was initially anticipated, indicating that climate action would be critical to economic growth. The Liberals added that they would plant 2 billion trees.
RIGHTING WRONGS AT HOME, ABROAD
The Liberals have committed to handling systemic racism. They are pursuing plans for Indigenous reconciliation and modernizing training for police and law enforcement. The speech reads, “Canada must continue to stand up for the values that define this country, whether that’s welcoming newcomers, celebrating with pride the contributions of LGBTQ2 communities, or embracing two official languages. There is work still to be done, including on the road of reconciliation, and in addressing systemic racism.” The speech included pledges to assist the global distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. Besides, Payette said protecting and supporting Canadians will remain the top priority.
FISCAL UPDATE COMING
The speech included some signs that the government is planning to pursue some pre-existing commitments. It is also committed to presenting a fall economic update, together with fiscal projections, implementing fairer revenue sharing including from tech giants and more details on promises to tax the extremely wealthy. The speech read, “The economic impact of COVID-19 on Canadians has already been worse than the 2008 financial crisis. These consequences will not be short-lived. This is not the time for austerity.”
PAYETTE AVOIDS IMPROVISATION
Wednesday’s ceremony was a little uncomfortable for Trudeau, who was seated next to Payette. Trudeau’s office had faced questions about her appointment while he had lauded her career. Payette ad-libbed, adding in expressions about space during the first Trudeau throne speech. Six words into the address, she did not improvise any added commentary while Payette once again stitched in a spatial reference. One commentator said Payette was “entirely appropriate” in her conduct, and said she was on-message when what was the 150th throne address in federal history.
OPPOSITION SUPPORT UNCERTAIN
Trudeau will later deliver a rare address to the nation at 6:30 p.m. from his West Block office. Following Trudeau’s comments this evening, the three main opposition parties will also be given shorter windows to address the nation. However, opposition parties were quick to offer their reaction to the throne speech and its many promises in advance of these prime-time windows to address Canadians. Besides, the final vote on the throne speech would be an expected series of critical confidence tests the Liberal minority will face in the days to come. To avoid the risk of triggering a federal election, the minority Liberals should secure at least some support from across the aisle for the throne speech.
With the Bloc saying that Ottawa had failed to listen to Quebec’s demands for more health funding, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stating that he had not decided yet, the next most ideologically-compatible Bloc Quebecois and NDP caucuses did not outright specify how they would vote. Referring to the Liberal intention to transition CERB recipients on to EI, “We are making it very clear to the prime minister, if you want New Democrat support, if you want my support, then you have to stop the proposal to cut help to Canadians who cannot get back to work.” Besides, Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said, “We’ve looked at this speech from the throne and Conservatives cannot support it. It is another speech that is full of Liberal buzzwords and grand gestures, with very little, to no follow-up plan.”
NEW SESSION OF PARLIAMENT OPENS
It was more than a month after Trudeau prorogued Parliament for the first time as prime minister on Aug. 18 that the throne speech was made. Prorogation postponed any capability to pass emergency aid legislation and also paused the ongoing committee probes into his government and the WE Charity student grant controversy. MPs will be able to participate in-person or virtually, and an agreement has been struck to temporarily allow remote voting under the terms of the new agreement for how the hybrid House of Commons fall sitting will run. Special provisions are being carried out to allow for the electronic tabling of documents, since the new deal will expire on Dec. 11.
The remote voting will be done as a roll call vote from now. This sees MPs at home to be counted one by one. It took more than an hour to complete the test, where most votes of in-person can be held within 15 minutes or so. House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota in a statement to MPs outlining the new special exceptions and technical snafu workarounds the House administration has implemented said, “As we learn to adapt to constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that while many of the House rules and practices can be adapted to allow for the remote participation of members, votes appear to require a departure from established practice.” MPs will be securing a form of voting through an app.