OTTAWA—The Trudeau minority government opened the 43rd Parliament naming climate change, Indigenous reconciliation, tax breaks for the middle class and health care as its top priorities and appealed to the Opposition to collaborate with it.
The eight-page speech from the throne, read by Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette, strained for a celestial metaphor to represent the big challenge facing the Parliament: finding common ground after a divisive election.
Payette, a former astronaut whose time in space remains at the fore of all her remarks, reminded MPs that all Canadians “share the same planet. We know that we are inextricably bound to the same space-time continuum and on board the same planetary spaceship.”
The speech went on to lay out the Liberals’ plan to plow ahead with the platform they were elected on, even as it extended a couple of olive branches to opposition parties, and exhorted everyone to work together.
“The mandate of this recent election is a starting point, not the final word,” Payette said. “The Government is open to new ideas from all parliamentarians, stakeholders, public servants, and Canadians — ideas like universal dental care are worth exploring, and I encourage Parliament to look into this.”
“Whether it’s fighting money laundering or making parental benefits tax-free, there are good ideas across parties, and this government is ready to learn from you and work with you in the years ahead.”
However the speech gave little ground when it comes to the West’s concerns over its troubled energy sector. It acknowledged that regional economic concerns “are both justified and important,” but went on to outline the government’s intention to enact its climate change agenda: a legislated target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; a carbon levy “everywhere in this country; and a plan to plant 2 billion trees among other measures.
Only one sentence acknowledged the national divisions over pipelines and the inability of Alberta and Saskatchewan to efficiently move oil and gas products to markets: “While the government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”
The speech marked the return of Parliament after the Oct. 21 election that saw the Liberals returned to power but with a reduced mandate at 157 seats, short of the 170 seats needed for a majority.
The speech echoed many of the Liberal government’s previously-made but work-in-progress promises to advance Indigenous files, including: legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; the elimination of all boil-water advisories; and implementing recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice, in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
And while it did not promise to drop a judicial review application of a human rights tribunal order — contrary to the demand of the New Democrats — the Liberal government promised it would “ensure that Indigenous people who were harmed under the discriminatory child-welfare system are compensated in a way that is both fair and timely.”
The Liberal government highlighted its intention to proceed with measures to “strengthen the middle class” which will doubtless find support from the Conservatives who lead the Official Opposition with 122 MPs.
The speech promised further cuts to taxes “for all but the wealthiest Canadians, giving more money to middle-class families and those who need it most.” The Liberals have already said their first act will be to implement a broad income tax cut.
It promised more action on affordable housing, help for people to buy a first home, to access before- and after-school care.
It promised to cut the cost of cellphone and wireless services by 25 per cent, to aid students with loan repayments, to strengthen seniors’ pensions, and to increase the federal minimum wage — all measures that will find varying degrees of support among Opposition parties, particularly the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois.
Ordinarily the Opposition parties would get to vote on the throne speech within about six days. That would be a confidence vote and could test whether the Trudeau government has the confidence of the House of Commons. But the government is not obliged to put it to a vote.
And with the NDP’s finances in dire straits, the Conservatives fighting internally over Andrew Scheer’s leadership, and the Bloc Québécois thrilled with its own election showing of 34 MPs, the Liberals could find enough support to survive any such vote.
The speech, essentially the first fully fleshed out take by the government on what the results of the 2019 election meant, was read out in the Senate, but it was directed to all parliamentarians:
“Canadians are counting on you to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep Canadians safe and healthy, and position Canada for success in an uncertain world,” said Payette.
“With goodwill, humility, and a willingness to collaborate, you can do just that. You can raise the bar on what politics is like in this country. After all, the government knows it needs to work with other parliamentarians to deliver results.”
“Focus on your shared purpose: making life better for the people you serve,” she said.