Today’s Speech from the Throne, the 150th such Speech since Confederation and Governor-General Julie Payette’s second, characterized COVID-19, and our response to it, as “our generation’s crossroads.” The 54-minute Speech, which ran the gamut from A (Action Plan for Women in the Economy) to Z (Zero emissions vehicles), outlined four foundations:
- Protecting Canadians from COVID-19: Calling this goal “priority number one,” the Speech charted plans to help the provinces increase their testing capacity, to continue to pursue every technology and every option for faster tests, and to create a federal Testing Assistance Response Team to meet surge testing needs. Predicting future, localized lock-down orders, the Speech also forecasted the need to provide additional financial support directly to businesses which have to temporarily close as a result local public health decisions.
- Helping Canadians through the pandemic: to support Canadians through this crisis, the government recognizes that it needs to “help Canadians in the short term, to do whatever it takes, using whatever fiscal firepower is needed to support people and businesses during the pandemic.” Fiscal firepower will certainly be needed: the Speech sketched out grand plans to “create over one million jobs, restoring employment to previous levels,” to “make a significant, long-term sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system,” and “to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy right through to next summer.”
- Building back better – a resiliency agenda for the middle class: In a nostalgic return to pre-pandemic life, the Throne Speech referenced a plan for Prime Minister Trudeau’s most-quoted demographic, “the middle class and people working hard to join it.” The roadmap includes addressing gaps in our social systems (setting new, national standards for long-term care, bringing forward a Disability Inclusion Plan, moving forward on a national, universal pharmacare program, and addressing homelessness and investing in housing) and taking action on extreme risks from climate change.
- The Canada we’re fighting for: the final component of today’s Speech from the Throne focused on “defending Canadian values,” touching on topics from advancing reconciliation to addressing system racism to protecting the two official languages.
The Speech, while full of promises (new and old), contained few specifics on either policy or monetary amounts. Those details will be illuminated in newly issued mandate letters and in October’s economic statement – provided we get that far. Reaction from the two of the opposition parties was quick and fierce. While election speculation always meets a Speech from the Throne when in a minority Parliament, the smart money is betting on the NDP ultimately supporting the government. The Conservative Party of Canada, headlined not by Erin O’Toole, who is home isolating after receiving a positive COVID-19 test, but by Deputy Leader Candice Bergen, immediately said it cannot and will not support the Throne Speech. The Bloc Québécois leader, Yves-François Blanchet (also infected by COVID-19), took to Twitter to say the Speech was “disappointing” and did not take into account Quebec’s demands. For his part, New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party has not decided ‘yes’ or ‘no’ yet, but seemed to offer his support if the government implements paid sick leave and reverses its decision to transition off of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (this latter demand being in direct contradiction to today’s Throne Speech, which re-iterated that CERB recipients will be shifted to a modernized EI system). While the government is likely to survive the Speech from the Throne confidence motion, all parties will be testing the winds as the fall progresses.
Following the Governor-General’s delivery of the Speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Canadians tonight at 6:30 EDT. While mostly re-iterating the planks of the Throne Speech, the Prime Minister also provided a stark warning, saying “The second wave isn’t just starting, it’s already underway. We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring. We can’t change today’s number or even tomorrow’s – but what we can change, is where we are in October and into the winter. It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas.” Opposition leaders Erin O’Toole, Yves-François Blanchet, and Jagmeet Singh were given airtime to respond, all using the time to pitch their platforms and their demands. Of particular note was Blanchet’s comment that if the Prime Minister doesn’t agree to increase health transfers to Quebec within a week, the Bloc Québécois will oppose the Throne Speech.
On September 23rd, Canadians will hear the Official Opposition issue its Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, which will kick off a maximum six days of debate. Debate will conclude with a confidence vote.
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