Today, the Liberal government tabled its Speech from the Throne, officially opening the first session of the 42nd Parliament. The Speech reaffirmed a number of the commitments the Liberals made in their campaign platform, Ministerial mandate letters, and announcements to date. While the campaign platform and mandate letters identified more than 300 priorities, by contrast the Speech was short – it revealed the top priorities of the government for the session before us, rather than the four-year plan outlined in the platform.
Some of the key themes included: growth of the middle class, including tax cuts and investments in transit and infrastructure projects; open and transparent government; a new climate change strategy and investments in green technology; strengthening relationships with First Nations and accepting 25,000 refugees; as well as strengthening Canada’s international relationships and new trade agreements.
The Speech marks the end of the transition period; the public business of government and Parliament now begins in earnest. The next week of parliamentary business will provide insight into how the new federal government will conduct and navigate the legislative process, in order to implement the ambitious commitments made today, and to try to contrast itself from the previous Conservative government.
Until now, the government has been focused on the transition and constructing the framework of the new government, including hiring political staff and adopting processes intended to decentralize decision-making. Ostensibly, the small nucleus around the Prime Minister, though still central, will not dominate decision making to the extent that the centre did under the previous administration. That is the intention. Whether that actually occurs will be clear over time.
Staffing has been slow to date. Not all Ministers have Chiefs of Staff, and we do not expect full Ministerial staff complements to take shape until the New Year. You can find StrategyCorp’s Quick Reference Guide – which includes Ministers, Chiefs of Staff, Parliamentary Secretaries, and Deputy Ministers – here.
By acting slowly to hire staff, this government has been assuming additional risk. In its nascent months, the political leadership is overly reliant on the public service for advice, and the small coterie of decision-makers at the centre are overwhelmed by limitless administrative, policy and political decisions amidst a context involving moving cities and extensive travel. Mistakes can happen under such circumstances.
Next week, the government intends to introduce a Ways and Means motion, fulfilling its promise to bring forward a middle class tax reduction and a tax increase on higher personal incomes. Expect these issues to be debated hotly as they start to move through the reconstituted Finance Committee and the House legislative process. The Procedure and House Affairs Committee will also be reconvened to begin its examination of avenues of reform within Parliament.
Now that Parliament is back in session and opposition and backbench MPs have an opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents, the Liberal promises, and how the government chooses to implement them, will face their first parliamentary test. Though this sitting will be short, it will give us a good indication of things to come.